Written by Alexandra Drugescu-Radulescu
The situation in Haiti conveys the systematic and deep-rooted relationship between colonialism and the development of a state. Haiti is considered the poorest state in the western hemisphere, a fact which has a tremendous impact on access to education. The lack of economic development can be traced back to Haiti’s colonial times. The former French Colony liberated itself from its empire in 1791, being the first state to achieve independence from a modern colonial power. Regardless, the Republic of Haiti was forced after achieving its independence to pay the French state for war compensation, leading to a national debt that was finally paid in 1947. Given the newly established state’s focus on paying its former colonizer, power imbalances remained alive, leading to an inability to further itself economically. Neocolonial patterns are still prevalent in today’s Haitian society, particularly relevant being the educational system created based on the French model.
Haiti’s history of slavery and revolution can explain the lacking mechanisms in the educational system. An outstanding number of the population lives below the poverty line (60%), leading to the inability of a plethora of families to support their child’s education. Furthermore, the Haitian state lacks the necessary financial means to create appropriate educational infrastructure, such as employing staff and building institutions. The absence of resources led to mass privatization of the educational sector, with 85% of schools being private, funded by public figures, NGOs, and various corporations. Privatization further hinders access to education, given that most families cannot afford tuition fees. In the following article, I will further expand on the challenges children face in the Republic of Haiti, trying to unravel the main causes of said issues.
According to the Haitian Constitution, education is free and mandatory. The educational system is divided into the following stages:
- Primary (6-12 year-olds)
- Lower Secondary (12-15 year-olds)
- Secondary (15-18 year-olds)
8 August 2012, 01:26; Source Flickr; Author Alex Proimos from Sydney, Australia
The dire economic situation in Haiti leads to two main issues: the government does not have enough funding to invest in infrastructure, and a majority of families cannot afford to keep their children in school, especially given that most educational institutions operate in the private sphere.
According to UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell’s declaration last month, half of Haiti’s population needs humanitarian assistance, including three million children. Such assistance is needed in order to decrease the rate of food insecurity in the country, as well as to protect vulnerable categories, including children, in areas controlled by armed groups. Almost a quarter of Haitian children suffer from malnourishment, a factor that strongly influences their ability to grow harmoniously and finish their education. Catherine Russell states that the present situation of Haiti represents a mix of political turmoil, effects of natural disasters, and various health care crises, including the most recent cholera outbreak. Due to the ongoing food insecurity in the country, education remains low on the priorities list, with families doing their best to help their youngsters to survive.
The lack of educational facilities represents another repercussion of the dire economic situation in Haiti. Haiti ranks 177th out of 186 in the world for government spending on education, and at the moment, it does not have a plan for increasing the budget for education. The issue further increased by various natural disasters, such as the 2010 earthquake, that destroyed the infrastructure of a significant number of schools in the past.
Privatization of education and enrollment rates
Education in Haiti is primarily private, with only 15% of schools being state-funded.
This comes as a surprise, given that the right to free education has been inscribed ever since the first Haitian constitution. Regardless of how small they are, the enrolment fees represent an impediment for many families trying to provide their children with the necessary education. On average, each family pays around 130 USD per year to keep a single child in school, a sum that can represent a financial burden given that Haiti’s gross national income per capita was 1610 USD in 2022. The average fertility rate is almost three children per woman, a fact that further hinders the capacity of parents to pay enrolment fees to private institutions. Furthermore, the education system relies on donations from various agencies, some of the most relevant being the World Bank, UNICEF, UNESCO, and the Caribbean Development Bank.
The Haitian government implemented a system of wavering tuition fees for students living in poverty, with funds being given to schools through state subsidies. Unfortunately, despite high hopes of reaching all children in public schools and around 70% of children in private institutions, the program stopped financing 1st and 2nd graders in 2015.
Unfortunately, attendance rates are relatively low, especially after primary school, a phenomenon that could result from tuition fees. According to UNESCO, the primary school attendance rate is 86%, decreasing significantly to 28% for lower secondary schools and 21% for upper secondary schools. Even more concerning is that the rate of compilation of primary school is only 54%. The above data result in a dangerously low literacy rate, with only 60.7% of the population being able to read and write. This decreases people’s ability to get employed and escape an ongoing cycle of poverty.
Therefore, access to education is constrained by the financial means of the families of the province. This is an actual impediment to ensuring that every child has the right to free education, a fact proven by the low completion rates in all stages of schooling. This is unfortunate, given that education represents one of the only ways the government can increase citizens’ living standards by ensuring that every child has an increased chance of escaping a vicious cycle of poverty caused by hundreds of years of colonial and neo-colonial ties and practices.
Impact of Natural Disasters (e.g. 2010 Earthquake)
Haiti is geographically located in an area prone to hydro-meteorological and geophysical hazards, which can have a catastrophic impact on infrastructure of all kinds. This is particularly dangerous given the lack of state funds to potentially repair the damage provoked by natural disasters.
The state of schools became even more precarious once a massive earthquake in 2010 took place, with 82% of schools, public and private, in the affected regions being damaged or destroyed. To put things into perspective, the event was considered at the time the most significant national disaster registered in the Western Hemisphere, its repercussions are being felt to this day. Haiti received a significant amount of international assistance, with the international community donating almost 10 billion US $ for rebuilding, along with a massive influx of NGOs involved in various domains, from education to fair governance.
A similar scenario occurred in August of 2021, when a magnitude of 7.2 earthquake affected roughly 340,000 and destroyed or damaged 1250 schools, according to UNICEF data. What is even more worrisome is that six months after the catastrophe, 4 out of 5 damaged schools were not rebuilt. This led to two scenarios: either children were forced to study in spaces that endangered their health and physical well-being, in buildings not entirely safe for use, or they had to put their studies on hold until the rebuilding of their educational institution. Regardless of the scenario, children were discouraged from continuing their studies, even more so than by the ever-present tuition fees.
As presented above, the educational system is lacking in many areas, leading to a dangerous situation for the development of many children in the Caribbean state. The reality of Haiti is a complex one; the colonial past of the country still has a significant impact on the level of development of the country. There is no fixed solution for today’s issues in Haitian society, but acknowledging the influence of colonialism represents a first step towards creating a more targeted action plan for Haiti. As presented above, the educational system is lacking in many areas, leading to a dangerous situation for the development of many children in the Caribbean state.
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