Worlds of Education

dlrz4114 / iStock
dlrz4114 / iStock

Haiti: Society and education communities in the grip of chaos

published 16 February 2023 updated 20 March 2024
written by:

After the earthquake of 12 January 2010, that marked a painful turning point in the history of the Haitian people, the Republic of Haiti has experienced a succession of crises due to both natural and man-made disasters.

Following the 2011 presidential elections that brought to power the controversial musician Michel Joseph Martelly, whose songs promote banditry and gender-based violence against women, the country became mired in governmental instability [1] and systemic violence. The arrival of his successor, Mr Jovenel Moise, failed to reverse the trend of using corruption and criminality as political and economic strategies to hold onto power.

The reasons behind the Haitian crisis

To understand the nature of the current crisis, it is important to separate its chronic dimension from its cyclical dimension. Indeed, while the chronic Haitian crisis is based on the weak social structure of the Haitian nation rooted in divisions of colour (black versus mulatto), ownership (landowner versus landless peasants), monopoly (monopolisation of the state apparatus) and deprivation, the current crisis is a form of metastasis of the Haitian social body. This could be seen as the outcome of a long process of social disorder maintained by Haitian elites trying to carve out an identity for themselves and which is grafted onto the effects of the chronic squandering of funds from the petro-caribe programme.

Haitian society in an era of corruption and organised crime

In ten years of bad governance (2011-2021), Haiti’s rulers oversaw the worst corruption and squandering of public funds in the history of the country, through the misappropriation of funds from the cooperation programme developed by the Venezuelan government in the Caribbean region [2]. Two reports published by the anti-corruption commission of the Senate of the Republic show how more than 2.3 billion US dollars have been pilfered. Thanks to a large, historic mobilisation called the “petro-challengers movement”, the High Court of Accounts and Administrative Disputes (CSC/CA) has published two reports attesting to the misappropriation of more than 4.2 billion US dollars in the period 2011-2020.

While this squandering has caused upheaval on Haiti’s political, economic and social scene, it was not the only case of serious theft and embezzlement of public funds orchestrated by the ruling du Tèt Kale Haitian Party [3](PHTK). In the education sector, the government has set up a National Education Fund (FNE), created using deductions from telephone calls and transfers from or to foreign countries. The first disbursements from this fund were wasted on a bogus programme called the Free and Compulsory Universal Schooling Programme (Programme de Scolarisation Universelle Gratuite et Obligatoire - PSUGO).

Before the fund had even been voted into law, the Martelly government launched the PSUGO at the National Palace, bypassing the Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training (MENFP), responsible for the education sector in Haiti. After a highly publicised propaganda campaign, scandals about the schemes used to squander the money raised for the FNE came to light. To date, the country still does not know how much money has been embezzled from the public treasury through this programme. However, one thing is clear: the PSUGO has disappeared, but the provision and quality of public education have not improved.

Unprecedented security, economic and social damage

Over the last ten years, overshadowed by the decay of the political class, the country has entered an era of organised crime or terrorism. Being surrounded by armed gangs, massacres in working-class neighbourhoods, kidnapping, and illegal trafficking in arms and drugs are the daily lot of the Haitian population. To establish this reign of terror, the perpetrators - those in political power and, by extension, economic and social power - have set up a whole communication system involving traditional media, social networks and criminal groups that terrorise the population. In this system, criminal groups commit the most heinous crimes (murder, rape, kidnapping, massacres in populated areas, arson), the media give them a voice and rehabilitate them as community leaders, and social networks are used as a weapon of psychological warfare to disseminate their terrorist demands, impacting the psychological well-being of the population, creating fear and even paranoia.

The setting up of this infernal machine to kill the body and mind of the Haitian people is aimed at dissuading the manifest will of the population to demand the restitution of the funds squandered by the Martelly regime and the corrupt and mafia-like elements of the bourgeoisie that has dominated the country's economy for over 150 years.

The impacts of this multi-faceted crisis on Haitian society are visible. It does not take a lot of analysis to realise that the country is in a state of decline at all levels. During the 2021-2022 fiscal year, the country recorded a record inflation rate of over 40%, which led to a devaluation of salaries and a weakening of household purchasing power. The activities of criminal gangs have impeded the free movement of agricultural products and goods, blocking commercial activities. As a result, approximately 65% of the Haitian population is currently food insecure [4].

Nevertheless, while it is true that the crisis has led to the impoverishment of certain sections of the population, this is not the case for other categories who have, on the contrary, benefited from the situation: The financial sector, which manipulates the dollar rate and the prices of products on the Haitian market, already hostage to monopolistic practices; the oil sector; the assembly industry, which benefits greatly from the exponential rise of the dollar in relation to the gourde in terms of workers' salaries; and the energy and communication sectors. It seems, therefore, that these business circles have an interest in creating and maintaining a mafia-like environment favourable to a corrupt, crisis-ridden economy.

Education facing challenges in the crisis

The Education Ministry struggled to complete the 2020-2021 school year due to the earthquake that devastated the southern part of Haiti, causing enormous damage to school infrastructure, and to the occupation of certain urban areas of Port-au-Prince by armed gangs, forcing some schools to close their doors.

The start of the 2022-2023 academic year was also marked by the crisis. It was initially scheduled for 5 September 2022, but had to be postponed to 3 October. However, this new date was not respected either because of protests in certain sectors, in reaction to the Haitian government's decision to cancel the subsidy on petroleum products. As part of this mobilisation, protestors targeted symbols of education, particularly in Gonaïves, Cap-Haitien, Fort-Liberté, Les Cayes, Jacmel and Jérémie. Speeches shaming any attempt to make schools function were added to violent attacks on school infrastructure.

Difficulties of access and educational challenges

In this context, access to education in Haiti is becoming a major challenge, including for the wealthiest sections of Haitian society. Moreover, the data published by the Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training are very alarming in this respect. It took until 7 November to record a rate of 7% of schools that had started the academic year and until December to reach a figure of 73% of schools open. This means that at the beginning of 2023, 27% of schools were still not active, and it was not possible to determine, on the basis of these data, the exact proportion of pupils concerned.

Even when schools are 100% operational, the Haitian school system is so deficient it leaves 500,000 children out of the classroom.

The impact of the crisis on the education system must also be looked at from a pedagogical point of view. If we consider the postponement of the start of the school year to 3 October 2022, pupils would lose around 20 school days. However, the worsening of the crisis has increased the number of school days lost to more than 40 for those who were able to return to school on 7 November 2022 - a rate of only 7% of schools - and to more than 70 days for the rest of the pupils who had not yet returned to school by 1 January 2023 (27% of schools).

These data raise the question of the mechanisms to be put in place to avoid an even greater accumulation of failings, bearing in mind the gap between the set curriculum and what has actually been achieved. This includes considering the nature and type of assessment to be used, as well as the validity of an assessment, in such a context.

The issue of school fees in a predominantly privatised sector

The financing of education in Haiti has always been a much talked about issue. With less than 20% of the state budget over the last four fiscal years, public intervention in this sector only covers around 15% of education provision. This is in complete contradiction to the principle enshrined in all of Haiti's constitutions that education is a responsibility of the state and local authorities. This financial reality explains the privatisation and commercialisation of educational services in Haiti and places a heavy burden on households to pay for their children's education.

In the current crisis, education funding is becoming a more complex issue. Indeed, since the publication of the first calendar scheduling the start of the school year for 5 September 2022, some parents have already made great sacrifices to meet their financial obligations for the schooling of their children. Since the promulgation of the Bastien law on school fees in Haiti, the directors of private schools have imposed an obligation on parents to pay the annual school fees in three instalments, with a first instalment of 50% before the start of the school year and two other instalments of 25% between January and April. However, the 2022-2023 school year only started on 7 November 2022 for some schools, in December for others and even later for 27% of schools. This reality poses many challenges. Following the first payment equivalent to 50% of the annual schooling, can parents be asked to make the other two payments for this school year which started very late? Should the state impose arbitration to protect the interests of each party in this time of crisis?

Delayed or no pay for teachers

The issue of salaries for education workers in the private sector has also always been a thorny issue. With no social protection or job security, workers in the private education sector are constantly in a precarious situation. On top of this, the absence of a collective labour agreement and the absence of a trade union movement in this sub-sector make them increasingly vulnerable, with no recourse to defend their interests with employers. In this situation, the owners of the schools take advantage to exploit the teachers in an outrageous manner.

Some of these colleagues have been without pay for six months for some categories and three months for others [5]. With no mechanism to defend their interests and negotiate changes in their employment contracts in a crisis situation, they are at the mercy of their employers' goodwill. In addition to this, the government has not seen fit to engage in a tripartite dialogue between the state, employers and education unions, which could have contributed to mitigating the impact of the crisis on the status of teachers in state schools in Haiti. Such conditions are bound to lead to a deterioration in the motivation of teachers, who are already facing the impacts of the crisis on an economic, security and psychological level. Thus, risks for the quality of teaching and learning in the 2022-2023 academic year are clear: an acceleration of the decline in quality and poor academic performance.

Prospects for ending the crisis: Social movements and international solidarity

As the Haitian crisis progressed, social movements of demand and protest had reached a level unprecedented in Haiti's history. Protests initially broke out in several sectors including education, health, the textile industry, public services and transport. Then, faced with the repressive response of the authorities to the demands of social organisations, this mobilisation was transformed into a political movement, in the form of resistance to repression and an attempt to counterbalance the domination imposed by those involved in violence, crime and corruption. Following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise, there was a disconcerting decline in social and political movements as each clan tried to seize power to satisfy their desire for control.

This loss of momentum came about in several ways. On the one hand, the pace of mobilisation has undoubtedly slowed:

  • Strikes, street demonstrations and popular gatherings are becoming increasingly rare. On the other hand, the actors are unable to agree on the nature and form of the transition, demonstrating an inability to formulate solutions that will meet the challenges facing the country and, in so doing, plunging the vast majority of the population into fatalistic despair.
  • The extent of the criminal activities of armed gangs and the fear this created, as well as the changing nature of social movements - due to the manifest desire of certain groups to seize power and steer the eventual transition in the direction of their clan-based project and perpetuate their rule - have only exacerbated the harmful effects of the crisis on the most affected social groups. This has led them to lose all confidence in the leaders of civil society, the government and the opposition, which is in a crisis of both credibility and representativeness.

On the other hand, the duplicity of some leaders of social and political movements who claim to be opponents while at the same time supporting their cronies in power has created a feeling of mistrust among the population and is holding back efforts to rally any support. Their actions have led to a loss of legitimacy among the country’s leaders, creating a vacuum in the political arena that will be difficult to fill.

Call for action and solidarity

Faced with this chaotic situation, that is plunging the population into disarray, social organisations that remain faithful to their commitments and convictions are called upon to take action to mobilise and resist. The Union Nationale des Normaliens/Normaliennes et Educateurs/Educatrices d'Haïti (UNNOEH) has begun its resistance by organising its 4th congress on 22 and 23 August 2023 and launching its organising campaign. It is making the best use of all that technology has to offer, having built up its mobilising capacity thanks to the solidarity of Education International (EI), the Canadian Education Federation (CEF), the Fédération Nationale des Enseignantes et Enseignants du Québec (FNEEQ) and the Confédération Syndicale du Québec (CSQ). Today, the constructive forces in the Haitian population need to combine their mobilisation efforts and pool their means to better organise resistance actions capable of countering the criminal and mafia-like activities that afflict the Haitian population on a daily basis. Today, more than ever, the resistance movements are calling for national and international solidarity to give a glimmer of hope and life to the Haitian people.

1. ^

The presidency of Joseph Michel Martelly was strongly marked by governmental instability: during this five-year period, the country experienced about three prime ministers and over four governments.

2. ^

Through this programme, Venezuela sells its petroleum products on credit to certain countries in the region at a very low interest rate, with repayment spread over a 25-year period. Under the terms of this cooperation, the countries concerned are expected use the funds generated to implement development plans.

3. ^

The PHTK is a political party created by Michel Joseph Martelly during his presidential term (2011-2015).

4. ^

Data provided by the World Food Programme (WFP).

5. ^

In a study commissioned by UNNOEH and FENATEC, financed by Education International (EI) and carried out by Dr. Pierre Enocque Francois entitled "Study on working conditions in the private education sector in Haiti" published in January 2018, it was shown that the payment of salaries is very irregular in Haiti. This irregularity can be explained by the fact that some employers were late in paying salaries while others decided to pay salaries only for the ten months of work in the classroom, while holidays were not paid.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.