The state of education in Haiti, according to his excellency, President Michel Martelly

On Wednesday, February 5th, 2014, President Michel Martelly of Haiti, gave a speech on the state of education in Haiti at the Howard University’s School of Business. The auditorium was filled to capacity; and to my surprise, the program started right on time. The president, who read his speech in English, talked for 30 minutes and allowed 10 minutes for questions from the audience.

Education statistics for Haiti are pretty hard to come by. The facts I found from trusted sources such as UNICEF and The World Bank are 6–7 years old. Nonetheless, below are some general facts about education in Haiti, quoted in part from www.Haitipartners.org

  • 50% of primary school age children are not enrolled in school.
  • Less than 40% of non-public schools are accredited.
  • Only 15% of teachers at the primary level have basic teacher qualifications (including university degrees), and nearly 25% have never even attended secondary school.
  • Approximately 75% of all teachers lack adequate training; many have just a 9th grade or 12th grade education, with no teacher training at all.
  • Less than 20% of schools have electricity; 39% have potable water; 15% have a library.

Since taking up his presidency in 2011, the president stated the following improvements have been made:

  • Fleet of busses purchased to provide free transportation to and from school;
  • 125 schools rehabilitated ;
  • new hotel developments;
  • removal of thousands of tents near the palace (not to be misinterpreted as displacement of thousands of people);
  • improved airport infrastructure;
  • and more inclusion of women in his government.

These improvements although great, are unfortunately cosmetic and temporary — Haiti’s problem is systemic. In terms of education, the two biggest problems that stood out to me were 1) teacher training and 2) curriculum development. Besides implementing a pay freeze for current, allegedly unqualified teachers, the president failed to share any parts of a strategic plan to overhaul the Haitian education system.

Improving the education system is the key to Haiti’s success. The slogan “Haiti is Open for Business” has been the president’s mantra from day one. Although Haiti is in serious need of money, the president’s heavy reliance on foreign investment is worrisome. Even though he spoke of the Haitian Diaspora in terms of repatriating to Haiti, there were no concrete examples on how the president plans to support Haitians living abroad who have strong aspirations to help Haiti. How does the president plan to stop the Haitian brain drain when there are no opportunities for the talented to excel in Haiti?

As a first generation Haitian American, I’m very interested in helping Haiti reclaim its rightful title as the “pearl of the Antilles.” I believe one the greatest resource for Haiti is its talented Haitian Diaspora. We are a talented group of people with expertise that can dramatically support positive, sustainable development in Haiti within my lifetime.

At the end of his speech, I was delighted that the president proposed an exchange program between Haiti and Howard University. I look forward to hearing about more improvements in Haiti’s education system.

(This article was originally published in 2014.)