The Haitian State and the State of Haitian Education

by Rea Dol, Founder, Director of SOPUDEP
edited and translated by Ryan Sawatzky, The Sawatzky Family Foundation
Originally posted at SOPUDEP

Any country wanting to engage in the process of development for a prosperous future must invest in education. In this crossroads of Haiti’s history, it still is not a priority for the Haitian state to take charge of education and to implement suitable means to ensure the training and the development of all Haitian’s. For true national development to happen, this democratic governments hand cannot be withdrawn.

The Haitian constitution of 1874 was the first to recognize the importance of state funded education, at least in its primary phase, by declaring obligatory primary school education. Following constitutional amendments stipulated that primary school education was not only obligatory, but free. In spite of these written words, structures have hardly improved, and the Haitian state continues to neglect its duties in this field, preferring to leave the responsibility of education on the largely unregulated private institutions and foreign NGO’s.

At the end of the 19th century, the already cash poor Haitian government was to naively pass the responsibility of providing education for its people onto the many catholic monks who found themselves on Haiti’s shores ready to convert the population. These monks were the ones who first founded schools that favored the established middle-class, neglecting the poor masses openly. Favoring this small group of people able to pay for their education was a way to create assets for the church and lessened the challenge of having to engage with a poor rural majority that would use up monetary resources.

While this may have eased a perceived burden for government, they were forgetting that: to invest in education is to invest in people, who in turn will make Haiti infinitely more prosperous than it would have been otherwise. People provided with the best educational potential are those who’s progress will be fastest.

In a country such as Haiti, true education for the masses would have a clear effect on fertility and mortality rates related to parents, especially mothers. Education would also help demonstrate the impact of our day to day living on the environment and how we can reduce our impact, would play a key role in promoting our overall health and confront the cycles of racism, classism and inequality that exist in Haiti.

The majority of the small private schools, which were born out of this history have only one objective: to gain money. To achieve this goal, those with low moral fiber do not hesitate to act like “professors” without having any qualifications. The State is always paying lip service in regard to the importance of education, but has never installed any real mechanism of control.

Because of their passing this responsibility onto the private sector, Public education in Haiti has been in shambles for years. It is the public teacher that should be the one to shape society, but because there is no accessible education for the public, half of Haiti’s children do not go to school, and 75% of which are provided education are registered in private schools. The bad quality of teaching, the lack of adequate school handbooks and the shortage of qualified teachers contribute to poor school results, high rates of grade repetition and abandonment of school altogether.

On top of all this, there are very few schools in Haiti, with the majority of these institutions charging tuition fees that are unrealistic for the average family. According to our data collected in an investigation with the poorest families living around Institution Mixed of SOPUDEP (I.M.S.) from 2002 and 2007, parents will keep their children at home in periods of economic difficulties. For many, there is no relief from economic hardships and never are able to consider sending their children to school.

In the neoliberal plan, education becomes goods: a service to be sold for a profit. It also steers pedagogy towards the training of a skilled labor force that can be controlled by industrialists and sold as a cheap, disposable commodity into the global market. The transformation of education into merchandise produces a culture that is indifferent to providing education of any true depth and quality, which the lack thereof leaves many “intellectually handicapped”, unable to reflect and think. Within a private system, education loses its humanity, only to become an investment for the parents. Those that are already engrained with this ideology believe that economic stability equals competence, which justifies inequalities of an economic, social and political nature. They say, “The poor are ignorant and because of its ignorance, it should be subjected to the will of us, the elites. We know what they need to survive.”

Today, despite large promises, the Haitian state has still not taken basic measures to put education within reach of the majority of the population. And although the masses requests for this social right are unceasing, it always seems to fall on deaf ears. However, each waking moment, Haitian community leaders, activists, grassroots social organizations and any person willing to fight for a better Haiti, lay the groundwork for a good academic foundation for future generations. We will not give up!

In this way, SOPUDEP’s program is aimed at providing accessible education to the poorest Haitian children with an objective to increase the net rates of schooling in our community of Morne Lazard Pétion-Ville Haiti. For now, grassroots organization such as ourselves have a responsibility to provide our people what the Haitian state can’t.

We give our deepest gratitude to all that have supported SOPUDEP in the past and we welcome your further support so we may continue to improve the conditions of our people. We also thank our teachers, who tirelessly dedicate themselves to a better future for those children who would not have another way to receive an education.

Réa Dol – Founder, Director SOPUDEP