Wednesday, October 06, 2010

How education also crumbled after the Haiti earthquake

Along with everything else, many of the colleges and universities in Port-au-Prince were destroyed during the Haitian earthquake. This forced many to leave the country to continue their education, or some had to find work instead. Even seeking a transfer to another institution was difficult as many of the student records were destroyed.

From the IPS, writer A. D. McKenzie has this story on how education suffered after the January 12th earthquake.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Haiti faces multiple challenges in the higher education sector. The country has one government university and some 200 private higher-education institutions, which charged relatively high fees before the earthquake. Fewer than 50 of these colleges are recognised by the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training, leading to questions about their quality.

"Many universities and higher education institutions lost students, teachers, buildings, and equipment," says Bechir Lamine, a UNESCO representative in Port-au-Prince. "Hardly any statistics exist as to the scale of such a loss."

One of the leading non-public universities (Quisqueya) was left practically without any buildings, not even its latest acquisition "inaugurated barely one month before the earthquake," Lamine told IPS in an e-mail interview. Quisqueya has been holding some of its classes in tents.

A significant issue for Haitian universities after the earthquake is that they are threatened with losing their students, contributing to the brain-drain from which the Caribbean nation already suffered, according to education experts. An estimated 85 percent of college-educated Haitians live abroad, driven away by instability, poverty, violence and other ills.

"Many parents are sending their children to neighbouring Dominican Republic or other countries to ensure that they continue their studies," Lamine said. "Most non-public universities perceive this as a threat because it'll deprive them of their students, of their income, and as a consequence, of their teachers."

Another issue has to do with replacing lost buildings and equipment. Some colleges have received equipment from overseas institutions, such as the new computers that the information technology institute ESIH got from Virgina Tech and IBM in the United States.

But "donor money is not forthcoming and therefore many are faced with difficulties in ensuring classes for the current academic year," Lamine said. "Tents and light shelters are used but there are fears the hurricane season could jeopardise all ongoing efforts."

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