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Education in Haiti

Driving up a bumpy road on the back of a pick-up truck at 7 am we can already see plenty of children in their school uniforms running and laughing at the side of the road. The youngest kids going to kindergarten wear a big cute nametag and are usually accompanied by their siblings. Since the school is located outside of Ouanamithe most of the children walk up to 2 hours until they arrive at school. Sometimes a motorcycle drives by carrying one adult and record-setting five children. We also meet many other kids not going to school on our way – some parents in Ouanaminthe cannot afford or do not want to pay the annual $50 fee.

The Haitian Educational System yields the lowest total rate in formal education in the Western Hemisphere. While primary schools enroll 88% eligible-age children the enrollment rate for secondary school is as low as 20% according to the United Nations Development Report. On average 1.1% of the population in Haiti receive education at the university level. Close to 60% of children drop out of school before receiving their primary education certificate. The government provides only little funds for education, the percentage of Haiti’s national budget allocated to education declined from 22% in 1994 to 10% in 2001 – 2010. Therefore, international private schools and church-run schools educate 90% of the Haitian students. One of which is our partner school in Ouanaminthe run by Foi et Joie and the local Jesuit community.

The school was built ten years ago and includes a kindergarten, a primary and a secondary school as well as special classes for orphanage children that started their school education very late. The teachers are from Haiti as well as from the very international Jesuit community and give classes in Math, Creole, French, English, Orthography and Geography. Since the Haitian government just passed a law that requires students to have Physical Education in order to be graduate, PE is a subject that needs to be added to the curriculum now that the basketball court has been built. Each school day starts with the rising of the flags of Haiti and Foi et Joie. The students assemble on their new basketball court and sing the national anthem of Haiti and the song of Foi et Joie at 7:30 am. Classes start at 8 am and last until 2 pm for the younger and until 3 pm for the older students. There are two breaks – one at 10 am and one at 12 pm. The latter serves as a lunch break during which the students are provided with a small, warm meal that usually consists of rice and beans. For a fair share of the kids this is the only meal per day they receive.

As neither the government nor NGOs nor the church can pump a lot of money in the Haitian education system the quality of schooling is often very poor. The majority of schools in Haiti does not have adequate facilities and is under-equipped. According to the 2003 school survey in Haiti, 5% of schools were housed in a church or an open-air shaded area. Some 58% do not have toilets and 23% have no running water. Therefore, hygiene conditions are alarming – especially with diseases that are transmitted via water such as Typhus or Cholera.  In addition, only 15% of teachers at the elementary level have basic teaching qualifications, including university degrees. Nearly 25% of the teachers have not attended secondary school according to the World Bank.

However, the conditions at the school in Ouanaminthe are better than in most of the children’s homes. Most of the students cannot pursue their dreams but have to help their family survive. One student wants to be a lawyer and study abroad: “But I have to be realistic. I am probably going to become a farmer to provide food for my family.” Despite their challenging and difficult lives the kids in Ouanaminthe were always playing, singing and smiling on their way to school, in classes and of course during the breaks. They engage in classes and help the school community. Many of them voluntarily worked on the basketball court with us and the construction workers – without them, the project would not have been possible!

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