by Enrico Tortolano

The Cuban revolution has been an inspiration for contemporary Latin American social and political movements sweeping across that region, yet remarkably little attention has been given to its successful social policy developments. Tales of the armed struggle in transformation of government are abundant, and Cuba is frequently discussed in terms of the armed struggle in Latin America and Africa, the foco theory of guerilla warfare and Che Guevara's idea of the New Man, but specific strands of social development are a hidden history in need of exploration.

The Education Revolution provides a passionately argued and panoramic account of social policy in Cuba. The country's education system has long enjoyed a reputation for high quality but policy detail has been scant. MacDonald fills this gap, showing that recent studies comparing achievement scores from Cuba with those from other Latin American countries clearly attest to the huge achievements of the Cuban system.

As MacDonald weaves together his highly readable narrative it becomes evident the overall record of Cuban education is outstanding: universal school enrolment and attendance is high; nearly universal adult literacy; proportional female representation at all levels, including higher education; a strong scientific base, particularly in chemistry and medicine; consistent pedagogical quality across widely dispersed classrooms; equality of basic educational opportunity, even in impoverished areas, rural and urban. In assessments, Cuba's schools are the equal of schools in OECD countries, despite the fact that Cuba's economy has suffered from an illegal and inhumane United States blockade for almost 50 years.

Cuba's schools have been excellent in achieving gender equality, reaching rural and disadvantaged populations and fostering community participation, even in the context of a scarcity of resources. Yet as MacDonald suggests the success of its schools and universities defies conventional economic wisdom: education in Cuba is public, centrally planned, and free. In an era of austere global neoliberal reform, of public spending cuts, privatisation and deregulation this is both remarkable and inspiring. Educationalists here should engage Cuban counterparts for the purposes of academic collaboration and the progressive development of Britain's failing business-oriented education policy.