Mydrene Francois, GPI

Children Gain Education but Still Drop Out of Haiti’s Free School Program


Article Highlights

Students learn at Fondation Elizabeth Decrepin, which offers the free school program in the afternoon.  

Haiti has one of the lowest school enrollment rates in the world.

JÉRÉMIE, HAITI – Chrislande Julot, an 11-year-old girl who lives with her widowed mother, says she dropped out of school in 2008 because her mother could no longer pay her tuition.

But thanks to a national government program, Chrislande now attends second grade at Centre Université Chretienne in Jérémie, a coastal town in southwestern Haiti.

“I am just so happy to be back in school,” Chrislande says.

The secondary school operates regularly in the morning. But in the afternoon, children who have not been in school participate in a free, government-run program there called Programme de Scolarisation Universelle Gratuite et Obligatoire.

“It is thanks to this program that I can continue going to school,” Chrislande says.

It was not difficult for her to readapt to school despite the two-year gap, she says. She credits her teacher, who has a way of making her understand.

“My teacher has patience with the students,” she says. “He shows them how to read better, he gives examples, and he demonstrates how things can be done so that I can follow really well.”

Children and teenagers who had never been to school or were forced to drop out say the government’s free school program is enabling them to obtain an education. They attend school in the afternoon to catch up to their peers so that they can successfully enter the sixth grade in the regular school system. But half of students have dropped out of the program at some schools because of a lack educational materials, no hot lunch and boredom. The government’s focus during the program’s second year is education quality.  

Haiti has one of the lowest enrollment rates in the world – 76 percent at the primary level and 22 percent at the secondary level, according to the World Bank.

President Michel Joseph Martelly promised during his 2010 presidential campaign that if elected, every child in Haiti would be able to go to school. There are nearly 1.3 million children enrolled in the free school program, according to a 2013 interview with Vanneur Pierre, the minister of education, on the ministry’s website.

Eighty percent of children enrolled in the program go to state schools, while 20 percent attend private schools. To be selected for this program, a school needs to apply and prove it has the necessary space and teaching staff.

Rosandre Dorce, 14, is one of the beneficiaries of Martelly’s school program. She attended three years of preschool at a state-run school and then completed first to third grade at a Baptist school in Jérémie before she had to drop out.

“Even though the state schools do not ask a lot of money for school fees, I had to stop going to school for two years because my parents just could not afford it,” she says, while balancing a 5-gallon bucket of water on her head. “It was difficult for me to see other children go to school while I was not doing anything.”

But thanks to the free school initiative, Rosandre’s parents enrolled her at Collège Immaculée Conception in 2011.

“Now, I can go to school,” says Rosandre, who returned to the classroom in January 2012.

Jean Rodrigue Robergeau works as a school inspector in the school districts of Roseaux and Previle, coastal towns east of Jérémie. Inspectors make sure that public schools follow the state curriculum.  

One of the goals of UNESCO’s 2002 World Educational Forum was to provide universal education for every child by the year 2015, he says. To meet this goal in Haiti, where a large number of children aren’t in school, Martelly’s government launched the free school program during 2011.

It aims to provide basic education to kids who never went to school or dropped out and need to catch up to their peers, Robergeau says. The Ministère de l’Éducation Nationale et de la Formation Professionnelle, the ministry that promotes education and vocational training, developed educational materials and sent educators to provide teachers special training to work with children who may have never attended school.

The children who are part of this program fall into three categories, Robergeau says. The first category teaches kids who are 6 years old and 7 years old and follows the normal school curriculum from first to sixth grade.

The second category teaches children ages 8 and 9. They cover the curriculum at a more rapid pace so that by the time they reach sixth grade, they can join their peers who have been in school.

The third category teaches children 10 years old to 12 years old at an even more advanced pace so that they enter sixth grade within three years.

The goal is to integrate all three groups into the regular curriculum by sixth grade. Sixth grade marks a milestone in the educational system in Haiti, as it is the first year that all students take an official state exam.

There are at least eight schools that offer the program in Roseaux and Previle, Robergeau says. An even number of boys and girls participate in it, but precise statistics are unavailable.

The program is working well, thanks to the principals and school inspectors, Robergeau says.

“This program really benefits Haiti a lot,” he says. “Not only are we reducing illiteracy, but we are also giving the teachers better training.”

Justin Kensa, a teacher, runs Fondation Elizabeth Decrepin, a school in Jérémie that offers a free school program in the afternoon under the government initiative.

The school features two sections, he says. The regular school, which is subsidized by the state, operates in the morning. The school then offers Martelly’s free program in the afternoon.

During this afternoon program, students separate into six classrooms based on their educational level, Kensa says. Eight teachers instruct them.

But even though the program is free, students are still dropping out.

The free school program at Fondation Elizabeth Decrepin opened with 200 children during its first year, Kensa says. But there were only 100 in the program by the end of the school year.

Kensa attributes the high dropout rate to a lack of school supplies and hot lunch for the kids. Many kids are also not used to sitting on a bench for a long period.  

“That’s why about half of them are no longer in the school,” Kensa says.

Jeffline Paul, a 17-year-old high school student in Jérémie, says the high dropout rate is noticeable in the community.

“I noticed when the program started in the school year 2011 to 2012 that a lot of the street children went to school,” he says. “But after three or four months, some of them were out in the street again. I am asking myself, why do they not stay in school?”

Kendy Antoine, 12, dropped out of the free school program. He says that he didn’t like to go to school in the afternoon because the lessons weren’t interesting.

Robergeau says that there are problems that could contribute to the dropout rate, including a few promises that the government hasn’t kept. For example, the children and teachers were supposed to receive educational materials, but these resources haven’t materialized for schools all over Haiti.

The Ministère de l'Éducation Nationale et de la Formation Professionnelle surveyed 53 schools in Robergeau’s district during 2012 to calculate attendance, progress and dropout rates. But most schools have yet to return the surveys.

“What is clear, though,” Robergeau says, “is that between the efforts of the state and the desire of the students to go to school, progress is being made.”

While the program focused on increasing access to school last year, its goal this year is to strengthen the quality of education, according to the interview with the minister of education on the ministry’s website. He says that several projects are underway, including textbook distribution.

“The educational system is changing for the better,” Robergeau says.

Kensa emphasizes how important education is for a country.

“The more people we have who can read and write, the more a country can develop,” he says. “That is why I am glad this program has begun, even though it is not perfect as of yet.”

Rosandre says that limitations in materials haven’t dampened her enthusiasm for Martelly’s school program.

“I am feeling good because I can go to school,” she says. “Even though I don’t have a grade book yet and I do not know if I passed my exams, I am happy I am in school.”