Haiti’s Education System Needs to be Rebuilt from the Ground up

The aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti has left a fragile nation teetering on the brink of collapse. In the coming weeks and months, donor countries, aid agencies, and NGOs will continue their tireless efforts to bring help and hope to Haiti’s roughly 10 million survivors. And yet, while urgent needs lurk on every street corner, nothing will determine the country’s long-term fate more than the trajectory of its education system.

Prior to the disaster, Haiti’s schools were in shambles. An estimated 706,000 poor and middle-class children in Haiti had never stepped foot in a classroom.1 Nationwide, just 52 percent of primary-school-aged girls and 48 percent of boys were enrolled in school.2 The average years of schooling of the adult population in Haiti was just 2.8 years, while just 62 percent of the population was functionally illiterate.3 Public spending on education in Haiti totaled about 2 percent of GDP—among the lowest in the world.4

But when a 7.0 registered, the real chaos struck.

The headquarters of the Haitian Ministry of Education, which oversees the country’s state-run primary and secondary schools, was leveled.5 An estimated 50 percent of schools across the island nation were demolished, with nearly every school in the capital city of Port-au-Prince mired in rubble.6 Schools left standing—plagued by teacher absences, road closures, and a lack of suitable resources, from pencils to textbooks—have only now begun to reopen. Tens of thousands of government officials and teachers working in Haiti’s education sector remain unaccounted for.7

Joel Jean-Pierre, Haiti’s chief education minister, laments what he calls the “total collapse of the Haitian education system… a catastrophic set-back for a country already hit by other disasters.”8
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