Education reform in Haiti is needed if the country’s youth are to flourish in the difficult post-earthquake reconstruction period.
However, despite the government making education one of its key priorities, the state “simply has no more money” to improve the situation further, one resident, who wished only to be identified by the name Hermine, told New Europe.
“Two years later, we are still rebuilding,” she says, referring to the January 2010 earthquake that devastated the country. “It is still a work in progress.”
Her comments come at the beginning of European Week of Action for Girls, which is calling on the EU to ensure that girls are visible in policies and programming, including development and emergency response.
“The economic system collapsed, which has an impact on the education system, by making if difficult to bring children to school, to pay for things like books,” continues Hermine.
In addition, she says, many families can not afford adequate food, meaning that many children go to school without first eating. Earthquake damage has also meant that in many cases, school canteens are no longer functioning.
But, she says, there has developed a sense of shared purpose amongst schoolchildren. “Solidarity is something that has increased. Children share their lunch with other children. Solidarity was not something that was embedded before the earthquake.”
Despite the situation, she says, “education fever is still there. Children are desperate to go to school.”
Although the government has made education one of its policy priorities, Hermine says that the state has so-far got its objectives wrong, and needs to concentrate on infrastructure as well as making sure children have access to education, which is the focus now.
Another Haitian resident, Dorie, agrees. “The main problem is infrastructure,” she says. “They are
making the same mistakes, putting schools in basic buildings that will collapse again if there is another earthquake.
She says that many NGOs and organisations have made some headway in discussions with the government, but political instability makes it difficult for any sustainable dialogue. “The ministries change every four to six months, so we have to start all over again. Staff turnover is one of our biggest problems.”
There also needs to be a reform of education quality, says Hermine. With a higher percentage of private schools, there is a danger of creating a two-speed education system. “In many public schools, there is a lack of teachers. The government is focusing on access to education, but they are doing this by building cheap and quick schools. My key message would be, think of overall quality instead of just access.”
“What is really missing is educational reform,” says Dorie, “reform of teachers and the curriculum. The sate is providing some help in getting children to school – for instance, one scheme gives $50 to mothers to send their children to school – but this is not development, this is not sustainable. If this stopped, they would just go back to poverty. It is short-term thinking.”
She also says that, despite efforts, gender imbalance is still in evidence, with girls often dropping-out during their secondary education. “They are leaving because of early pregnancy or to do domestic work. This is what we see. In the past it was ‘girls – you should stay out’, but you don’t see it like that any more, but the attitude is still engraved.”
“In books, you also see the stereotypes about girls and boys, so culturally, it is really rooted in people’s minds. This is why reform is needed.”