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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
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
"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 teacher training.
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.
Compliments of www.unicef.org