Cuba’s work with children based on academic research
YENIA SILVA CORREA
INTERNATIONAL organizations and countries put a great deal of effort into protecting young children. This ranges from the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, committed to achieving universal primary education worldwide by 2015 and to reducing the under-five mortality rate, to national and regional social policies directed to the same end.
Dr. Isabel Ríos Leonard, director of the Latin American Reference Center for Pre-School Education (CELEP), asserted that in many contexts today there is still a certain lack of visibility regarding infancy, because much is said about children, but not about early childhood and "children are not born at six years of age."
In Cuba the aim is to achieve children’s comprehensive development from birth onward. This takes into account health, behavior, cognitive development, aesthetics, family environment and pre-school education, which are fundamental.
"Pre-school education exists to develop children’s full potential in this phase of life. It could appear to be valid solely as a preparation for school, but that is not the case. It is in itself important and as a result of the development achieved, children will also be better prepared to start school," Ríos Leonard observed.
One Cuban research study undertaken in rural areas, found that when children started elementary education they did not do well. Exploring the reasons, they concluded that the children were not sufficiently stimulated in the pre-school phase.
This study was the origin of the Educa a tu hijo (Educate Your Child) program, now running for 20 years, which currently encompasses the majority of pre-school children in Cuba.
According to Dr. Ríos, Educa a tu hijo offers an educational program which highlights aspects that should be stimulated at each age, although not all children will reach these levels at the same time.
"In terms of education, we are still dissatisfied with the levels of language development our children achieve in pre-school education, but we are working on developing representative thinking, the basis on which logical thinking and behavior is formed; stimulating curiosity, degrees of independence, physical development and motor skills.
One of the ways of not affording sufficient recognition to the importance of early childhood, or of making this stage invisible, is by believing that the only thing one does with children is play with them and that the only purpose of childcare centers is for play, which is a long way from the truth.
"Currently, 80% of what is done in Cuba to stimulate under-fives is designed on the basis of national research studies. We are now in a stage of improvement because we now have more research results that can enhance our work," the CELEP director highlighted.
In Cuba, 18.6% of pre-school children attend childcare centers, compared with the close to 467,000 children and families integrated into the Educa a tu hijo program.
The Latin American Reference Center for Pre-School Education benefits from the collaboration of Cuban pedagogical university specialists and provincial and municipal education departments supporting research and consultation undertaken by Cuba abroad.