Every morning, little girls and boys dressed in neatly pressed school uniforms, crowd the streets of Port-au-Prince headed toward what many believe are the steps toward a brighter future.
Yet despite the ongoing education emphasis in Haiti where the government is currently taxing its diaspora via remittances and phone calls to provide free education services, challenges remain.
For some, the walk to school takes place through streets with striking teachers who haven’t been paid in months.
For others, the classroom is located in one of the 4,000-plus schools that were destroyed, and yet to be rebuilt, during Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake.
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And sadly, most of all, these children will attend schools where classes are crowded beyond capacity, and at least 85 percent of their teachers are unqualified, according to the Haitian Ministry of Education’s own statistics. If their school isn’t run by the government, then it’s most likely one of the many unregulated private schools that sit on practically every corner in a country where, according to the Inter-American Development Bank, nearly 90 percent of schools are privately operated.
This is the daunting reality most Haitian children face.
Education is the key to bringing Haiti out of its impoverished hole. But our system is detrimental to Haiti’s future. The primary objective of many schools isn’t to teach youngsters but to make money. Meanwhile, the objective of the education system appears to emphasize enrollment numbers over graduation rates.
On a regular basis, the government stresses that 3.5 million children are enrolled in school, and 1.5 million are receiving the government’s tuition-free services. But what’s missing from the announcements and billboards are the graduation and exam-passing rates.
The fact remains, Haiti is a country where 50 percent of children of primary-school age are not in school, a reality one sees every day in the capital where disheveled kids beg for money at trafficintersections in exchange for wiping windshields.
When you add the other harsh reality of illiteracy — 37.9 percent of Haiti’s 10 million citizens are unable to read and write — it raises a question: What is the future of the country?
If Haiti is to become a more stabilized, developed and prosperous nation, it must do more than just enroll kids in schools — they must fund the schools, for example. Yet the dollars, once estimated at $2 billion for five years by the IDB, still have to be allocated.
On April 10, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon teamed up with U.N. Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown and others to launch a worldwide effort to get 57 million children into school. In launching the A World at School campaign, Ban noted that too many children are being denied an education because of conflict, child labor, gender-based discrimination and sexual violence.
As a newly appointed Global Youth Ambassador for A World at School and as a Haitian American, I am focusing my efforts on the plight of Haiti’s children who are being denied the right to learn because of poverty, security and political conflict.
Four years after our most devastating disaster, the moment has come for us to ensure that Haiti’s kids not only get access to an education, but a good education. Poverty, political conflict or geography should not be reasons for exclusion.
I am urging our leaders and foreign donors to truly reform education in Haiti by raising the budget, building modern schools, enhancing the curriculum, training teachers and improving the learning environment for all children.
I am also urging the public, and all those concerned about education in Haiti, to join this global campaign, A World at School, to get every child learning.
Woodline Gedeon is a Haitian American, currently residing in Haiti, who has been named a Youth Ambassador by the United Nations for a global education initiative.