Since the middle of the 1980’s, processes of economic restructuring have led to large changes in the landscape of educational and social policy in most of Latin America. Faced with severe economic crisis, Latin American nations have sought structural transformations that have redefined the role of government in the provision of social benefits and sharply reduced expenditures through wholesale privatization and deep reductions in remaining government-sponsored programs. Between 1980 and 1990, expenditures in education as a percent of total government expenditures fell in most countries in Latin America, affecting especially public education, the only recourse for the poor. By 1996, the rate of expenditures improved somewhat, but countries such as Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua had not caught up to the rate of expenditures of just a decade before. The results have been decreased opportunities for those that have to rely on government-funded education, serious gaps in quality and reach, poor teacher training and a continued de-funding of primary and secondary education in favor higher education, which is more politically popular and has a more visible, short-term economic impact …and, as a consequence, lessened possibilities for the reduction of poverty, for increased equity and for social and economic development.
Faced with an economic crisis of similar proportions, Cuba made different choices. Although it has had to embark in a deep process of economic restructuring that have had effects in the education of Cuban children, by the time the new century rolled in, it was evident that Cuba’s educational system was not only holding tight to the basic values that have been its greatest strength but beginning a new process of investment. Cuba’s commitment to universal access to public education at all levels and to the government’s responsibility for financing and implementing education across the island was unchanged. Funding for decreased somewhat during the depth of the crisis, but by 1996 was on the increase, with substantial capital investment in teacher support, in technology in schools across the island, in initiatives to motivate children to stay in school.
There is still no clear resolution to Cuba’s economic crisis, which deepened as its tourism-based new economy was hard hit by the aftermath of September 11th. But in the area of education, it is clear that Cuba’s strategy is to “grow” out of the effects of the economic crisis of the 1990s, keeping the education of the Cuban people at the center of the country’s strategies for social development.