Saturday, October 15, 2011

Haiti and the issue of education

By Jean H Charles

The month of October used to be the cruelest month of the year in Haiti. It is the month when parents must find the full tuition payment for their children’s education. The previous Haitian governments have been so delinquent in their mission of educating the children that 80 percent of the education system is the hands of the private sector.

Jean H Charles MSW, JD is Executive Director of AINDOH Inc a non profit organization dedicated to building a kinder and gentle Caribbean zone for all. He can be reached at: jeanhcharles@aol.comJoseph Michel Martelly, the president of Haiti, akin to Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, has made education and the acquisition thereof, the cornerstone of his administration. He was not afraid of the ire of some members of the Diaspora in resting on their back the bulk of the education funds by taxing $1.50 for each transfer to and from Haiti and by exacting 5 cents on each call to and from Haiti. He plans to raise as such $300 million per year to send all the children in age of education to school, free of charge to their parents.

The business of providing an excellent education to the children of a nation is not the business of the parents. It is the business of the state. The business of the parents is to provide the enrichment and the nurturing to support the education received in school.

According to Emil Vlajki often cited in this column, the wealth of a nation depends not on its natural resources but on the degree of education and the extent of creativity and resilience of its people.

Singapore in Asia, with limited natural resources but with a highly educated population, is a world giant in economic development, while Niger or the Sudan, with ample natural resources but with a poorly educated population, is a basket case in Africa.

As such it is in the interest of the state to take the necessary measures to establish a critical mass of citizens, well educated, creative and resilient, to build the sustaining wealth of the country.

President Joseph Michel Martelly is breaking the circle of treating the children of the Haitian masses as second class citizens in pushing forward a policy of universal free education. The program started this year with some 772,000 students, those who have never been to or left school because their parents were too poor to help them to remain in a program of study.

The education funds that started in May 2011 have already collected $28 million. PAM and UNICEF are putting their resources into the fray in adding a hot meal a day and a school kit with bags and books and notebooks for the children. In addition, President Martelly has also taken the initiative to insure that the children have free transportation to and from school, with a police officer in each bus to provide security.

Haiti has come a long way in pushing forward education as a priority in its public policy expenditure. In the Caribbean area, Haiti occupies the last place in education indices. This practice is as old as the history of the Republic. At the eve of the revolution leading to independence, the topic amongst those freed from servitude was: what measure should be adopted to create a distinction between those who were free before independence and those who became free after.

The choice was that education should be as restricted as possible for the former slaves; as such the privilege of an upper class would be preserved for ever.

If Haiti’s founding father Jean Jacques Dessalines wanted to create a Haiti hospitable for all in the new Republic, at its birth in 1804, it was not the vision of his comrades in arms. In fact, he was assassinated two years after independence on October 17, 1806. Henry Christophe, who became king of the north of Haiti after being denied the presidency of the whole Republic, introduced the British system of education, as well as civic formation for all. (Who said the men of the north of Haiti are better!). It lasted only twenty years.

Alexander Petion, who controlled the rest of the Republic, stamped the nation with the culture of discrimination against the majority of the population. (It is true the Alexander Petion Lyceum was his creation!) That culture, extended by his successor, Jean Pierre Boyer, became the law of the land until today when Joseph Michel Martelly took the decision to put education at the center of his social revolution.

His ambitious program may have a few holes at the beginning; they will be corrected as the program goes along. The extreme joy was in the face of Senatus Antoine, a father of two, whom I met on the public bus recently. The fee that he was struggling to find “has been paid by the government” he was told by the principal.

Speaking of principal, I met with the principal of Marie Jeanne Lyceum, a no-nonsense woman, who led her school with an iron hand. Parents travel from close and a far to enroll their children in this public school for girls. The public school system in Haiti needs many more principals as the one at the Marie Jeanne Lyceum; the competition will drive more children to the public school system, leaving the meager income of the parents for other options such as food and shelter.

In the end, education as a priority is essential but as New York City indicates, Mayor Bloomberg, after more than eight years in command of the city, needs much more than education as a priority to keep New York City afloat.

Michel Joseph Martelly will have to prepare and implement a complete vision for Haiti that includes complete security in the territory, decent infrastructure and sane institutions to root the population in their localities with economic incubation to put value in each citizen; as such the nation of Haiti will be rebuilt after it has been ravaged by 60 years of national governments that were at best predatory and at worst criminal.

God’s hand was also in the fray, the Republic of Port au Prince that gobbles 80 percent of the national economy was almost destroyed by an earthquake that occurred on January 12, 2010!

Haiti will have to use, as said Michaelle Jean (the former Governor General of Canada), a new paradigm to (re)build a nation filled with promises but that went astray because education for all was not at the center and at the end of all the transactions conceived and elaborated by the government.

October 15, 2011