Vocational Pre-University Institute of Exact Sciences

Vocational Pre-University Institute of Exact Sciences (in Spanish: Instituto Preuniversitario Vocacional de Ciencias Exactas) are Cuban Pre-university or High School Institutes with very special characteristics. For instance, these schools have a similar program to the AP's classes in American High Schools. Schools of this kind were founded with a common goal: to increase the number of students that study scientific careers with a higher education and general preparation.There is a really higher educational system in comparison with the normal system applied in all of the other schools around the country.

Academics and student body

Admission to the school is highly competitive. Students are required to excel in a number of exams, currently Mathematics, Spanish, and History; the highest scores are granted admission to the school (which is free, like all schools in the island). There are three years of schooling, no student is allowed to repeat, and students enter when they are 14 or 15 yrs old and leave when they are 17 or 18.Students are required to maintain a performance over 85% and if it declines, especially in any of the four core science classes (Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, and Biology), they must leave the school. The overwhelming majority of the students go on to attend one of the 5-year universities in Cuba.

Up until the nineties, students were grouped according to specializations, based on their interests, and so, besides the general curriculum, a student in a Biology group would receive a larger component of this class, and the same with Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics, and Humanities groups. Since the nineties and until now, all students receive the same general curriculum, with four groups composed mostly of students who won provincial or national competitions in any one of the four sciences in junior high (called secundaria básica in Cuba), they are called "high performance" (alto rendimiento) groups, and are given extra, high level content in their area. Students can opt out of this special training during the three years, and are routinely tested in order to stay in. The Computer Science "high performance" group is formed early on based on declared interest and a set of tests.

Many Cuban leading scientists have come from these schools, and the offspring of top government officials attend the schools, especially V.I.Lenin (Havana's IPVCE). Many of Fidel Castro's descendants (sons and grandsons) have studied there.

The schools used to be equipped with almost state-of-the-art laboratories, gifts from the Soviet nations; some laboratories are still working, but no single instrument has been replaced in over twenty years, and most lay covered in dust, lacking maintenance, and the materials to run the experiments with. It can't be said that there aren't any problems in these schools, but the composition of its student body makes problems much less common and of a different sort than in most of Cuba's high schools. Students still dance -a lot- in the halls, read, form and destroy bonds, chat, smoke -even when it's forbidden-, and sometimes some of them -risking being kicked out- flee the institution in order to explore the surroundings (in Havana's Lenin the Botanic Garden is right by the field students use to play soccer and jog).

Student life

Most alumni keep nice memories of their time at the schools, despite criticism to the students being interns and the worsening conditions of the last twenty years. Students are required to be in the school from Monday through Friday (sometimes Saturday morning), and are bused to and from school to meeting points in each municipality at the beginning and end of the week.

In the school they live in dorms of up to 60 students divided up in smaller rooms of four to six double beds. Each dorm has a common restroom area with individual showers and a long common sink. The classrooms are in separate buildings usually joined to the dorms by hallways. There are common eating places and sports areas. The IPVCE Lenin in Havana even has a science museum, a movie theater, two Olympic size swimming pools, one diving pool, and an indoors basketball court. Even when this description sounds great, the current state of the facilities leaves much to wish for. These schools could have competed with private institutions in first world countries in their day. Since the collapse of the USSR, though, the schools have been going downwards, like much of the rest of the country. This dependency on the existence of the soviet power can be first grasped in both the name and the architecture of the schools.

The swimming pools are almost never working (once a year the only working one, if there are any important visitors), and the diving pool is almost empty, except for accumulated rain water turned green and brown with the time and the accumulation of debris. The indoors basketball court, which used to have gymnastics equipment, as well as fighting mattresses, has abundant leaks in the roof, and the wood floor, besides being soiled by bats, has many holes in it; almost all the equipment is non-existent as of today, and students play with what they bring from their homes. Still, students use abundantly their outdoor areas and practice sports regularly, even in the old courts. The dorms have very minimal conditions: the allotted number of double beds, and the rustic lockers for the belongings of the students. Teams of students organized in shifts are in charge of cleaning their dorms and the rest of the school, in what are call "work sessions" o jornadas de trabajo (half a day destined to some type of work), usually two-three per week. In addition to this, students also work in the field and offices (the lucky ones).

They are given free breakfast, lunch, and diner, although the composition of their meals has varied significantly since the collapse of the Soviet Union -most poor people in first world countries would refuse to eat what the students have been served for the last twenty years, except, of course, the days when there are "special visitors". Students are expected to follow an established schedule throughout the day, with fixed waking and sleeping times delimiting it; a few festive occasions make this structure more relaxed. Indiscipline is tracked in cards students are to carry with them, and the punishment can go from a simple inconsequential mark on the report card or a talk with a professor, to disciplinary committees, to being kicked out.

IPVCE and politics

Despite the expected allegiance to the system when the students enter the school, a sizable number of its graduates live abroad. There are no statistics, but entire groups and graduations hold regular meetings outside the island, especially US (Miami) and Spain.

A high percentage of the student body belongs to the communist youth, although this is not compulsory. Displays of political allegiance have relaxed over time and, although criticism to the government is not tolerated (can be grounds for dismissal) and participation in political activities is mandatory, the stricter controls of the past have almost disappeared. Still, students receive a type of military preparation (PMI preparación militar integral), the rigor of which varies depending on the instructor, and receive a grade for it. Most of the equipment used is old, and students only practice with fake, heavy armament.

Classrooms are to keep murals with political consigns, and photographs of Fidel are common. Pictures of José José Martí, a more widely estimated figure of the wars against Spain, called the Apóstol, are also present. Students are expected to watch the news when they are to be in their classrooms at night for this purpose and for studying.


Following a list of IPVCE by provinces:


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