Education: a rare opportunity for children in Haiti

Remember way back to when you were a child in school, and you would do anything to have the day off? Watching television and playing games sounded like more fun than sitting in classes all day. Finally, after a long debacle, it was decided that since you didn't have a fever, you had to go to school (not everyone was as smart as Elliot on E.T.). Defeated, you gave in, had some breakfast, and rode the bus to school


For families in the United States, getting children to school every morning is a common scenario. Going to school every day for nine months out of the year, for 13 years, sounds like a drag, but it's also something that shouldn't be taken for granted. The opportunity to go to school is such a given in communities in the United States that many don't realize education is not as easily accessible throughout the world. After the January 2010 earthquake, the already impoverished nation suffered more devastation. Buildings and homes came down, and over a year later, the government is still unable to begin any earnest reconstruction. Most Haitians believe that receiving an education is the only escape from the cycle of poverty that entraps the majority of the population. After the earthquake, the central government became powerless, and rescuing the injured and providing medical assistance became the main prerogative. Even before the earthquake, education was not a priority. A huge challenge to the education sector lies in the fact that education is mostly privatized. In a 2002-03 census performed by the World Bank, it was discovered that only 8% of schools are public, and the other 92% are private and require tuition. Because of poverty, most families can't afford to attend these private schools.


The government doesn't provide much financial support for the 8% of public schools: schools use outdated materials and can't afford to hire enough teachers, or provide teachers with necessary training. In addition, inequality of the limited education funds exists. Rural Haiti is composed of 70% of the country's population, yet only receives 20% of the funds. Other factors besides financial hardships prevent children from attending school. There is a high dropout rate, not because of a disinterest in becoming educated, but because of the circumstances faced by families. Sometimes siblings have to alternate going to school, which usually results in the children having to repeat a grade. This creates more problems because even more tuition, textbooks, and uniforms need to be paid for. Not to mention the need for children to work in order to contribute to the household income.


Language barriers are another factor that contributes to the crises in access to education. In Haiti, the main language is Creole, and only advantaged citizens speak French. Most schools teach their classes in French, meaning that students are unable to learn unless they are privileged enough to speak French in the first place. For those few students that do attend school, they don't experience the high-quality education that students in other countries experience. Poorly built infrastructure contributes to problems for teachers and students. There is also a huge shortage of books, desks, chairs, and other teaching materials. In addition, only 60% of Haitian teachers are qualified and trained to teach. Already considered issues before the earthquake, these issues were further exacerbated by the disaster.


The Haitian Ministry of National Education and Professional Training (MENFP) is the governing body that is supposed to regulate education in the country. However, the MENFP doesn't fulfill its mandate to provide education to citizens and play a regulatory role; the body is unable to assess, oversee, and address the current state of education. According to the CIA World Fact Book, 52.9% of the population aged 15 and up are literate. This is a dramatic statistic for citizens of a nation whose only route out of poverty is through education. In the U.S., where the literacy rate is 99%, not being able to read is almost unheard of. Unfortunately, in Haiti, the low literacy rate is a sad truth. Whereas going to school may seem like an obligation to students in the U.S., it is a rare and cherished opportunity for children in Haiti. Education reform remains on the backburner. Although there are many pressing and competing needs in Haiti, education must become a priority if long-term and lasting improvements are to be made.

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