A CLEAN SLATE? QUESTIONS SURROUND PLANS FOR EDUCATIONAL REFORM AS HAITI REBUILDS ITS SCHOOLS
(Media Global) - By Leslie Pitterson
.... at the second meeting of the Interim Haitian Recovery Commission, the Haitian government revealed plans to reform its educational system with the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) and committed $500 million towards the country’s schools. The announcement, which comes as thousands of Haitian children prepare to start the new school year, has raised much discussion on how best to reform the country’s educational system.
The IADB’s contribution will provide funding for the first five years of Haiti’s 20 year educational reform plan. With an estimated budget of $4.2 billion, the Haitian government’s goal is to provide universal education from pre-school through university, a goal that Marcelo Cabrol, chief of the Inter-American Development Bank’s Education Division believes is possible.
“The overall vision of the Haitian government is to move towards a publicly financed system of quality education open to all children,” said Cabrol in an interview with MediaGlobal.
According to the United Nations, nearly half of Haiti’s 9 million citizens are under the age of 18. Hanna Jamal of Plan International has worked in Haiti since the earthquake in January. In an interview with MediaGlobal, Jamal said the reopening of schools has provided a bright spot in what has been a dark reality.
“In the schools where Plan is working we have seen that the teachers are happy to be back at work,” said Jamal. “On the whole, education is highly valued among Haitians and teachers are well-respected members of the community who recognize the important role they play within the communities.”
In order to cover both primary and secondary education for all its children, the government will need to rely heavily on public funding. Initial funding from the IADB’s $500 million commitment will go towards rebuilding of the 3,798 schools damaged or destroyed by the quake.
“A $26 million portion of our first $50 million grant—which will soon go to our board for approval–will help Haiti finance a $95 million “back to school” program,” said Cabrol. “About 85 percent of schools in the quake area suffered damages. We estimate that about 60 to 70 percent will be able to reopen this year.”
Beyond the rebuilding, the hope is that with enough funding, Haiti will be able to subsidize tuition costs for every child attending school. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), over a million of Haiti’s children did not attend school before the quake. The country’s per capita income stands at $400 dollars and many parents simply could not afford to provide their children with an education.
Also included in plans for reform is the retraining of over 45,000 Haitian educators and the hiring of over 2,500 new teachers to help implement a new national curriculum. While salaries vary, Cabrol told MediaGlobal that, “the average public school teacher at the elementary level earns US$2,500 per year and teachers at non-public schools make between US$800 and US$1,300 per year.”
According to a report from Haitian Interim Recovery Committee (CIRH) commissioned in April by Haitian President Rene Preval, the payroll for the Ministry of Education stood at $20.5 million USD for the 2009-2010 school year alone. It is unclear what adjustments will be made to the budget with the additional hires in the post-quake reform.
Beyond the challenges of expanding its public education, the biggest dilemma for the government’s plans for reform will be the oversight of privately run schools, which represented 90 percent of Haiti’s educational system before the quake. The IADB says that its funding will be allocated according to the standards set forth by Haiti’s Ministry of Education.
“Public schools would naturally remain publicly run,” said Cabrol. “Any private or non-public school accepting public financing will have to be accredited, train its teachers to new government-set standards, and implement a new national curriculum. These schools will also have to pass inspections to certify their facilities are structurally sound.”
While the Haitian Ministry of Education has put forth plans for the rebuilding and developing a standardized national curriculum, it will be difficult to ensure that the Ministry’s standards are being implemented throughout the various schools on the island. Though she could not speak for all NGO members of the cluster system in Haiti, Jamal said Plan would be working directly with the Ministry to coordinate their assistance to schools.
“All of our interventions, including those in private schools, are approved by the Ministry of Education to ensure that a minimum standard of services are being met across the public and private sectors,” said Jamal. “We also work closely with Ministry of Education officials at district and regional levels to ensure that school inspectors benefit from training and have the capacity to supervise both public and private schools in their zone.”
For now, the funding will be overwhelmingly directed to the process that outgoing UN Humanitarian Chief John Holmes has referred to as ‘building back better.’ Of the $500 million in IADB funding, over $210 million will go toward providing immediate needs like food and water for children’s cafeterias and restoring sanitary facilities in schools.
Discussion around a standardized national curriculum will no doubt be influenced by the country’s elections in November. And though a concrete proposal for the national curriculum has not been set forth, the CIRH has stated its wish to “ensure the promotion of the values of our heritage through a cultural education syllabus in schools.”
It remains unclear, however, if the voices from both Haiti’s public and private education sectors will be included in the talks ahead.