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A Longer School Day in Cuba

Lucy Friedman

Lucy Friedman is TASC's President.

Cuban schoolchildren

As part of a recent educational tour of Cuba, I was fortunate to spend a morning visiting an elementary school in Havana. The 591-student “semi-boarding school,” as the school’s director described it, is typical of schools throughout Cuba in that it offers a significantly longer day and year than its American counterparts. The school is open from 7 AM to 7 PM every school day, and will stay open until July 8 this year. The new school year will start in the beginning of September.

The director explained that a typical Cuban school day is as follows: The first 90 minutes of the day are devoted to breakfast and free play. Core academics take place from 8:40-12:30, followed by another 90 minutes of lunch and games or recess. Between 2 PM and 4 PM, kids engage in a range of activities we would call enriched learning, such as health, art, music and sports. At 4 PM, students again transition to games and supervised play until it’s time to go home.

As with all schools in Cuba, the meals and uniforms are free. The country has a literacy rate of over 99 percent and ranks high in international comparisons, but standardized testing is minimal and per-pupil spending is a fraction of what it is in the United States. Cuba’s approach is unlike any other I learned about at our conference on international expanded learning time last fall.

One other thing stood out to me during my visit. I did not see a single overweight or undernourished-looking child in the school, or during my entire week in Cuba. As we grapple with a national obesity epidemic among our children, perhaps we could learn a lesson or two about the value of abundant play from our neighbors to the south. 

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