Educational Challenges in the Republic of Haiti

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[1]. 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 Flag. Photo by abdallahh

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%),[2]  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[3], 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[4]:

  • Primary  (6-12 year-olds)
  • Lower Secondary (12-15 year-olds)
  • Secondary (15-18 year-olds)


Haitian children. Photo by Alex Proimos.

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[5]. 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[6]. Almost a quarter of Haitian children suffer from malnourishment[7], 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[8]. 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[9], 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

Students from “République du Chili”, a school in Haiti. Photo by One Laptop per Child.

Education in Haiti is primarily private, with only 15% of schools being state-funded[10].

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[11] 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[12]. The average fertility rate is almost three children per woman[13], 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.[14]

            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[15]. Even more concerning is that the rate of compilation of primary school is only 54%[16]. The above data result in a dangerously low literacy rate, with only 60.7% of the population being able to read and write.[17] 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)

A poor neighbourhood shows the damage after an earthquake measuring 7 plus on the Richter scale rocked Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on 2010. Photo by UN Photo/Logan Abassi United Nations Development Programme

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[18]. To put things into perspective, the event was considered at the time the most significant national disaster registered in the Western Hemisphere[19], 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[20], 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.[21] What is even more worrisome is that six months after the catastrophe, 4 out of 5 damaged schools were not rebuilt[22]. 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.


  1. 10 Years of School Reconstruction in Haiti: What Did We Achieve? (2022, January 20). Enfoque Educación.
  2. caldesign. (2015). Facts About Haiti – Schools for Haiti. Schools for Haiti.
  3. (2019). Live Haiti population (2019) — Countrymeters.
  4. Dropping out of school: An unwelcomed trend in Haiti. (2020, October 26). IIEP-UNESCO.
  5. Haiti (HTI) – Demographics, Health & Infant Mortality. (n.d.). UNICEF DATA. Retrieved July 24, 2023, from
  6. Haiti – fertility rate 2019. (n.d.). Statista.
  7. Haiti | FINANCING FOR EQUITY | Education Profiles. (n.d.). Retrieved July 24, 2023, from
  8. Haiti Education System. (n.d.).
  9. Haiti: Six months after the earthquake, more than 4 out of 5 schools destroyed or damaged are yet to be rebuilt. (2022, February 14).
  10. Humanitarian Action for Children Haiti TO BE REACHED 2.7 million people 7. (2019).
  11. Kwok, T. C. (2016, March 11). Continued Challenges in Rebuilding Haiti. E-International Relations.
  12. National income per capita Haiti 2019. (n.d.). Statista.
  13. Rosalsky, G. (2021, October 5). “The Greatest Heist In History”: How Haiti Was Forced To Pay Reparations For Freedom. NPR.
  14. UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell’s remarks at the ECOSOC Special Session on Haiti – “Saving Lives: Addressing the urgent food security needs of Haiti.” (n.d.). Retrieved July 24, 2023, from























Educational Challenges in Chile: A society protesting for change

Written by Ana María Ocampo C.

With research and collaboration from Joan Vilalta Flo.

Students protest in Chile. Photo by Simenon.

Students, teachers, and experts all agree that the education system in Chile needs some deep changes for it to maintain its relevance and traditional position at the top of the region. Some of the pressing challenges include existing segregation, differentiated quality, and high levels of indebtedness, all of which were heightened and highlighted by the pandemic and its effects. But the how and where should be addressed to remain at the center of the heated debates about the topic in the past years.

Some context and background

To understand some of the reasons behind the current challenges and demands, a look into the past proves to be helpful. Back in the 1980s, the Chilean education system underwent a major transformation. To change the regressive and unequal access to education, as well as to promote the creation of more schools and universities to assess the high demand and increase in the number of students, the government redistributed its investments in the area.

The project also included the involvement of the private sector, which would assure better coverage in the entire country, and would offer students and their families more options to choose from. With this approach, private education institutions increased across the country, allowing the wealthiest members of society to access higher-quality education. Despite the original idea of increasing coverage, this privatization of the system proved to deepen the social and economic divides in the country, as education was now “understood as a private investment by the family of the young person”, according to Ruben Covarrubias, former president of the Universidad Mayor in Chile.

Since the economic possibilities of the general population were still a big restriction for some capable students with low income, the estate created a credit system that aimed to assure every Chilean had access to education regardless of their economic situation. Ever since, the system has also increased the number of scholarships and payment agreements, allowing students and recently graduated professionals to pay back their loans in accordance with their income levels.

These profound changes in the system gave Chile a privileged position in the Latin American context. Two decades after the implementation Professor Jose Joaquin Brunner, UNESCO expert in comparative studies of education, acknowledged that “The Chilean population has 11.6 years of schooling, against 9.4 in the rest of Latin America; 28.6 % of people complete at least one year of tertiary education compared to 15.8% in the rest of the region. Among young adults between the ages of 25 and 34, Chile can boast that 41% are professionals, compared with 39% in OECD countries, to which we belong, and less than 20% in Latin America (UNESCO).” And, comparatively speaking, Chile was one of the countries with the highest spending on education relative to the GDP, going above the OECD average.

But the situation for students and families in the country was not as picture-perfect as the numbers showed. In 2011, a student movement emerged with the purpose of taking the demand for a free and high-quality education to the center of the national agenda. The movement’s demands focused on effectively addressing the unequal access and poor quality of education in the country, as well as the indebtedness that lower- and middle-class families were forced into to access higher education.

Protests were constant in the following years, a time when the students’ movement gained strength and organization. In 2014, for instance, a group of its leaders, all under the age of 30, secured spots in Congress, creating a coalition that pushed for some of the most relevant reforms in the area. And last year, in March, one of the leaders of the movement, Gabriel Boric, was elected president of the country. He has promised to keep discussions on reforms to the system among the priorities of his government’s agenda.

Colegio Municipal Marcela Paz, La Florida, Santiago de Chile. Photo by UNESCO/Carolina Jerez

Segregation: two realities that do not meet

When asked about the main challenges that Chilean education faces, experts like Álvaro González Torres, a researcher at the Universidad Católica Silva Henríquez, point out at the general social context in the country, where strong demands for “justice, liberties and rights” are still being discussed and demanded. One of those, education, is at the heart of the protests for equality in Chilean’s recent history, including the Constitutional reform that is underway.

“It is not because we have a critical situation, compared to other countries in the South American region; the problem in Chile is beyond educational attainment”. Instead, Mr. González explains, the problem is rooted in the design of a system following a neoliberal approach: “The privatization of public education has been a major obstacle, as well as the flourishing of a cultural environment that strengthens values that are dangerous for democracy: individualism and excessive competitiveness”.

As he describes, the stronger involvement of private capital and the business mindset behind educational institutions has resulted in a segregated system. So, while in the country the coverage of primary and secondary education reaches almost 90% of the corresponding population, once inside the system differences are stark. “Students coming from lower income groups are concentrated in institutions with lower quality, while those students from the wealthiest groups can access better quality education and, in the end, have almost direct access to power”, as Álvaro González describes.

The Research Center for the Socio-educational Transformation, which Mr. González directs, points out that this segregation leads to a reinforcement of “cycles of social and opportunities inequality”, which has also been sustained by a “systemic deficiency”, where resources are not equally distributed amongst the institutions across the country. “Overall, there is an education for the rich and another education for the poor”, Mr. González concludes.

The lingering ghosts of the pandemic

This differentiated reality was made more evident during the pandemic when a large section of the population faced issues with the lack of access to technological tools and internet connectivity, proper spaces, and/or parental accompaniment, not only in rural areas but even in urban centers. Chile was one of the countries in the world where schools were closed the longest, and the effects of these measures have also been seen in the mental and physical health of the students and teachers.

The immediate reaction from the government and the institutions has been focused on promoting a return to schools, reverting the dropout rates, and increasing evaluation processes to measure basic abilities in reading, writing, and math. “For a long time in Chile, we have implemented standardized tests to measure quality of the education, and schools focused their energy on preparing students for these tests. But the pandemic put a halt on these evaluations, and schools and institutions realized that there were other abilities and areas that needed more attention”. As Álvaro González explains, the emotional and psychosocial well-being of students is now a critical point for the design and development of education reforms for the future.

Students protest with a hunger strike. Photo by Hans Peters.

Education for the new century

Students took the streets with an additional demand: the curriculums need to be updated to address the challenges and requirements of the current times. Their claims, as described by the leaders of the students´ movement, criticize the disconnection between the education system and the workplaces of the 21st Century, where they are demanded new abilities that the traditional schooling system falls short of offering.

“A current approach is that of nuclearization of curriculums, where elements like a gender perspective, citizens competencies, critical thinking, or skills for the 21st Century are included ins a transversal way. However, we have seen that not all teachers and educators have the capacities or confidence to take this to their classrooms. We have inherited a system of evaluation of teachers that hinders their innovation since the students’ results reflect on their own evaluation”, Álvaro González explains.

Some reforms, yet not enough

The current government, which has been in power for just over a year, has tried to implement a series of reforms to address both the demands already described and the challenges that came with the pandemic. However, some of these reforms have been a source of controversy.

For instance, as Mr. González explains, a system for admissions, aided by an algorithm, has been introduced to randomly assign students to schools, increasing diversity in the institutions. However, criticism from both ends of the political spectrum has not been absent, and in practice, institutions are failing to provide enough tools to successfully integrate students with lacking or deficient academic backgrounds.

Nonetheless, “The Chilean situation is not as pronounced as in other countries”, says Mr. González, who acknowledges that in the past decade, access to higher education by students in rural areas has increased at the highest rate in the continent. And, in an effort to provide contextualized education for these communities, institutions have developed specialized programs overviewed by the National Ministry of Education to secure their quality.

There are also efforts from both the public and private sectors to improve the conditions of access and permanence of indigenous communities in the country. “These past years we have seen affirmative actions that acknowledge diversity in the students. For instance, there are adapted curricula, particularly a program of intercultural and bilingual education for these communities”, but what Mr. González describes has not proven to be enough. Intercultural approaches also demand the acknowledgment of traditional knowledge as valid. And this is currently an element of debate in the constitutional process in the country, where new ideas about the future of Chile are put on the table.



  • Interview with Álvaro González Torres, director of the “Centro de investigación para la transformación socieducativa” from the Universidad Católica Silva Henríquez in Chile. Conducted by Joan Vilalta Flo.
  • DeLevie-Orey, R. (2014). Chile’s education system is the best in Latin America – so why is it being overhauled? Atlantic Council.
  • Educación, C. (2020, March 2). Estos son 5 desafíos de la educación chilena en la era digital | Educación 2020. Educación 2020 | Educación 2020 Trabaja Para Asegurar Una Educación De Calidad, Equitativa E Inclusiva Para Los Niños, Niñas Y Jóvenes En Chile, a Través Del Impulso De Políticas Públicas Y La Transformación Desde La Sala De Clases.
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  • Salazar, P. (2022). Siete desafíos en materia educacional que deberá enfrentar el nuevo gobierno. Pontificia Universidad Católica De Chile.
  • Staff, R. (2014, May 8). Miles de estudiantes marchan en Chile para presionar a Bachelet por reformas. S.
  • Stuardo, G. M. (2021). Entre la emergencia y la transformación: ideas para recuperar la política educacional en Chile. CIPER Chile.
  • Suarez, P. S. (2023). El sistema escolar chileno. Educación En Chile.
  • There is a lot that is good about Chilean higher education. (n.d.). University World News.