The Guardian April 24, 2002


Cuba's plans for youth

The Australia-Cuba Friendship Society last week welcomed a visit by Otto 
Rivero Torres, the Cuban Minister for Youth. Comrade Torres, 33 years old, 
is also the First Secretary of the Union of Young Communist of Cuba, and a 
member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba. Below is an 
edited text of the speech Comrade Torres gave to a forum of young unionists 
and activists in the Jubilee Room of the NSW Parliament House.

Firstly, I want to thank you for being present today, and we would like to 
thank you for the invitation to speak. Very few young Cubans have been to 
Australia, so we know little about the reality of life for young people 
here.

With me today is Comrade Juan Carlos Marsan, Director of International 
Relations for the Union of Young Communists, and Alina Perera Rubbio, 
journalist for Juventud Rebelde, Cuba's leading youth newspaper.

First let me discuss education.

The triumph of the 1959 revolution lead to great progress in education of 
young Cubans, and one of the very first tasks undertaken was the 
eradication of illiteracy.

The campaign began in the years of 1961 and 1962, when educated young 
people aged 14 to 17 marched to the remotest parts of the country to 
introduce literacy skills to the population. At that time, Cuba had a 
population of six million, and roughly 40 per cent of the population was 
illiterate; you can imagine the size of this task, and how far they had to 
travel!

Today in Cuba we have a population of 11 million people, and there are 
11,000 schools: 9000 primary schools; 1000 high schools; 900 colleges; and 
72 university level institutions. We are proud to provide this for the 
youth of Cuba.

From the age of five years, all children in Cuba are guaranteed schooling. 
When our new school year starts in September, Cuba will have reached a 
target of one teacher per 20 students in primary schools. Even schools, 
which now remain at the current level of one teacher per 30 students, will 
have this improvement in September.

We believe that the role of a teacher is much greater than just teaching 
maths and so on, they must also play a valuable role in the whole 
development of the student, their values. A teacher can do that with 20 
students or less in the classroom, but it is much more difficult with 30.

During the last 20 months we have also reached a target of having one 
television and video recorder per 50 school students  for this we've had 
to buy more than 70 000 TVs and videos.

Yet this school year we are trying to improve on that, we have set a new 
target of one TV and video per class. We are doing this because we believe 
that audiovisual equipment is essential for educating young people today.

Within the last 15 days in Cuba we have inaugurated a program for teaching 
computing studies to all children aged five years and up  so in the new 
school year every class of 20 students will have one teacher, one video, 
one TV, and one computer.

In the new school year we will have another 82 schools opening  some of 
them with only one student. In Cuba we provide a school for every child, 
even if they are the only one aged over five in their area.

Whereas previously it was seen as enough to provide that one child with a 
teacher, that child will also now have a TV, video and computer  we want 
to provide every child with an equal opportunity in education.

In Cuba we do not have the benefit of natural resources like Australia, so 
developing our human resources is vital for our future. If we have a 
population of 1, 000, 000 primary school students learning computing now, 
it will provide us in the future with a mass of people able to work as 
programmers and such.

It's this vital need for human resources that drives us to constantly 
improve our education system.

Another area we see as essential in the development of our nation is 
culture and the arts. We currently training 8000 teachers in the arts and 
next year it will be 12, 000, so that we will have at least one teacher for 
every school in the country.

When we see a young person with problems, we must ask ourselves what 
responsibility does the school have, and what responsibility the family 
has. The school can't do it on their own and neither can the family

We want all schools prepared to take on their share of the responsibility, 
and so we see a need to provide social workers. We are currently training 
9000 young people to be social workers in Cuba, teaching them how to get 
bring families together with schools to help those children.

We are also hoping to bring improvements to our secondary education system.

In primary level as you know you've got one or two teachers, but in high 
school you've got up to 10 teachers who each specialise in just one 
subject.

When young people reach adolescence they face a unique set of problems, but 
at that time their parents may still be occupied by younger siblings.

Classes of 15

So we're looking at having high school classes of no more than 15 per 
teacher, and having some teachers who will be able to cover all the basic 
subjects. This will allow each high school teacher to spend a lot more time 
with individual students.

In the last 43 years a culture has developed amongst young people where 
they now aspire to a university education. Yet we are currently only able 
to provide about 24 per cent of them with university level education.

In Cuba we guarantee employment for all those who complete a university 
degree, so providing places for only this number means that tertiary 
education remains elitist.

So another of our goals is to greatly increase access to our universities. 
Which brings us to our second point, that is employment.

Last year Cuba had an unemployment rate of 4.1 per cent, this year we're 
trying to achieve 3.5 per cent.

In 1994 the rate was eight per cent, the result of the economic hardship 
faced by our country from the loss of the socialist bloc of countries, with 
whom we had 80 per cent of our trade, and the legislation introduced in the 
United States aimed at tightening the economic blockade.

Yet in the last 11 years our economy has recuperated.

This is still not good enough. We are proposing 100 per cent employment for 
young people. And we see this employment growth coming in the service 
sector.

The new courses we are going to run in universities, training new teachers, 
social workers and computer experts, will not only broaden the university 
opportunities for young people, but create employment opportunities in work 
that will improve the quality of life for all Cubans.

In the last seven months we undertook a project to assess the skills of all 
the young people in Cuba and we now have 80000 of those young people back 
in school. They are doing university degrees, learning computing or 
English, and we are paying them a salary while they're studying. Basically 
we're employing them to study.

We feel very motivated by what the young people in Cuba are doing. Their 
self-esteem as members of society has improved. We are providing them with 
a future.

Political participation

The third point I would like to address is the political participation of 
young people in Cuba, which is related to the previous two points also.

Our country has managed very intelligently the manner in which young people 
participate in economic and political affairs.

Firstly, we have the young pioneers organisation for children, with one 
million members. They have their own congresses, just like the Party.

They actually hold their congresses in parliament, putting forward their 
points of view very strongly. Our Ministers look at this congress as one of 
the most important in the country.

We also have the Students Union for secondary students  with more than 
400,000 members. The Federation of University Student Unions is the oldest 
youth union in the country. Formed in 1902, it's always had a very strong 
role in the struggle within the country.

The Communist Youth also have a very active role amongst the workers in the 
country, in all economic sectors, from the tourism industry to the basic 
industries like sugar, petroleum, nickel and electricity. As an 
organisation we are very strongly aligned with the unions.

We have a very broad representation in the National Assembly, which allows 
us an even more direct way to influence the decisions made within our 
country.

There's also a group of young people who, exactly 28 months and 10 days 
ago, began the struggle for the return of Elian  you were probably aware 
of that here in Australia.

Another battle we are now undertaking is to liberate the Cuban five 
currently in prison in the United States. A group of 26 young people meets 
every day with the leader of the revolution, Comrade Fidel, and other 
leading Ministers to discuss this issue.

In these last 28 months they've participated in about 700 of those 
meetings. That's about 4100 hours  the equivalent number of hours of 
study for a tertiary education degree.

This group of youth greatly admire the young Australian swimmer Susie 
Maroney [present in the room]. Because of her we were able to cut one of 
those meetings short  Fidel had to rush out of the room to greet her when 
she arrived on the beach!

She should remember that quite well, and know that in Cuba they love her 
very much.

Thank you all for attending, I hope that I accomplished not being too 
boring for you today. (Laughter and loud applause).

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