Why risk your life when you can also leave? Why continue to live in unsafe Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, when you can also leave for to the United States? Mario Andre (INCE Haiti project manager) drove his car into a gang ambush. Yet he is not thinking of leaving the country. ‘INCE has unlimited potential to improve education in Haiti.’
Since Mario drove his car into an ambush by an armed gang, he has not used his car. A group of armed youths stopped him. ‘At that moment I just thought: I won’t let myself be kidnapped.’ Since then, he has been trying to blend into the street scene. He travels by public transport and tries to stand out as little as possible. ‘You have to find a way to survive in this crazy situation.’
Not going to school
Politically and economically, Haiti is fragile. Two years ago, the president was shot dead. Since then, an interim government has ruled the country. Armed gangs control neighbourhoods of the capital Port-au-Prince. Part of the population hoped that the international community would intervene, but with time those hopes faded. Meanwhile, fears of civil war are growing in society. There are stories of neighbourhoods where residents fought back when a gang wanted to take over the area.
With all the uncertainty and threats, children have not had a full school year for the past four years. The 2022/2023 school year officially started in January 2023. Due to various reasons, children were not actually in school until March. Parents in the capital in particular face three challenges. First, there is the constant threat of their child being kidnapped on the way to school. In addition, there is a shortage of fuel, so petrol is only available on the black market at sky-high rates. Costs for public transport are also rising as a result. Thirdly, demonstrations are organised regularly, often ending in violence. Therefore, many parents keep their children at home on days when demonstrations are planned.
In the countryside outside the capital, the situation is somewhat more stable, but many residents who get the chance leave for the United States. ‘Of course I also thought about leaving,’ Mario says. He spoke about this with Daniel Jean-Louis, director of partner organisation P&A, among others. Daniel pressed Mario hard: ‘If we leave, all hope is lost.’
And so Mario stayed. Because despite the difficult situation in his country, he also sees “unlimited opportunities” to improve the quality of education. Opportunities that are reached and benefiting school children. In 2020, when schools were closed worldwide to limit the spread of the coronavirus, schools also closed in Haiti. The collaborating organisations within INCE immediately set to work to set up home education. In a country where internet and electricity are not commonplace, this is an added challenge.
Offline home education
Partner organisation CRECH developed a teaching method for home education. P&A deployed this method. The method was developed entirely on paper. Through a regional coordinator, the teaching materials are delivered to the schools. The teachers bring the lessons to the students and pick up the homework a week later. ‘The school results were slightly lower than with classroom teaching, but overall the results were quite good.’
Therefore, this teaching method was further developed. Besides social challenges, Haiti is regularly hit by natural disasters. ‘It is important that when education is interrupted, we can quickly switch to this system.’ This allows the children to have more school days and that offers perspective for the future.
French becomes Creole
In 2022, the Ministry of Education took an important decision. The language of instruction changed from French to Creole. USAID and INCE encouraged this change. ‘It took years and a lot of effort before we were able to break that system,’ says USAID.
‘This was a systemic change at the highest level,’ says Mario. ‘The impact of this policy change is huge, but to make it happen, something had to change in society as well. French is seen as the language of the upper class. Initially, even the poorest Haitians did not want the language of education to change, because speaking French gives status. In practice, French inhibits the development of children, who grow up with Creole as their mother tongue. At school, they are confronted with teaching material in a language they do not speak. On top of that, not all teachers are proficient enough in French to teach well either.
It is known from USAID research that children perform better when taught in their mother tongue. This year, INCE Haiti is investigating the impact of teaching Creole. ‘Teachers and school headmasters in particular are enthusiastic. They saw in practice that French was hindering the children.’ Besides, parents can now help their children with homework. In the coming period, teachers will be trained to work with the new teaching methods and we will investigate the effect of this change on the children’s school results.