A Glimmer of Hope in Haiti's Schools

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Education is key to rebuilding the island nation. (Photo: Chris Denbow/Creative Commons)

It’s been almost eight months since a deadly earthquake rocked Haiti. Efforts to clear away the rubble, provide adequate care for the homeless, and rebuild the country remain frustratingly slow.

To date, little has been done to tackle Haiti’s broken school system, which by all accounts needed a major overhaul long before the January 12 disaster.

Since most primary schools were private, families could barely afford tuition for one child let alone several. Dropout rates were high, and illiteracy rates reached almost 60 percent.

A recent editorial in The New York Times shed light on what’s being done to rebuild Haiti’s school system.

Thankfully, the leaders of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission have agreed to make education reform an urgent priority.

The joint Haitian-international commission, headed by Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, met for the second time last month.

They agreed to channel $4.3 billion over the next two years to reinvent Haiti’s school system.

Plans include building at least 625 new primary schools and tripling the number of publicly financed schools.

Ninety percent of the country’s teaching force (about 50,000 people) will be taught the new national curriculum, and an additional 2,500 new teachers will be hired and trained each year using a program modeled after Teach for America.

While many schools will still be privately run, the government will give parents tuition subsidies to send their children to schools that earn accreditation, implement the national curriculum, and retrain their teachers.

The long-term goal is to provide all Haitian children with free (or nearly free) K-12 education in accredited schools by the year 2030.

While plans for the future sound promising, first-hand reports of daily life in Haiti remain bleak.

Sara Bernard of Change.org just spent six weeks volunteering for All Hands Volunteers  (formerly Hands On Disaster Response) in Leogane, Haiti, west of Port-au-Prince.

Upon her return, she reported that roughly 5,000 schools were destroyed during the earthquake, and much of the rubble has yet to be removed.

Most of the children Bernard saw spent their days wandering the streets. The few schools that remained open were, in her words, “nothing more than tarps next to rubble sites, providing limited hours of schooling to the few kids whose families can afford to buy uniforms and led by the few teachers who can afford to teach for free or for peanuts.”

If Haiti is to recover and flourish, the Interim Commission must fulfill its promise of providing all families with greater access to quality schools.

“That's a long way to go, of course," Bernard wrote. "But Haiti's school system can really only go up from here, and focusing on building a publicly funded infrastructure is a great big Step One.”

Photo courtesy Chris Denbow/Creative commons via flickr.


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