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Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Municipal University Centers: Past, Present, and Future by Jorge González Corona

The Municipal University Centers:  Past, Present, and Future
by Jorge González Corona
Translated by Mariana Ortega Breña
Jorge González Corona is Professor of Political Science at the Manuel Bisbé Municipal University. Mariana Ortega Breña is a freelance translator based in Canberra, Australia. 

The development of education in Cuba since January 1, 1959, has gone through several phases. The 1960's witnessed the National Literacy Campaign of 1961, the implementation of universal access to elementary education, the adult post-literacy programs, the massive training of teachers, and the University Reform of 1962. In the next period, 1970–1980, universal access to secondary education was achieved, as was a nationwide university network. These efforts were accompanied by substantial investment in the creation of the necessary material base for education and the accelerated training and upgrading of teachers and professors.
The educational policy set forth by President Fidel Castro was to achieve the highest quality with the widest possible access at all levels of education— the antithesis of elitist perceptions based on exploitation. The programs developed through 1990, geared to both quantitative and qualitative goals, managed to eradicate illiteracy, guarantee children and youth access to free education, and provide educational continuity all the way to the university level. Primary and secondary teachers were also trained—beginning in the 1980's 12 years of basic education and 5 years of university were required—and valuable “human capital” created, both characterized by the cultivation of human values and an increasing command of science and technology for the benefit of the individual and society at large.

This process has not been free of mistakes and enormous challenges, such as the genocidal economic, commercial, and financial embargo imposed by successive U.S. administrations in the face of international condemnation (conservative estimates calculate that, over the span of almost 50 years, our losses amount to some US$93 billion) and natural phenomena such as cyclones, hurricanes, and prolonged droughts. Mistakes have been corrected as part of an ongoing process of evaluation and improvement sustained by the unity of society and government and based on the active participation of the family and society, scientific and technological advances, and the gradual development of the economy.

On September 16, 2002, Fidel Castro inaugurated the school term with the following words: “Today we seek to achieve what we think should and will be an education system that increasingly fosters equality, justice, self-esteem, and the moral and social needs of citizens.” (Granma, September 17, 2002).

These ideas are rooted in the thought of José Martí and are clearly expressed in the following aphorisms: “Education begins with life and does not end until death” (Martí, 1975, vol. 18: 390); “The only way to be free is to be educated” (1975, vol. 8: 289); “Humanity is our homeland” (1975, vol. 5: 468); and “All men, when they arrive on earth, have a right to be educated; then, in return, they have the obligation to educate others” (1975, vol. 19: 375).

Historical and conjunctural circumstances have placed the Cuban Revolution in the vanguard of the struggle for a better and more just society, one that upholds equal opportunities and social justice for all—that does not exclude or marginalize. This has allowed us to challenge old elitist ideas born of societies divided by class antagonisms—in which higher education is accessible only to a limited number of chosen people, most of them from dominant classes—with our belief that the highest pinnacles of knowledge attained through scientific and technological development can be available to all human beings as long as society is able to feed and educate them properly and takes advantage of all the achievements of technology and science to ensure that they can realize their physical and intellectual potential, enjoy access to general and integral culture, and fully realize their human essence. Elitist notions have been unequivocally refuted by discoveries involving the human genome.

The quantitative and qualitative growth of education has allowed us to have over 3,000 municipal university centers (sedes universitarias municipales) offering evening and night classes in the buildings of middle schools. These branches employ more than 70,000 part-time faculty members whose pedagogical and professional credentials are guaranteed by the country’s 65 institutions of higher education and graduate studies. Their creation would not have been possible without the presence of hundreds of thousands of university graduates. The new pedagogical model currently being implemented in Cuban universities is flexible without sacrificing rigor or quality. It nurtures educational goals by leading young people on a path of self-improvement at the same time that it keeps them away from vice, indolence, and antisocial or even criminal behavior. For the thousands of part-time faculty members, the municipal university branches have become a medium through which they can continue to learn and become more accomplished human beings and professionals. For those who had previously retired, they offer an opportunity to improve their quality of life and their self esteem while sharing the valuable experiences and knowledge gathered over many years of professional activity.

New information and communications technologies provide us with extraordinary possibilities for the development of current educational policies; in the future, every workplace, whether a hospital, a school, a factory, an agricultural enterprise, a museum, a center for scientific research, or something else, could become a micro-university. The municipal university centers are expected to become territorial universities with all the necessary academic, research, and extension facilities and resources. As economic conditions permit, they must gradually be provided with the requisite physical plant and administrative structures, specialized computer laboratories and other audiovisual equipment, technical and scientific documentation centers, and access to major national and international databases. The design and construction of new centers for education and work must plan for the eventual development of these micro-universities and provide them the essential material and human resources. A system for postgraduate upgrading must be created for the faculty of the municipal university branches so that they can gradually improve their teaching skills (what to teach and how) and keep up with the latest advances in their field. Improvements in preceding levels of schooling will mean that, in the future, municipal university branch students will be better prepared, and this will lead to a general improvement in the quality of the educational process as a whole.

On the basis of my own experience as a professor of political economy in a municipal university center, I am certain that we will overcome the difficulties and challenges I have described and that the centers will make a significant contribution to the nation’s social, economic, and political development. They will be proof of what can be achieved in education and the scientific and humanistic training of youth through cooperation, solidarity, and the implementation of genuinely human ethical and moral principles.

REFERENCES
Granma 17 Septiembre 2002. Sitio Web www.granma.cu Martí, José 1975 Obras completas. Havana: Editorial Ciencias Sociales.

LATIN AMERICAN PERSPECTIVES
Issue 165, Vol. 36 No. 2,
March 2009 130-132
DOI: 10.1177/0094582X09331952
© 2009 Latin American Perspectives Downloaded from http://lap.sagepub.com at UNIV OF CALIFORNIA RIVERSIDE on December 16, 2009