Educating Haiti’s Most Vulnerable

9/7/2010 – Children living in tent and makeshift shelters are among the most vulnerable in the country. Facing extreme poverty, they have the least access to education.

Haiti’s government is now hard at work at a disaster planning and emergency preparedness strategy, as the 2010 hurricane season looms. With international assistance, a temporary emergency shelter (precautionary) has been built. The shelter can accommodate 500 people.

The island’s city of Gonaives is particularly at risk as it has been devastated by intense flooding over the past five years. These floods have led to the deaths of 5 00 people. Floods have also destroyed more than 25 school buildings, disrupting educational progress in the region. In the context of extreme poverty, understanding the links between emergencies, shelter and habitation and schooling is of the utmost importance for improving both physical and socioeconomic resilience to natural disasters.

Impoverished Haitian children score very poorly on the United Nations (UN) educational attainment indicators. According to UNICEF, only about 50% of children are able to attend school on a regular basis and only 85% make it to primary school (there is a lack of data as to how many children are able to attend school in the first place). More young women than men are able to read and write (87% as opposed to 76%). However, when the literacy rate of the entire population (including children and adults is considered, literacy shrinks to a meagre 44%.

Education has remained part of the myriad of programming that has been installed in Haiti since the January earthquake that left 300 000 people dead. A program in the city’s capital of Port-au-Prince, for instance, uses a reading program (called Li Li Li!) to foster literacy among local children. The programme is also designed to be a therapeutic activity to help children recovery from the shock of the quake and the massive human and physical destruction it wrought.

While Haiti’s public schools reopened about three months ago, few buildings have been completely rehabilitated. Many children continue to learn in large groups under tents and makeshift shelters. Of Haiti’s 1.3 million homeless people, the children living in the poorest makeshift tent settlements have no access to education at all. Their families cannot pay the $12-60 a year it costs to educate a child at the primary level.