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Haiti press release: We must reform education

Haiti press release: We must reform education

SOS Children’s Villages UK has called for greater investment in Haiti’s education system one year after the devastating earthquake which destroyed more than 80 per cent of the country’s schools

SOS Children’s Villages UK has called for greater investment in Haiti’s education system one year after the devastating earthquake which destroyed more than 80 per cent of the country’s schools. SOS Children claims that reforming education is essential for the rebuilding of the country and its future development.

The earthquake on 12 January 2010 exacerbated the already miserable condition of Haiti’s school system. As well as widespread school collapse, the Ministry of Education was destroyed, many school records were lost, more than 1,300 teachers and some 38,000 pupils died. Andrew Cates, CEO of SOS Children, says: “In many areas, the earthquake has only made worse what was already in tatters. That is certainly true of education for example, which has been neglected for many years. Today, three million children are without any form of education.” 

With two Children’s Villages in the country (which offer new homes to orphaned and abandoned children), SOS staff not only welcomed more than 300 quake orphans, but immediately increased their education provision. Through the existing SOS School in their Santo Village (Port-au-Prince) and temporary tent schools on site, the charity was able to increase student numbers from 500 to 900. "Demand is very high, in the district of Santo alone more than 100 schools were damaged", says School Head teacher Charles Myrtil. Teacher Wisca Duverger says: "In Haiti we've got a long way to go, many children can't go to school at all" …"that has to change, the children are our future, and without them our country has no hope."

Unlike some other countries, Haiti does not have a universal public education system that is funded by the government. Instead, it has a loose network of mostly for-profit private schools. According to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), nearly 80 percent of these schools lack certification or licensing to teach children. Worse still, the average cost of tuition at these uncertified institutions is about $135 a year – a significant expense for many families as Cates explains, “Tuition fees represent a huge expense for most families in Haiti. Even before the earthquake around half the primary education age children were not enrolled in school.”

As well as providing acute emergency provision for the past year, SOS Children say they are committed to helping with long-term reconstruction, of which education provision must play an essential role. They plan to build at least ten state schools over the next years, in order to ensure an education for children in need and to strengthen the Haitian school system. Cates urges other NGOs to do the same: “Faced with massive societal breakdown in Haiti, NGOs need to be more thoughtful and focus beyond fire-fighting with the next meal or short term give-aways. We should work on how we are going to change lives sustainably. Education has to play a major role in rebuilding the broken society in Haiti, as does longer term projects, focussing on fewer beneficiaries but achieving lifelong change.”

SOS Children will cover all the costs of ten new schools for a period of five to seven years (including construction costs, salaries, teacher training and teaching materials). After this time, SOS Children says financing of the schools will have to come from both the Haitian government's budget and the charity itself, “At present, Haiti spends only about 2 percent of its gross domestic product on public funding of education. The Government needs to invest more and work together with NGOs” says Cates.

The charity will begin by building a temporary school in the grounds of the Children’s Village in Santo Port-au-Prince to replace the tent classrooms in early 2011. SOS School Head teacher Charles Myrtil says: "The route to reconstruction has to be via education, we have to teach the children to look beyond their own interests to the interests of all Haitians. They have to learn to help each other."

SOS Children also recognise that for a fundamental improvement in the education system, a focus on teacher training is essential. Of the estimated 70,000 teachers working in Haiti, only about 35,000 of them are properly trained. Therefore, in cooperation with the University of Port-au-Prince, SOS Children is working to develop teaching plans and a school curriculum. They have partnered with the Ministry of Education in Haiti, advocating a system of free and universal education for all children and supporting the development of vocational and university education. 

Watch the accompanying video from Port-au-Prince

Note to Editors:

•    For more information, photos, stories, interviews or to visit SOS Children projects in Haiti, please contact:
Elizabeth Tofaris
SOS Children
01223 365 589
•    SOS Children has been providing a family for life for children who have lost their parents through conflict, famine, natural disaster, disease and poverty since 1949. Over 78,000 orphaned or abandoned children are cared for by SOS mothers in clusters of family homes in 505 of our unique Children's Villages, in 124 countries around the world.

 A further million benefit from SOS Children's outreach support which includes education, vocational training, medical care and community development programmes.
•    SOS Children had two Children's Villages in Haiti before the quake, and both undamaged, have been able offer a new home to hundreds of orphaned  children; united 165 with their families, welcomed 400 extra children into the SOS school, set up 16 feeding centres catering for 14,000 children  and committed to a 12-year reconstruction plan.