Education in Haiti: give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar! 

By Itazienne Eugène and Maciel Morales Aceitón

The strength and resilience of the Haitian people is historically based because since its independence in 1804, it has had to fight and overcome not only natural disasters, but also recurrent periods of political instability, often marked by foreign intervention. The current Constitution dates from 1987, but it has been put to the test on several occasions, especially by two coups d’état in 1991 and 2004, as well as by the indifference of the rulers who, by their actions, have shown their disinterest in the citizenry. 

The last few years have been particularly difficult in the country due to social movements and the COVID-19 pandemic (Stone and Ziegles 2021, Challenges and opportunities in Haiti’s education system). It is important to recall that since 2018, there has existed in Haiti the Peyi lòk social movement, which took center stage after an announcement by President Jovenel Moïse about increasing the price of benzine, diesel and kerosene. In response to this, part of the citizenry took to the streets to demonstrate against this measure. In September 2019, the Peyi lòk returned with force calling for the president’s resignation, but he refused and remained in power (Danticat, 2019; Danticat, 2020). Currently, the country is again going through a strong crisis due to the assassination of President Moïse on July 7, 2021 and the earthquake that hit the southern part of the country on August 17 of the same year. Under these circumstances: To what extent can education be a priority for the state? How does the socio-political, environmental and economic context concretely affect its development? What are the most urgent challenges for Haitian education today? 

The Haitian education system is divided into two main groups: public and non-public. Non-public establishments include private, denominational, community and other schools. The proliferation of schools that do not respect the operating rules of the Ministry of Education has hindered the work of professionals who, since the end of the last century, have been struggling to provide young people with a comprehensive education. It is important to note that in this country, which is characterized by a high illiteracy rate, there is a glaring disparity between schools that cater to the children of the elites and those that cater to children from other social categories. Unlike the former, the latter are generally housed in buildings that do not have the necessary infrastructure to ensure their full development. Thus, in some regions, classes are held in churches, houses and even in the open air.

The level of enrollment in the private sector is one of the highest in the region. In 2015-2016 of the total number of students enrolled, 78% belonged to the private sector (MENFP, 2018). Stone and Ziegles (2021) state that, in addition to high privatization, the most current problems of education in the country are related to the lack of resources and infrastructure, weaknesses in the professional development of teachers, and the linguistic conflict (Creole/French), among others. Bayard Lapommeray, director of the studies and programming unit of the Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training, confirms what the researchers say when discussing the main conclusions of the study on educational challenges in Haiti (SUMMAKIX LAC project, 2021). Lapommeray shares the perspective that teacher training, infrastructure and pedagogical support are important axes to improve and develop, but argues that beyond these factors there is a problem of the environment, the political, economic and social environment of the country. Thus, he states that it is essential to improve these socio-political factors in order to have an educational system that can meet the needs of the country. It should be noted that social, political, environmental and economic instability affects students on a daily basis. Specifically, in times of unrest, younger children stay home from school. In periods of calm, students are unable to participate in activities outside of school hours. The situation is the same for higher education students, who not only have difficulty accessing classrooms, but also find it impossible to go to research centers and libraries. As a result, the duration of training is reduced, the length of the course in general is lengthened, and some projects, including study trips, are put on hold until further notice.

When thinking about how education can be a priority for the State in a country that is going through various social, political and environmental crises, we postulate that precisely for this reason, education should be at the forefront of the State’s political agenda. The competent authorities should provide the Ministry of Education with the necessary human and material resources for its operation. In return, those in charge of the Ministry should ensure optimal use of the resources allocated to them and obtain the results expected by Haitian society.  Likewise, for Haiti’s current educational needs, it is essential to strengthen the public sector, invest in school infrastructure in addition to the renovation of existing buildings, teacher training and the creation of dynamic and innovative structures capable of regulating the educational system. 

Similarly, the current education system must have a concrete and short-term improvement in its evaluation and project monitoring systems in order to be able to understand the effectiveness or failure of the projects. It is important to mention that previous projects designed to improve the system since the end of the Duvalier dictatorship (1957-1971) have not always had the desired results. To change this reality, it is necessary to consider the evolution of the socio-political conditions of the time, but above all, it is necessary to analyze the causes of the failure of the previous programs, as well as to evaluate the implementation structures of these projects and the nature of the resources available in the education sector.

In short, it is essential to take into account and understand the structural problems of the education system. The competent authorities must work hard to strengthen and improve its foundations, with the understanding that they must provide the population with an integral and complete education, giving back to Caesar what belongs to him, a public education with material and intellectual resources, democratic and adapted to the reality of the country.