20 December 2014

Education inequalities in 'the two Haitis'

In a country where nearly half the population is under 18, and poverty is extreme, educational reforms are key to sustainable social development.

20 December 2014 - In Haiti, there is a huge gap in the quality of education children receive. Eighty percent of schools are private, but only a small minority of children and young people have access to the more sophisticated and well-equipped private system. As school fees are required at both private and public institutions, even public education can be out of reach for the 5.5 million Haitians who live on less than a dollar per day. Consequently, illiteracy plays an important role in deepening the social and economic divide; illiterate citizens face even steeper challenges in accessing opportunities that would help them achieve better conditions for themselves and their children.

Evening the odds in education

Since 1978, SOS Children’s Villages has been working in Haiti to help support disadvantaged children and families and improve their life chances. Providing quality schools and support so that children can get an education, is part of that support.
 
According to the United Nations, only 12% of Haiti’s already meagre public budget goes to national education and vocational training, which directly affects the quality of teachers. Apart from low salaries, many teachers also lack adequate training.
 
“The majority of teachers in Haiti don’t have access to the new information technologies, like online research and online training. Generally, they teach without having a basic preparation, so that they can’t offer quality education,” explained Wilfrid St-Felix, the director of the SOS Hermann Gmeiner School Les Cayes, in the south of Haiti.


Developing children’s capacity

To enhance the quality of the teaching, SOS Children’s Villages Haiti is focused on building teachers’ capacities through teacher training and providing adequate infrastructure, such as school libraries, computer rooms and counselling for children. Additionally, class sizes in SOS schools are limited to 35 pupils.
 

In Santo, a town near Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince, more than 300 children aged 6 to 15 attend a community school opened by SOS Children’s Villages. Photo: Danielle Pereira
“We work alongside children, teachers, staff and parents. They are trained to understand that children are individuals with rights. This assures the self-esteem of the children. They need us to trust them and to accompany them to look for information that allows them to build knowledge. That’s the work we do – developing children’s capacities,” said Mr Myrtil.

Another Haiti

Although the number of children who attend primary school in Haiti climbed from 50% to 70% in the past decade, access to school varies from region to region. Children in rural areas particularly tend to miss out on good education.

Robenson Claude, the Family Strengthening Programme National Coordinator for SOS Children’s Villages Haiti calls these rural areas “the other Haiti”.
 
“There are kids in the other Haiti, the second Haiti, who must walk 15 to 20 kilometres every day to go to school. There are families that have to walk many kilometres with buckets on their heads just to have access to water,” he explained.
 

In a small rural province near Les Cayes, Haiti, the SOS Children's Villages community centre provides children from the area their first opportunity to go to school and overcome generations of illiteracy. Photo: Danielle Pereira
According to Mr Raymond, schooling is the answer – the means to escape poverty and deprivation – for children living in remote areas. For this reason SOS Children’s Villages Haiti offers literacy-training programmes through rural community centres.
 
Laucita Louis lives in a small province near Les Cayes. She works as a laundress to support her family. Although she never learned to read or write, she is glad that her children are learning through the literacy programme at the SOS Children’s Villages community centre.

“I bring them to school by eight; they come in, they sing, and they are taught how to read and write. They eat twice a day, even when I have nothing to give them,” she said.
 
Another community member, Gherty Merger, also struggled to provide for her family, despite hard work.
 
“I have four kids, but two are at the community centre. They are getting an education – the first thing a family needs. Second, they get medical treatment and they also receive food,” she said.

Education to rebuild

During the first twelve months following the 2010 earthquake, SOS Children's Villages set up emergency food distribution points throughout Haiti and provided food for 40,000 people every day. After the acute stages of the emergency passed, these food distribution points were turned into community centres, offering a range of social services for children and families.
 
The former National Director of SOS Children’s Village Haiti, Mario Brusa, explained the bigger vision for these programmes. “We included pre-school activities because we really want to encourage families to get involved, to achieve the dream of having their children get an education.”
 
“Let’s not forget that one of the millennium development goals is to provide free access to primary school for all,” he added. “And we, with this small drop, are trying to contribute to that.”