We began day three by speaking with Roberto Cuba, a professor with Havana’s School of Hospitality and Tourism. We spoke about a wide range of tourism topics. On the topic of education, Roberto described a Cuban program called University for All, where 80 to 90 courses are broadcast for free to the general public. Paper course materials are provided for everyone in the country who wants to use them. This is great, but the obvious question is, why not use Internet for free virtual courses? Of course, establishing a digital highway would be expensive, but an additional barrier is that the Internet is a taboo subject in a centrally controlled country. I don’t see how a country can compete in the 21st century without allowing its highly educated, creative citizens the opportunity to build ideas, commercial or otherwise, in the realm of the Internet. They truly need to address the digital divide at a national level. This is in stark contrast to the country’s obsession with literacy and education.
Class with Roberto.
Later that morning, our tour guide Julio led us to the Jose Fuster Gallery. Fuster is a fantastic ceramic artist and painter in the central part of the island. His mosaics sprawl over every surface imaginable at the site. You really get the “wonderland” feeling strolling around in there. The colorful tiles cover countless sculptures of permuted animals all over the complex. The tile work even extends beyond his residence and into the surrounding neighborhood.
The Jose Fuster Gallery
During our bus ride to the next stop, Julio explained in a nutshell the political scene that led up to the revolution. He referred back to several scenes in Godfather II, which he said correctly interpreted the events and attitudes that led up to New Year’s Eve 1958.
Our next stop was the Museo de la Alfabetizacion, or the Museum of Literacy. Our tour guide was a kind university professor. We sat in the 90-degree foyer of the museum without air conditioning, while interpreting a large photo on the wall showing Fidel reading a speech to the United Nations in 1960. Fidel told the United Nations that Cuba would institute a program whereby they would wipe out illiteracy in one year’s time. This was known as the Cuban Literacy Program. Their idea was to mobilize 100,000 urban students, ranging in age from eight years old to young adult, who, with the permission of their parents, would go out into the countryside and help individual farmers in the mountains learn to read and write. Combined with actual teachers and other workers, the total number of literacy volunteers was about 240,000. A student would prove that they were literate by writing a letter to Fidel. All of those letters are saved in the museum. One of the letters stated, “I have never felt Cuban until I learned how to read and write.” Over 7000,000 people were taught how to read in 1961. Today Cuba has a 99.8 percent literacy rate. After the population had successfully received basic literacy skills, the program was spread around the world. Today over five million people from countries all over the world have been taught how to read and write. Meanwhile, the program raised the self-esteem of many of the student teachers. Many of those individuals have gone on to be professionals in Cuban society.
The Museo de la Alfabetizacion—the Museum of Literacy
As I took notes in the doorway, my gel pen accidentally brushed the doorjamb and left a black streak, and I felt this was a bad thing to do at a national monument. I now think that the pleasant teacher would overlook the mar in the name of writing and the free flow of information. On the other hand, if education is paramount in Cuban society, how can there be barriers to the infinite information available to the rest of the world in the form of the Internet?
We then went to a bar for surprise salsa dancing lessons. The hour-long lesson was well received by the class. We all came out of our shells by the end of the evening. Our dance instructor welled up with tears when she told us she hoped we could come again.