Encyclopedia of Teacher Education

Living Edition
| Editors: Michael A. Peters

Teaching Comparative Education in Cuba and the United States

  • Mark GinsburgEmail author
  • Rosa Maria Massón Cruz
  • Emigdio Rodríguez Alfonso
  • Yuitana García Isaac
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-1179-6_306-1


This entry describes the historical development of teaching comparative education in higher education institutions in Cuba and the United States (USA), identifying changes in the student populations targeted, the types of countries highlighted, and the theoretical and methodological approaches emphasized. After presenting the historical developments for each country, the entry then provides a brief comparative analysis, identifying similarities and differences with respect to these issues over time and between Cuba and the USA.

We note that the teaching of began earlier in the USA than in Cuba (1899–1900 vs. 1944–1945), and the subsequent trajectories of whether and for which students courses were offered were far from linear in both countries. In terms of the geographical focus, the initial courses taught in these countries differed, though over time, the regions and countries emphasized became more similar, with courses in both countries increasingly paying attention to globalization. With respect to theoretical/methodological emphases, the initial courses offered in both countries were more descriptive than theoretically oriented and methodologically sophisticated, but subsequently comparative education courses in the two countries moved in different directions. Moreover, courses in Cuba continued to address the issue of comparative education as a science, while in the USA this issue was mainly a concern in the 1960s and early 1970s.


Cuba’s first course in comparative education was offered by Emma Pérez Téllez, who taught the subject from 1945 to 1960 at the University of Havana’s Faculty of Pedagogy. (Pérez Téllez also offered in 1947 a summer course at the University of Havana entitled “Why the North American Education System Cannot Be Transplanted to Latin America”) The textbook that she used included Isaac Kandel as a key reference and compared the educational systems of England, the USA, and the (former) Soviet Union. It also addressed educational problems, such as illiteracy, in ten Latin American countries, as well as Canada and the USA. Pérez Téllez emphasized the interdisciplinary nature of comparative education and focused on identifying similarities and differences in educational policies and practices. She adopted a problem-based approach and involved students in conducting case studies about Latin American countries.

There is no record of Comparative Education being taught in Cuba between 1960 and 1977, when Hector Ferrán Toirac began offering the course to undergraduate students in the pedagogy-psychology degree program at the recently established Higher Institute of Pedagogical Sciences (Instituto Superior Pedagógo [ISP] “Enrique Jose Varona”) as part of Plans of Studies A. (Note that primary school teachers were trained at the schools of primary teacher preparation between 1968 and 1976 and that preschool, primary school, and some lower secondary school as well as special education teachers were prepared at secondary-level, pedagogical schools (escuelas pedagogicas), but these programs did not include specific courses devoted to comparative education.) This course focused on the comparative study of educational systems and policies in various countries, including developed and developing nations as well as capitalist and socialist societies.

In 1982, Cuba’s tertiary-level teacher education institutions [ISPs], which had been opened in all provinces, began implementing a new curricular framework, Plans of Studies B. These 5-year undergraduate programs included a course on Comparative Education and were designed to prepare teachers for primary schools and for academic and technical/vocational secondary schools as well as counselors and other educational specialists (Massón Cruz 2015). In the 1980s this course was modeled on one developed at M.V. Lomonósov State University in Moscow, with materials translated from Russian into Spanish (Massón Cruz 2015). The Marxist-Leninist perspective, supplemented by ideas from José Martí Perez and Fidel Castro Ruz, has continued to serve as a core framework for analyzing relations between education and society in Comparative Education and related courses (Massón Cruz 2013). Throughout the 1980s and in the early 1990s, Ferrán Toirac’s course served as a model for courses offered in other institutions. The model, which evolved with collaboration with one of his students, Rosa Maria Massón Cruz, focused also on educational problems of Latin America and the Caribbean and, subsequently, considered the consequences of neoliberalism and the collapse of the socialist camp.

In 1992, with the implementation of Plans of Studies C, Comparative Education disappeared as a required course in undergraduate education programs in Cuba. The gap was partly filled by workshops and graduate seminars for Cubans as well as international exchange programs involving Latin American and North American educators, all of which were organized by the Association of Pedagogues of Cuba (APC), a nonprofit, nongovernmental academic and professional organization that was founded in 1989. Its Comparative Education Section (APC-SEC) was inaugurated in 1994, followed by its admission as a member of the World Congress of Comparative Education (WCCES) in 2002, its hosting of the 12th World Congress of Comparative Education in Havana in 2004, and its offering of comparative education workshops and courses during the biennial International Congress of Pedagogy from 2007 to the present (Massón Cruz 2013, 2015).

In 2010, with the implementation of Plans of Studies D, Comparative Education was once again included in the undergraduate education programs in childhood education and development, pedagogy-psychology, special education, and speech therapy. This course was given particular emphasis at the ISPs (now called universities of pedagogical sciences) in the provinces of Havana, Matanzas, Pinar del Rio, Santiago de Cuba, and Villa Clara.

Furthermore, the Havana-based University of Pedagogical Sciences “Enrique José Varona” (UCPEJV) included a course in Comparative Education in its master’s degree programs in Childhood Education and Development, Didactics of Spanish Language and Literature, Education, Educational Attention to Diversity, and Geographic Education. (In 2016 UCPENJ remained the only pedagogical university when these institutions in other provinces were incorporated as faculties of education in more general universities.)

Moreover, in 2013, Cuba launched a master’s degree program in comparative education. This program was organized jointly by academics from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. The program was initiated in Cuba with educators from different institutions at different levels of the educational system. One of the objectives of the program was to analyze the characteristics and features of Comparative Education as a science of education in Latin America. (The question of whether comparative education is a science has continued to reverberate in writings and coursework in Cuba. This has meant that many undergraduate and graduate comparative education courses give attention to the work of the US scholars, George Bereday as well as Harold Noah and Max Eckstein (Massón Cruz 2015). In particular, Bereday’s four steps have served in at least some courses in Cuba as the approach students are encouraged to use in their studies: (1) description, (2) interpretation, (3) juxtaposition, and (4) comparison of similarities and differences.)

However, in 2016, with the implementation of Plans of Studies E, Comparative Education was once again removed as a required course in undergraduate education programs. It became an elective course in undergraduate programs but remained a part of the curriculum of the above-noted master’s degree programs.

United States

The first course in comparative education offered in the USA (and perhaps the world) was taught in 1899–1900 by James Russell at Teachers College (decades before it became part of Columbia University). The course focused on features of “foreign” school systems (viz., England, France, and Germany) in comparison to those in various US states. Russell’s course constituted the model of other introductory courses organized up to 1950, when courses began to focus less on “structural aspects of educational systems” and more “on issues that resonate beyond national boundaries” while applying “the intellectual tools of history and the social sciences to understand them” (Epstein 2008, p. 10).

While Russell’s course was aimed primarily at graduate students, in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, the vast majority of courses in comparative education or comparative education components of social foundations of education courses were taught at the undergraduate level and often required as part of preservice teacher education programs. During this period the relatively fewer graduate programs and courses in comparative education, particularly those existing in higher-status research-oriented universities, usually targeted future school administrators, professors, researchers, and international educators (including foreign students).

However, beginning in the 1980s, the undergraduate courses designed for future teachers became less prevalent (Kubow and Fossum 2013), and graduate offerings in comparative education expanded, including those offered as part of a growing number of master’s and doctoral degree programs specializing in comparative and/or international education. These changes resulted from two factors: (a) the unsuccessful struggle to maintain a strong contribution of social foundations courses in teacher education programs and (b) the growing professional opportunities for international educators (e.g., study abroad and international student affair positions in universities; international education development specialists working in multilateral and bilateral intergovernmental organizations as well as nongovernmental organizations). (One indication of the emergence of attention to international education in the field in the USA is that in 1968 the membership decided to change the name of the professional organization, which was founded in 1956 as the Comparative Education Society, to be the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES).)

Related to the second factor, beginning in the 1960s, graduate-level comparative education courses shifted from only focusing on “developed” countries to giving attention to “underdeveloped” countries (i.e., those in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean, including Cuba). Thus, by the early 2000s, members of the US-based Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) reported that “globalization” and “education and development” were, respectively, the first and third most frequently named “important theme” included in comparative education courses (Epstein 2008). However, there was considerable variation in reported course topics.

One dimension of the heterogeneity in the field as well as in the courses and programs in comparative education in the USA concerns the disciplines (various social sciences and history) and the theoretical or ideological perspectives reflected in the course syllabi, textbooks, and other literature. For example, although in the 1960s functionalist perspectives were dominant, Marxist, feminist, anti-racist, and anti-colonialist theories became visible in the 1970s and 1980s, and poststructuralist and postmodernist traditions began to appear in the 1990s.

Another dimension of the diversity in the field as well as in the courses and programs in comparative education in the USA concerns methodological approaches, including historical as well as quantitative and qualitative social science methods. Interestingly, however, comparative analysis was not really evidenced as a methodological approach in the published articles in the field and thus likely in reading included in Comparative Education courses. Moreover, when articles examined two or more countries, they infrequently referenced classic comparative education methodology sources (Epstein 2008; Rust et al. 1999). Of course, this does not mean that during the 1990s or more recently that students taking coursework in comparative and international education programs were not exposed to the various approaches to comparative analysis; indeed, there is evidence that such readings were included in course syllabi. However, it likely means that even when students undertook research focused on aspects or issues of two or more countries as course assignments or thesis/dissertation work, they likely would situate their work – and perhaps their professional identities – within social science or historical disciplines rather than the methodological debates of comparative education.

This methodological issue also relates to a question that historically was more prominent in the field of comparative and international education in the USA – whether comparative education is a science, a discipline, or merely a field of academic and professional practice. While in the 1960s Bereday, Holmes, and Noah and Eckstein promoted comparative education as a scientific enterprise (Rust et al. 1999), by the late-1970s, this debate receded from focus of comparative and international education scholars in the USA. It appears that the topic has been included in some courses, but the issue, where it does appear, tends to be as part of a discussion of the historical development of the field rather than a core concern.


The teaching of Comparative Education has a longer history in the USA than in Cuba, with initial course offerings occurring in 1899–1900 and 1944–1945, respectively. In both cases, however, these courses were designed as electives and targeted in-service educators. The subsequent trajectories of whether and where Comparative Education courses were offered were far from linear in both countries.

In Cuba, Comparative Education was taught between 1945 and 1960 in the Faculty of Education at the most prestigious of the three institutions, the University of Havana, but then not taught again until 1977. From that year (and especially after 1982) until 1992, the course was required as part of undergraduate preservice teacher and pedagogy-psychology education programs at specialized higher education institutions, ISPs, located in each province. After a hiatus of 28 years, when the course was not offered, Comparative Education was reincorporated as a required course in various undergraduate preservice teacher education programs at provincial universities of pedagogical sciences in 2010 but became only an optional elective in 2016. At the graduate level, Comparative Education became part of various master’s degree programs in education starting in 2010 and was the main focus of one master’s degree program which was launched in 2013.

In the USA, Comparative Education was a relatively rare offering until the 1950s, but it became a required course in preservice teacher education programs during the 1950s–1970s. However, after 1980, such undergraduate courses began to be eliminated as a requirement for future teachers, though education in other countries was sometimes discussed in general social foundation courses. At the postgraduate level, from 1950, Comparative Education appeared increasingly in the programs designed for educational administrators, researchers, international educators, as well as comparative educators. During the latter half of the twentieth century, and especially after 1980, specialized graduate programs in Comparative and International Education – both master’s and doctoral degree levels – also spread and attracted fluctuating numbers of students, particularly at research-oriented universities.

The geographical focus of the initial courses taught in these countries differed, in that the Cuban course focused on the (former) Soviet Union and Latin American countries as well as Canada, England, and the USA, while the American course focused only on “developed” countries (England, France, and Germany in comparison with the USA). Over time, however, there was some convergence in geographical focus. In Cuba developing and developed nations as well as socialist and capitalist societies – and later globalization – were examined in Comparative Education courses, while in the USA in the 1970s, courses began to focus on developing countries as well as socialist societies (including Cuba), and in the 1990s increasing attention was given to globalization and world-systems analyses.

With respect to theoretical/methodological emphases, the initial courses offered in both countries were more descriptive than theoretically oriented and methodologically sophisticated, using government documents or academic studies to identify characteristics of systems and policies and then comparing them across various countries. Comparative education courses in the two countries subsequently moved in different directions. In Cuba, beginning in 1977, concern for being recognized as a science led to emphasizing comparative methodologies (e.g., one borrowed from a US scholar, George Bereday), while a Marxist-Leninist perspective, supplemented by ideas from José Martí Perez and Fidel Castro Ruz but not from feminist theorists, shaped the dominant theoretical perspective. In the US Comparative Education, courses stressed comparative methodologies in aspiring to be recognized as a science in the 1960s, but by the 1970s social science and historical methodologies (both quantitative and qualitative) became more important in Comparative Education courses and programs. Theoretically, Comparative Education courses in the USA privileged functionalist/equilibrium perspectives in the 1950s and 1960s, while Marxist, feminist, anti-racist, and anti-colonialist theories became visible in the 1970s and 1980s, and poststructuralist and postmodernist traditions began to appear in the 1990s.

The future directions, like past developments, of the teaching of Comparative Education in Cuba and the USA will not likely be straightforward. Similarly, we do not expect political relations between Cuba and the USA to be without deviations. However, at least this encyclopedia entry reflects ongoing collaboration between comparative educators in Cuba and the USA.


  1. Epstein, E. (2008). Crucial benchmarks in the professionalization of comparative education. In C. Wolhuter, N. Popov, M. Manzon, & B. Leutwyler (Eds.), Comparative education at universities world wide (2nd ed., pp. 9–24). Sofia: Bureau for Educational Services under the auspices of the Bulgarian Comparative Education Society.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark Ginsburg
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Rosa Maria Massón Cruz
    • 3
  • Emigdio Rodríguez Alfonso
    • 4
  • Yuitana García Isaac
    • 2
  1. 1.University of MarylandCollege ParkUSA
  2. 2.Universidad de Ciencias Pedagógicas ‘Enrique José Varona’La HabanaCuba
  3. 3.Centro de Estudio del Perfeccionamiento de la Educación SuperiorUniversidad de la HabanaLa HabanaCuba
  4. 4.Universidad de Ciencias Pedagógicas ‘Enrique José Varona’ and the Asociación de Pedagogos de CubaLa HabanaCuba

Section editors and affiliations

  • Greg William Misiaszek
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of Education, Institute of Educational TheoriesBeijing Normal UniversityBeijingChina