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British teachers may be struggling against low pay, growing class sizes, damaging testing regimes and privatisation – but they have been offered hope by a system that puts people first.

Cuban teacher Lissette Rubio Mederos painted a glowing picture of her country’s education system, which the UN rates as one of the best in the world.

Ms Rubio, a delegate from Cuban teachers’ union SNTECD, addressed the National Union of Teachers conference in Cardiff on Sunday.

She explained the massive progress made since 1959, when the Cuban revolution inherited a country where illiteracy was running at 25 per cent.

Now, 99.8 per cent of Cubans can read and write.

After the revolution, literacy brigades of students were sent to the rural areas to educate the peasants, who had been kept in poverty and ignorance under capitalism.

All schools on the island were made free and available to all.

This progress did not come without a price. Some of the brigadistas were murdered by right-wing terrorist groups supported by the CIA.

But the brigades cut illiteracy to 3 per cent in a few years.

Despite the long-running US blockade of Cuba, 99 per cent of Cuban children now attend free compulsory schooling to secondary level. And there is no such thing as private education.

In stark comparison to Britain, class sizes have been reduced from 30-40 students to 15-20.

Before 1959, black people were mainly excluded from the education system, but discrimination on the grounds of race, gender, religious and political beliefs has been eliminated.

Ms Rubio said that ‘Cuba is unique in the developing world’ as it has already achieved its Millennium Development Goals on education.

‘We believe in a new world, where the needs of the people are put first. Together we can build this world.’

Later, she spoke to the Star about Cuba’s advances in university education.

In 1959 there were three universities in the country. Now there are over 45 as Cuba seeks to make college education universally available.

‘We are taking the university to each single province and locality to allow students to study in their municipalities,’ she said.

Cuban TV also broadcasts the University For All programme – akin to Britain’s Open University – and there is a communal University for the Elderly.

Ms Rubio’s colleague Anna Fuertes explains that this is because ‘education is not just seen as the responsibility of schools but of the whole community and a priority of the government.’

Cuba has also shared the benefits of its education system with other countries.

The Latin American School Of Medicine, founded in 1998, offers 1,500 free scholarships every year to students from Latin America, the Caribbean, north America and Africa.

Cuba’s literacy programme Yo Si Puedo – Yes I Can – is in use in many countries, most notably Venezuela, where it was the basis for a campaign that has eradicated illiteracy in a few years.

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