As Haiti struggles to recover from the devastating earthquake two years ago, rebuilding education is a major priority – and a small bright light, of sorts. According to Nigel Fisher, the UN secretary-general’s Deputy Special Representative for Haiti, there are now more children in school than there were before the earthquake that struck on January 12, 2010.
That achievement is testimony to the combined efforts of Haitians and aid agencies who realise that it is vital to make education a priority when catastrophe strikes – a fact we underlined in the 2011 Education for All Global Monitoring Report: The hidden crisis: Armed conflict and education.
But it is small comfort given the very low standards of education in Haiti before the quake. Only about half of children were enrolled in primary school – and of those, about three-quarters attended private schools that charge fees. Secondary school enrolment was only 4% and the country had only one state-funded university.
Many students, teachers and administrators were among the thousands who died in the quake. Much of what had existed was reduced to rubble, including an estimated 80% of schools in the quake zone and a huge swath of the country’s mostly private post-secondary sector.
Since the quake, many observers have emphasized the need to build a genuinely free, public education system that offers access to all. As Michaëlle Jean, UNESCO’s special representative for Haiti, said last year: “It is imperative to implement the National Pact for Education, which was developed by Haitian authorities in the world of education and endorsed by the President of the Republic. This plan lays the foundation for building an education system that is accessible, universal and offers quality instruction. “
Rebuilding has been hampered by the fact that Haiti’s basic social and economic infrastructure had long been broken, as Nigel Fisher emphasized at a UN press conference in November. The cholera outbreak that began in October 2012 has killed 7,000 Haitians.
The number of quake survivors living in makeshift refugee camps has sunk from 1.5 million to half a million, and Fisher said that 75% of children in the camps were enrolled in school. But families remaining in the camps face deteriorating conditions and a plague of sexual violence, as well as forced evictions, the International Organisation of Migration told Reuters AlertNet recently.
The other great danger facing the country is the waning of donor funding and interest, as the media and the humanitarian community move on to other emergency situations.
“Non-governmental organisations have had to pull out because of a lack of funding. Donor fatigue has set in. Conditions are really tough,” Leonard Doyle, IOM’s communications officer said.
The high risk of donor fatigue after catastrophes – whether they be natural disasters or violent conflicts – highlights another finding of the 2011 EFA Global Monitoring Report: the need to move swiftly from short-term humanitarian assistance, which focuses on saving lives, to long-term development aid that can help countries and societies rebuild themselves.
Telling Haiti’s education stories
One of those determined to keep the spotlight on Haiti’s serious education needs is Paul Franz, a young U.S. journalist. Aided by a grant from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, Franz travelled to Haiti to make a series of multimedia documentaries that were subsequently featured online by Time magazine and others (see below).