By Pi James
NEW YORK, USA, 12 July 2010 – Today marks the six-month anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Haiti, killing more than 220,000, displacing many more and severely affecting the education system.
According to the Haitian Ministry of Education, 80 per cent of schools in the quake-affected areas were damaged or destroyed. Six months on, most of these schools have been re-opened and up to 40 per cent of schools damaged in the earthquake have been cleared of debris. However, attendance rates are still suffering.
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UNICEF Radio podcast moderator Amy Costello recently spoke with two guests in Haiti, Coralie Norris, a 14-year-old student, and Lisa Doherty, UNICEF Haiti Education Cluster Coordinator, about the situation for schoolchildren six months after the quake.
Ms. Doherty noted that while significant progress has been made since 12 January, there are still major challenges in re-opening damaged or destroyed schools and ensuring quality education when students return to the classroom.
”Teachers haven’t been paid for many months now because parents have just been in no position to pay school fees, [so] they are de-motivated, unable to teach,” said Ms. Doherty. She added that UNICEF is “quite concerned about the quality of education that has been provided in those schools that have been re-opened.”
Ms. Doherty went on to explain that 90 per cent of schools in Haiti are actually non-public, relying on school fees to pay teachers’ salaries or even to finance repairs in schools that have been damaged.
‘Frightened to go back’
Coralie Norris attends Sainte Rose de Lima school in the capital, Port-au-Prince. While her family has been able to pay school fees, Coralie said that most of her classmates have left the country. Her school had 80 students before the earthquake but now only 30 children attend, she said.
According to Ms. Doherty, this is a common situation across the affected areas.
“Less than 50 per cent of children have returned to school, mainly because they don’t have fees to pay to return to school,” she explained. “But many of them are really just too frightened to go back to school. Parents are very afraid to send their children back to school because they are afraid of some further seismic activity.”
Education highly valued
Coralie finds, as well, that school has changed since the earthquake: Children are often tired, they sometimes cry and many find it difficult to catch up on the schooling they have missed.
“I have a disability to concentrate in my classroom,” she said. “For me, before the earthquake it was easier for me to do my homework and understand the lessons. And I think it’s the same for all my classmates.”
Ms. Doherty said the UNICEF Education Cluster’s main focus has been to provide safe and supportive learning environments for children like Coralie – both to restore a sense of normality for them and to reassure parents about sending their children back to school, which is highly valued in Haiti.
“Education is really an enormous priority for Haitians,” she said. “I can’t stress that enough. Before the earthquake, even the poorest families were paying up to 70 per cent of their household income on school fees. In the camps here, the people who have been displaced – they put jobs first and schools second. Across the board, education is very, very important.”