While on holiday in Cuba in March, 2009, I was invited in a very roundabout way to meet with the Distance Education department of the Universidad de Havana. U of H has over 10,000 distance education enrollments.
It uses primarily print-based materials, but more recently has been experimenting with online courses. The country has just 14.2 internet users per 100 of the population.
However, access to the Internet is restricted to what is essentially a national intranet. Some professors have been ‘cleared’ for full international Internet access, but students are limited to working through the ‘official’ Internet and university portals.
In July 2011, Cuba will move from an expensive international satellite Internet link, limited to 380 megabits er second, to a fibre optic undersea cable connection with Venezuela (funded by Venezuela) and later Jamaica. The US embargo has prevented Cuba connecting with existing Caribbean networks. Even with the new connection, there will still be some censorship restrictions and not necessarily broader communication, with the focus on improving communications for those using the island intranet.
I would like to have learned more about distance education in Cuba than was possible in a very brief visit. There was a great deal of interest in e-learning among the professors and staff that I met, and as everywhere else in Cuba, I was received with amazing friendliness and hospitality. From the little I saw, the DE department is doing excellent work with limited resources.
However, the political and economic climate in Cuba will have to change a great deal more before they can use the Internet in ways similar to non-Cuban programs.