For the most part, visitors to Cuba can photograph just about anything, and that includes the smartly-dressed playful kids you’ll see everywhere on the island, just don’t get too close to their schools. And while I have friends who have made their way into classrooms to speak with teachers and kids, it’s pretty rare.
At first, I, too, questioned this. Why can’t I photograph a school? What are they hiding? But stop and think about it for a moment. Can you imagine if some Cuban guy wandered up to Poinciana Elementary School or Gerald Adams Elementary School and started snapping photos? That’s right, they’d be swiftly escorted from the property. Let’s just say it’s ill-advised. You may also want to avoid shooting military installations and rum factories. (Been there, regretted that.)
Anyway, one of the first things you notice when you see a group of school kids is that they’re always neatly-dressed, clean, well-fed and healthy. School days in Cuba are taken very seriously, and according to UNICEF, the island nation enjoys a nearly 100 percent literacy rate for Cubans aged 15-24, more than likely the result of Cuba’s allocation of 13 percent of their annual budget to education. Truancy is nearly non-existent and dropout rates are negligible, at best.
Cuban students begin their six years of primary school around the age of five and then move on to three or four years of high school. During this time, they choose between attending university or one of the island’s many technical training institutions. Prior to admission, male students must either complete a year in the military or provide proof of their inability to do so. In 2015, more than 400,000 students were attending some four dozen colleges scattered across the 700-mile long island.