For Haiti’s Teachers and Students, Last School Year Was One of the Worst in Memory

Students dodge gangs on the way to school, and teachers struggle with monthslong delays in payment.

Read this story in

Publication Date

For Haiti’s Teachers and Students, Last School Year Was One of the Worst in Memory

Jusly Felix, GPJ Haiti

Melila Tima, 17, Kernande Louissaint, 15, and Ants Rose Carlie Chinaika Dolciné, 17, discuss a school project on the roof of a house in their neighborhood in La Coupe, Port-de-Paix.

Publication Date

PORT-DE-PAIX, HAITI — Melila Tima’s education has been disrupted — again. It’s two months into a three-month school term, and she’s lost two weeks of classes. In Port-de-Paix and elsewhere in Haiti, schools have been forced to close due to strikes and demonstrations demanding the departure of acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry in the face of the country’s deteriorating security situation.

Disruptions — the most recent ran from Jan. 29 to Feb. 19, with Carnival accounting for one week — are a common occurrence for hundreds of thousands of Haitian students. At the age of 17, Tima is still in primary school. When she was younger, Tima, the fifth of seven children, was unable to attend school because her parents faced financial difficulties. But the repeated closure of public schools in Port-de-Paix now concerns her more.

Last year was particularly difficult, even for a country that has dealt with its fair share of school interruptions. The start of the 2022-2023 school year was repeatedly delayed, and the Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training published at least three different school calendars.

The first scheduled the school year to run 191 days, with classes running from September 2022 to June 2023. But since the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, the country has come into the grip of violent gangs, and the political turmoil forced the ministry to reschedule.

The second calendar had a school year of 184 days, running from October 2022 to July 2023. This was then adjusted in favor of a third calendar, cut to 142 days, from January to August. It proved impossible to meet the targets of even this shortened school year.

expand image
expand slideshow
expand image
expand slideshow

Jusly Felix, GPJ Haiti

Kernande Louissaint, 15, Ants Rose Carlie Chinaika Dolciné, 17, and Melila Tima, 17, in La Coupe, Port-de-Paix, Haiti.

The 2022-2023 school year went on to be one of the hardest the country has known. The start of the year was shaped by crises of all kinds, including rising insecurity, high inflation, fuel shortages and a skyrocketing cost of living. Teachers and students protested. The academic year that was to start in September sometimes started in November, December or January. For Tima, the school year began in December 2022.

The public education system is plagued by a shortage of qualified teachers, limited resources and a lack of infrastructure. And that was before the protests.

Protests paralyze public education

In Port-de-Paix, where Tima lives, schoolteachers went on strike in April 2023 due to delays in receiving their salaries. High school students demonstrated in support, paralyzing public education and forcing the closure of all public schools for about two months. In Port-de-Paix, more than four high schools and four elementary schools were affected, each with a population of around 1,500, says Hérard Ludwig Louis-Jean, an inspector in the Ministry of Education’s Pedagogical Support Service. Some of the protests targeted private schools and other institutions that were still operational. Public school students accused teachers of working at private schools as theirs shut down due to strikes.

Two months later, in June, just as private schools were preparing for summer vacation, public schools reopened for two weeks before closing again for the summer holidays. Teachers finally received their paychecks. In the end, even the third school calendar was not respected.

Staying at home and watching private school students go to school every day is something that everyone who has attended a public school in Haiti has experienced at some point.

“I feel sad when I don’t go to school. I’m afraid that I won’t be able to continue my studies because every time classes are interrupted, I regress with everything I’ve already learned,” says Tima, who is in her fifth year at the Ecole Nationale Capois La Mort in Port-de-Paix. “I want all schools, public and private, to function regularly to educate young people and children as it should be.”

“I feel sad when I don’t go to school."

All public schools reopened for the new school year on Sept. 11, but many students fear what repeated school closures will mean for their futures. For some, the reopening is not enough to make up for the time already lost.

Haitian teachers reach a breaking point

Usually referred to as state teachers, those who teach in public schools have been demanding higher salaries, better working conditions and government benefits. Delayed payments earlier in the year added to their grievances.

The government urged teachers to remain patient. The Minister of Education, Nesmy Manigat, said in April 2023 that the ministry had received a request for a 400% salary increase from some unions. He said students demanding teachers in the classrooms also have education rights that the state is obligated to enforce, and that salary arrears through March had been met for all 10 regions of the country.

Hérard does not deny the rights of citizens to protest but believes that teachers could have been more patient. “I think teachers are too inflexible. At the very least, they could be present two or three days a week to help students reach a certain level and move up to the next class,” he says.

Saint Gérard Michel, a history and geography teacher and educational coordinator at Lycée André Vixamar d’Aubert, feels teachers had few options but to strike. “The state is responsible for this, given that it’s the state that doesn’t pay on time.”

expand image
expand slideshow

Jusly Felix, GPJ Haiti

Lycée Tertullien Guilbaud’s school facilities in La Coupe, Port-de-Paix, Haiti.

While he sympathizes with students whose educations have been disrupted, Michel’s view is that this situation affects teachers as much as students. “When payment is delayed, teachers are the first to be affected psychologically,” says Michel, who believes that each teacher can react as he or she sees fit. “A teacher who hasn’t received his salary may decide not to go to work because he can’t pay his own child’s tuition.” He adds that teachers’ children are often in private schools.

High school teachers, he says, often pick up more hours in private schools to be able to pay their children’s school fees and other bills.

In Haiti’s private schools, the controlled number of students positively influences learning and educational achievements, according to a 2019 report by the World Food Programme. In contrast, public schools contend with overcrowding, irregular funding and delayed teacher payments. “In some cases, teachers look for replacements and the substitutes are paid a fraction of the teacher’s salary. All these elements together mean that in public schools the quality of education is lower and less valued,” the report states.

The price students pay

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in June 2023, nearly 3 million children in Haiti were in need, finding themselves in the crossfire amid rising violence, poverty and malnutrition. Some students face insecurity on the way to and from school.

Almost 20% of children aged 6 to 11 do not attend primary school, with the worst affected being those from low-income and rural households, according to a 2017 UNICEF study. Only 68% of children from the poorest households attend elementary school, compared to 92% of those from the richest households.

In May 2023, an international human rights official who spoke with Human Rights Watch said children in Haiti are estimated to have lost a full school year over the previous four-year period. Political demonstrations and unrest, as well as the coronavirus pandemic, natural disasters and increased insecurity, have destroyed some schools and temporarily or permanently closed others.

Some students may pass, but they may not have followed curriculum relevant to their level. “I believe it’s a lost year,” Hérard says.

Students pay a high price for the incessant strikes. “Letting children or youth suffer like this is a serious problem. If they’re poorly educated, we’ll only have mediocre people in the country in the future,” Hérard says.

expand image
expand slideshow

Jusly Felix, GPJ Haiti

Kernande Louissaint, 15, leaves her house to go to school in La Coupe, Port-de-Paix, Haiti.

Guilaire Oscar, a math teacher at the Lycée Père Reynald Clerismé, in Mahotière, a commune of Port-de-Paix, and departmental coordinator of the National Network of Haitian Teachers, says it’s not easy to be a state teacher and make a living in Haiti.

“For someone for whom teaching is the only way to earn a living, when they get a paycheck every three months, how can you expect them to do better? If they can get paid on time somewhere else, they have to go,” Oscar says. The most recent three-month delay in salaries, from April to June 2023, wasn’t the worst he’s faced.

“Education is not a priority for this government because it doesn’t meet any of the demands of the teachers,” Michel says. “The real reason behind the delay in payment is that our leaders do not care at all about the future of the country. While their children study abroad to become leaders of the country, they discourage teachers by mistreating them.”

“I understand why the teachers are striking and why the students are protesting. But students like me, who already started late, losing months of schooling is detrimental,” Tima says. “I would like the state to meet the teachers’ complaints and pay them regularly so that they can go to work.”

Though she sympathizes with the teachers and students who are protesting, she still worries about her future. Tima hopes to complete her high school studies and study for a profession that will help her support her family. She dreams of becoming a kindergarten teacher.

Jusly Felix is a Global Press Journal reporter based in Haiti.


Megan Spada, GPJ, translated this article from French.