Just two days after Haiti’s Jan. 12 earthquake, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) issued a statement calling for assistance in rebuilding education in Haiti.
“Education is at the core of Haiti’s recovery and is the key to Haiti’s development,” Irina Bokova, director general of UNESCO, said. “We are determined to mobilize support for temporary emergency educational facilities and for reconstruction. I also urge academia to show solidarity. Universities in the region and beyond should make every effort to take in Haitian students.”
According to a Council on Foreign Relations interview with Mark Schneider, former Peace Corps director during the Clinton administration and senior vice president of the International Crisis Group, the state of public education in Haiti was grim even before the earthquake. Forty percent of kids weren’t enrolled in school prior to the quake, and 80 percent of those that were enrolled were attending private schools that required tuition, “and those schools weren’t very good,” Schneider said.
On Thursday, Ray Rivera reported for The New York Times that “5,000 to 8,000 schools were affected by the earthquake,” displacing as many as 1.8 million children. Though education officials there said that schools not affected by the quake will reopen for the first time on Feb. 1, it remains unclear how many students and teachers will return.
John Henry Telemaque, assistant coordinator for education for President René Préval’s emergency disaster committee, said that up to 97 percent of Port-Au-Prince’s schools alone had been leveled in the earthquake.
“The schools were built without anti seismic systems,” Telemaque said. “In Haiti most of the schools were built with heavy cement block to withstand hurricanes.” (The heavy cement block style of construction is evident in these photos of Haitian schools on the Visual Geography Web site. The site is a project of two photographers and is “dedicated to those studying and teaching about the world.”)
Schneider emphasized that reconstructing Haiti, including its schools, will take decades. “Let’s take the Ministry of Education: What you need to do now is not just put back the same bricks. You need to build a new education policy in Haiti,” he said.
“You need to have a commitment to a public school education system that offers a decent education to the kids in Haiti,” Schneider elaborated. “So you need to have education experts from around the world come and partner with the new Ministry of Education in Haiti.”
Looking to help Haiti? San Francisco Chronicle has a Haiti donation list with information on how each organization is reaching out to Haiti.