New education system may rise from Haiti’s ruins

PORT-AU-PRINCE — Of the 800 children born each day in this luckless Caribbean nation, only 567 are fortunate enough to eventually attend school. One of three finishes sixth grade, and just seven of that original 800 ever see the inside of a university.

And those numbers reflect the situation before the Jan. 12 earthquake wiped out or damaged 1,300 schools.

As leaders prepare to shape this quake-battered nation’s rebuilding effort, proponents of education want to seize the moment to fix a broken education system.

“Poor parents pay up to half of their income to send kids to bad schools,” said Marcelo Cabrol, the Inter-American Development Bank’s chief education expert. “It’s like going to see a doctor without a license to practice.”

For months, he, New Orleans’ education guru, Paul Vallas, and members of a high-level Haitian presidential commission on education have been waging a quiet debate on how to transform education in this nation where 2.5 million of the nine million people can’t read or write.

At the heart of their discussions: How to ensure quality education in a country with so much inequity and so few resources — and where 90 percent of the schools are privately run, adhering to wildly disparate standards.

Even before the quake, a million school-age Haitian children simply didn’t go to school.

What they have come up with is an ambitious plan that seeks to use international aid dollars to not only subsidize the construction of new schools but also to put private schools, which are the vast majority, under state oversight.

Although the Haitian government has a spotty history as far as competent stewardship is concerned, the hope is that money can be used as a means to hold schools accountable and as a way to raise teacher salaries in a country where some household servants can make more than educators.

In exchange for funding, schools would be required to reduce classroom sizes, train and recruit quality teachers, and qualify for national certification.

The plan seeks $4.3 billion over two years, and is among dozens of projects — including the construction of a new $15 million, 320-bed teaching hospital in the central Haiti town of Mirebalais — that are expected to be presented Tuesday when former President Bill Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive chair a meeting of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission.

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Mickey Glantz Author

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