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Haiti Faces Major Education Challenge:
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Less than half of all Haitians can read and write.
Over half of the nation's children fail to reach the fifth grade.
And only one in five young people reach secondary school.
These figures reflect an educational crisis found
throughout the developing world, a situation that leaves one billion
people illiterate, with girls outnumbering boys two to one among
of those who receive no education at all. UNICEF is spotlighting
this crisis in specific regions in the wake of The State of the
World’s Children 1999, the agency’s wide-ranging examination
of challenges to the right of all children to basic education.
"Haiti's educational system has utterly
failed for as many as half of that nation's children,"
Sheldon Shaeffer, chief of UNICEF's Education Section, said. "It
is a major violation of human rights to consign children, by denying
them education, to lives of poverty and disease."
According to UNICEF figures, 58 per cent of Haiti's
current educational facilities were not built originally to serve
as schools. Many classrooms are so overcrowded that only one in
four children has a place to sit. And almost two-thirds of all children
abandon primary school before completing the six-year course.
In real terms, Mr. Shaeffer stated, more than one
million primary school-age children in Haiti simply have no access
to education. As a result, Haiti has an illiteracy rate of over
55 per cent, the highest in the Americas. In addition, the vast
majority of schools lack trained teachers and less than half the
children have access to textbooks.
"It is not unusual," the education chief added,
"to find an unqualified first grade teacher who must deal with
students who are six to 16 years old in a class with more than 50
children -- all clamoring for attention."
Mr. Shaeffer said UNICEF is working with the Haitian
Ministry of Education to improve existing schools and reach children
who have dropped out. But he said school reform in Haiti will require
substantial input from donor nations. A major thrust should be to
strengthen and empower free, public education through improvement
of facilities, provision of adequate materials and radically upgraded
A phenomenon in Haiti, common throughout the developing
world, is that children are often forced into alternatives to school,
such as domestic servitude, child labor or life in the streets.
It is estimated that there are 300,000 Haitian children working
as domestic servants, approximately 80 per cent of whom are girls
under 14 years of age. Many of these children are maltreated.
Some 5,000 additional Haitian youngsters are street
children. These include some who have escaped from domestic servitude
and others who have come to the cities seeking opportunities that
did not materialize.
"Education is central to providing these children
with ways to improve their lives," Mr. Shaeffer noted. "Because
so few educational opportunities exist for them, UNICEF has developed
a highly flexible, informal approach to providing basic education
which attempts to respond to the needs of individual children. School
schedules are adjusted to children's availability and the curriculum
offers them the opportunity to acquire basic knowledge along with
personal and professional skills."
Girls should be given an equal place in Haiti's
educational future, Shaeffer asserted. That will mean finding ways
to deal with the economic realities, which force large numbers of
girls into domestic servitude. UNICEF is working to improve the
information base on girls' education, an effort that will help develop
strategies to increase girls' attendance at school and the quality
of girls' education. In addition, UNICEF has supported Haiti’s
Ministry of Education in the recent establishment of a Commission
on Girls’ Education.
Sheldon Shaeffer, chief of UNICEF's Education Section