The Anatomy of a Failed Education System

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I have come to the realization that Haiti’s educational system does not simply need to be reformed, but rather it needs to be completely remodeled. An educational revolution needs to happen to save the coming generation and the nation. The current Haitian Constitution, in articles 32 to 34, guarantees the citizens’ right to education, especially that of primary education. This constitutional right to access to quality education has never been implemented.

In academic circles, there is great consensus that the sooner a child can attend school, the better their chances are at succeeding later in life. In this New York Times article, Investment in Education May Be Misdirected, the message is resounding clear, invest in children early to guarantee success later, something that has yet to reach the policy makers in Haiti.

As of 2015, the country’s literacy rate stands at 60.7%, and only 57% for women. In comparison, the average literacy rate for the region is 90%. According to a 2016 USAID fact sheet, primary school education enrollment in Haiti is at 75%, nearly half of all second graders can not read a single word, more than 85% of all primary schools are privately managed, and close to 80% of teachers do not have the appropriate training. This is a recipe for disaster. Yet, there is no urgency to fix this educational injustice.

Each year, roughly 25,000 students pass the baccalaureate exam. There are only 5,000 seats available at Haiti’s only public university system,

The numbers are no better for higher education. Each year, roughly 25,000 students pass the baccalaureate exam. There are only 5,000 seats available at Haiti’s only public university system, the State University of Haiti (UEH). Those who cannot enroll in the UEH are forced to look towards private institutions, which are very expensive and only loosely regulated by the government. These institutions do not have modern facilities where real academic training and research can take place. Many of them are not accredited by the Haitian government, creating a situation where graduates are left holding diplomas that have no real value in the open market.

Those who are lucky enough to succeed in this system often leave Haiti for better opportunities elsewhere, and unfortunately usually do not come back. Besides mangoes and textiles finished goods, human capital is probably Haiti’s greatest export. This brain drain has deprived the country of its very best.

Those who hold a sentimental affinity for Haiti’s educational system often argue that Haitian students usually do well in schools and tough academic programs abroad. We have no statistics to prove this, but I would argue that those who succeed, do so because of their personal drive and strong understanding of why they left Haiti in the first place; not because of the education they received in Haiti. Besides, the majority of those who do excel elsewhere, probably attended some of the best schools in Haiti

Haiti’s school system must design and adopt a new curriculum that will allow its students to become model citizens capable of integrating the labor market or attending institution of higher learning for more specialized studies. A curriculum that will emphasize practical learning rather than pure theoretical knowledge. A system that will make more room for creative thoughts over memorization. It is time for Haitian educators to understand that the country needs to cultivate the mindset of doers, entrepreneurs and innovators; hence, it must break with its past of “robotization” or the system of turning students into robots.

The country faces major challenges as far as its environment, agriculture, healthcare, archaic construction, high unemployment rate, civil disengagement, and major political instability. By preparing students to tackle these challenges, Haiti would stand a better chance at reaching its full potential.

It is essential to teach courses at the secondary level in environmental remediation, civics education and organizational leadership, health, finance and entrepreneurship among others. Students who want to pursue a more vocational oriented curriculum should be given the option. They could explore trades such as road and building constructions, irrigation and plumbing technicians, electronic and automobile repairs. All these would play a crucial role as Haiti continues to rebuild.

How do we go from a failed educational system to a successful one?

First, adequate funding for education must be allocated by the government.  For the 2016-2017 fiscal year, it is less than 310 million dollars (USD). At current rate, Haiti is spending $120 per student for the school year. To have educational success, the educational budget must see a significant increase to appropriate at least $5,000 per student in order to provide quality education to all.

Once adequate funding is allocated, there must be a redesign of the curriculum, more specifically at the secondary level. The stakeholders i.e., school directors, teachers, administrators, government officials, and other experts in education, need to join forces to create a model curriculum that can deliver a sound education for all.

Most graduating students are not ready for higher education. They lag behind in math, science and languages. Language is at the core of this issue. It is not simply a question of whether or not education should be conducted in Creole, but the educators’ inability to teach in the chosen language. If it is required that students must be educated in French, then teachers must write and speak French fluently. Even then, the problem remains. The Haitian student spends too much time fighting to understand didactic materials in a language that they have not mastered. Although, Creole has seen a wider acceptance in the school system as of late, French remains the language of instruction.

We must ensure that students have access to an environment suited for quality education. Schools must have smaller class sizes and be equipped with desk/chair in classrooms, libraries, cafeteria and space for physical education.

The new education system must integrate the use of technology in all its facets, and that in itself could be a challenge for Haiti, but one that could surely be met. Sites like Google, and hundreds of mobile apps geared for educational purposes, now make it possible for a child anywhere in the world to have access to the best academic materials, often at a minimal or no cost at all. Technology could also allow Haitian students to perform virtual experiments where laboratory access is difficult or non-existent. There are platforms and websites designed just for such purpose.

The vision of this proposed education model is one that will instill confidence and also get every student ready to tackle the current challenges of the country. In essence, revolutionizing the school system in Haiti is the surest way to guarantee political stability and economic prosperity. The longer we take as a nation to make this transition from an antiquated model to adopting a more modern system, the more inevitable it becomes for a total social collapse to happen. An educational revolution can save the nation.

Photo via @MEducationHaiti
Ilio Durandis

Ilio Durandis

Haiti, Family, scientist & columnist. Founder @veritabservices, @haitibio. Sports & technology. Vice-Doyen UNDH. Collaborator. Make things happen.

  1. I totally agree with your views on the need for an educational revolution, and would love to have you visit our independent school Lycee Jean-Baptiste Pointe du Sable in Saint-Marc.

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