Education in Haiti

Typically a significant factor in determining how well functioning a state is is the education sector.  Haiti’s education system is a good indicator of the disorganization, mismanagement, and inequalities that have plagued as Haiti as a state for so long.  Over 60% of children have no access to education, and literacy rates exist at 53%, well below the Latin American countries average of 90%.  A recent focus on educational reform and how to provide education to more Haitian’s had resulted in some progress until the 2010 earthquake, which severely set back the educational sector along with every other sector in Haiti.  New plans have emerged post-earthquake as to how Haiti can reform its education system, but these plans have yet to be effectively put into place.

The problems rooted in Haitian education can be traced back to a few key factors.  One of these is the national governments focus, rather lack of focus, on funding Haitian schools.  Haiti has recently been ranked 177th out of 186 eligible countries in how much money is spent on education.  The country spends a measly 1.4 percent of its national GDP on education, while the world average is usually around 4.4-4.6 percent.  While there are about 15,000 schools in Haiti, the majority of the these are privatized institutions run by places run by Canada, France, and the United States.  Thus, the wealthy remain educated, and the poor remain uneducated, and Haiti the Haitian society is stuck in a system made very difficult for the lower class to rise up in societal and economic status.  Due to all these issues it seems the key to creating a more successful education system in Haiti stems from accessibility to education from the lower class.  Over half the families in Haiti live on less than 1.25 US dollars a day, and thus the private schools and their tuition is not an option.  Therefore an effort must be made to improve the quality of the public schools, of which over 50% don’t have a toilet and 23% have no running water.

In the wake of the 2010 earthquake several organizations promoting education and trying to increase the percentage of Haitian students that are able to attend college, which currently is about 1%.  These organizations, such as the HELP project and PSUGO program have been effective on a relatively small scale.  However, these organizations do not address the true issues that lie within Haitian education, which is the quality of public schools.  In order to improve education in Haiti on a large scale the qualities or teachers, buildings, books, and supplies must all be improved upon, which is no easy task.  Many of the teachers currently working at schools never even got a full education themselves, with their average education sitting at about nine years.  The only way to solve this problem is by allocating more funds to the education sector in Haiti, both from the national government and international donors.  Recently the US Agency for International Development gave a 15 million dollar grant to Haiti to increase literacy rates, which is a small step in the right direction.

The road to creating a stable education system in Haiti is long and challenging, but it is possible.  Government stability and allocation of funds are key to promoting education and increasing literacy rates within Haiti.  There is no short term solution for this problem, while active programs promoting education certainly help, they do not impact the big picture education system.  And while international money can certainly do its part in funding education in Haiti, the Haitian government is the one organization that can really help education improve in Haiti.

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A Nation Divided

Though instability and brief periods of rule have characterized Haiti for much of its history, one constant that has remained the same has been the gap in social class, and the connection the poor and the elite of the country have with one another.  Unfortunately, this connection is not a positive one, or even a neutral one.  This lack of a positive relationship, along with the struggle to find a government able to meet the needs of both the upper and lower classes, have contributed to Haiti’s continued status as a failed state.

In examining the roots of class division in Haiti one must go all the way back to the colonial period, where France composed a three tiered system in which there existed a class of rulers, a class of freedmen, and a class of slaves.  While all the rulers were white and nearly all the slaves were African, the middle tier came to be mostly composed of bi-racial products of the rulers and their slaves.  After the Haitian Revolution, which ended in 1803, all the whites were eliminated from Haiti, but the bi-racial upper class remained.  Throughout Haiti’s history this connection between class and race has stayed constant, with bi-racial individuals holding a significant amount of the economic power within the state.  While in current times there is certainly a population of strictly African decent that has integrated themselves into the elite class, the general race view of the class system still exists to Haiti in this day.  The social system was deemed as “very rigid” by Yves Colon, a professor at the University of Miami who is from Haiti.  These concrete boundaries between social classes in Haiti have equated to the upper and lower classes operating almost entirely separate of one another.  With all the corruption in the Haitian government since its transition to democracy, the wealthy have consistently found leaders willing to coddle to their wants while for the most part ignoring the wealthy.  Only Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a leader in the early 2000s, had the courage to try and unite these two classes.  Aristide’s goal was to make clear that such a divide between classes was unacceptable, and the goal of Haiti moving forward would be to raise up its lower class.  Only months later, Aristide was overthrown by a coup led by many of the upper class in Haiti, who were unwilling to accept such a proposition.

The biggest consequence of this divide between the Haitian elite and the lower class is not something that can be measured, but rather the distrust shared between the two groups.  Due to the constant corruption within the government, lower class people have all but given up in public participation regarding things such as voting and tax paying.  Until the the government can prove itself independent in terms of supporting one racial of social group, there can be no trust within Haiti.  Though the social conflict runs deep in Haiti’s roots, it can be overcome with time.  What is needed is a sense of unity and togetherness that has been forever lacking within the Haitian state.   The earthquake that occured in 2010 could be a potential source for this togetherness, though it still seems that a portion of the elite in wake of such a tragedy are considering taking their business elsewhere rather than helping rebuild.  One can only hope that they do choose to help rebuild, and that in the near future a government may be put into place that not only helps Haiti succeed as a state but also brings together its classes.

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Impacts of the 2010 Earthquake

In the mid 2000’s it seemed as if Haiti was moving in the right direction.  Finally under the somewhat stable regime of Rene Preval.  The country had just repayed a significant amount of debt to the World Bank that enabled them to be reintegrated into the global economy.  Although the nation remained in poverty, there finally emerged a glimmer of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel for Haiti.  On January 12th, all the progress and hope came crashing down with an earthquake of magnitude 7.0 hitting the country, with its epicenter striking the capital of Port-au-Prince.  The effects of this earthquake not only erased any progress that Haiti had made, but put them in perhaps a worse state than they had been in for quite a while.  Aside from the tragic death toll, which numbered over 200,000, Haiti’s economy and infrastructure crumbled.  This singular event has contributed more to Haiti’s 2013 status as a failed state more than any other current factor.

In the wake of the 2010 earthquake the Haitian economy was reduced to shambles.  The value of the damage caused by the earthquake clocked in at about 7.86 billion dollars, which is equivalent to 120% of Haiti’s GDP.   However, damage on Haiti’s infrastructure was equally harmful.  Nearly 90% of buildings near the epicenter of the earthquake collapsed, causing the mayor of Leogane, a city right near the epicenter, to say Leogane had to “be totally rebuilt.”  In the weeks following the earthquake the damage was so bad that a trip of only a few miles could take up to half a day.  Without a centralized government it was also very hard for Haiti to rebuild this mess.  External donors poured money into the country, supplying food and shelter, but without a central organization attributing money to long term fixes for infrastructure, the rebuilding of Haiti has become even bigger of an issue.  The necessities for a rebuilding process that would occur specifically within the state are non-existant.  Over 86% of the Haitian population was already living on less than 2 dollars a day, so much of the focus of external aid in the earthquake’s wake was directed at helping them.  This only leaves the elite of the country to help in the rebuilding effort within Haiti.  This raises an issue though, as the Haitian elite actually stand to profit from the earthquake and the money that will be needed to rebuild.  It seems as though the only way for Haiti to successfully rebuild is for the elite fully commit to the rebuilding process, both financially and strategically.

The earthquake experienced by Haiti cannot be overstated in its importance.  The reconstruction process is going to be long and slow, and there is no way in which the damages caused by the earthquake can be handled quickly.  I believe the only solution is for an organized organization within Haiti can find the proper way to dispense aid, something I talked about in an earlier post.  As both the government and elite lack the trust of the common people, it is not yet clear as to who should inherit the role of attributing the aid, but until that happens significant progress will be hard to come by.  Possibly the most difficult thing to build up in wake of this tragic event is the hope that had begun to surround Haiti in the years before.  I think eventually Haiti can crawl out of the hole created by the earthquake, but there are many things that need to be fixed and a long period of time needs to be given before we can expect significant progress.

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Foreign Aid in Haiti: Helping or Hurting?

Over the past few decades Haiti has been the recipient of an immense amount of foreign aid coming from places all over the world.  Since the 2012 earthquake alone Haiti has received almost 6 billion dollars in aid.  However, Haiti has not seen its success level rise substantially at any point in the last three decades, which begs the question, what has happened to the billions upon billions of dollars of foreign money that have been given to Haiti to resuscitate this long failed state?

The answer to this question has proved controversial, and has sparked much debate about whether aid to Haiti is doing any good, and who is to blame for the continued deterioration of the state.  It is my thinking that the continued chaos in Haiti can be blamed on outside participants, other countries who have donated aid in the past.  Jon Katz, who recently finished his book on why aid to Haiti has failed, thinks that this failure is in part due to the unique state of Haiti’s government.  In the past 20 years Haiti’s government has been the subject of much questioning and undermining by other countries, with presidents being overthrown by an outside then brought back into power then taken out of power again.  This has left Haiti’s government in an incredibly weak state, and unable to function well enough to distribute aid.  This has left the distribution of aid in the hands of the donors, which has spelled disaster.  Instead of the central Haitian government using the money to focus on long term goals and success, donors in an effort to help have spent nearly all their money on short term “bandaids,” such as food and temporary housing, which might last a year but then leave the people of Haiti in the same place they started.  Thus, in order to begin effectively distributing this aid either the government or some group within Haiti must step up and take responsibility for the foreign aid coming in so it can be given to sectors that will promote long term growth for Haiti’s economy.

In order for Haiti to be able to gather itself and improve as a state some types of aid must cease.  A certain example of this is food aid.  While food aid does help in the short term, it also is distributed by politicians who more often than not are corrupt.  These politicians will deliver the corn to members of their tribe, in order to get votes in the next election.  Not only does this encourage politicians to be corrupt, it also puts out of work the few farmers who are still growing crops at this time.  They are unable to compete with the World Food Program, and are thus put out of business and out of work and a corporation who’s goal is to help a country regain its footing instead begins to worsen the situation.

In the long run foreign aid can help Haiti, if Haiti wants to succeed it must do so with foreign aid.  But in order for this to happen many things have to change both in terms of what the aid is allocated to and who decides how to allocate it.  Until this happens Haiti would almost be better off cutting off at least some of the aid they are being given, as it is only serving to further weaken their government and harm their agriculture industry that is the biggest industry in the country.  Long term, foreign aid may be the solution to Haiti’s problems, but at this point, it may have done more bad than good.

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The Economic State of Haiti

One of the biggest factors in state failure is the economy of the state in question.  While not the sole determinant of state failure, the economy of a country can be a large indicator in whether a country is experiencing success or failure.  In the case of Haiti, even with a recent upswing the economy is still one of the worst in the world.  It is the poorest country in the Americas and one of the 20 poorest countries in the world.  The failure in Haiti’s economy can be attributed to a variety of different things, most notably its dependance on agriculture, poor access to education, and the string of natural disasters that have effected the country.

Though Haiti’s economy has never been good, the earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince in 2010 brought the economy to a new low.  In a country where 80% of people were living below the poverty line and 40% were already unemployed, an earthquake costing the country over 7.8 billion was a death sentence.  Much of the agriculture and textile, two of the countries biggest, were destroyed.  Export production dropped off as damage to both airports and roads made transportation out of Haiti nearly impossible.  This has created a situation in which Haiti is now almost entirely dependent on foreign countries giving aid, as it is unable to generate revenue of its own.

Though the earthquake was a massive blow Haiti’s economy had large problems before it.  While in 5-6 years leading up to 2010 had seen growth, Haiti has remained one of the poorest countries in the world for over 20 years.  This can be traced back to the government, whose corruption and mismanagement of funds has created a distrust amidst its people.  This has made tax collection difficult, and has thus provided the government with a revenue collection rate that is barely 10% of the countries GDP.  Haiti also has a very low percentage of skilled laborers, and over 38% of the countries labor force are farmers.  Despite all this, a trend of economic growth appeared in Haiti around 2005, only to be completely wiped out due to the 2010 earthquake.

Before this massive setback Haiti’s economy appeared headed in the right direction.  In 2006, the economy grew 1.8%, its highest growth rate in almost 10 years.  It also successfully reengaged with the world bank in 2006, helping it to become a more active member of the worldwide economy.  This suggests that while it may take a decade or even more to fully recover from the 2010 earthquake, Haiti has some economic policies in place that could potentially push the country towards future progress.  Given time, though many things still needed to be fixed even before the earthquake, with sufficient funds provided through international aid being given to the right places it is possible that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for Haiti’s currently crippled economy.


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The Effects of Corruption in the Haitian Government

While many failed countries have collapsed within the past few decades or at some point have encountered some success as a state in the past, Haiti and its government have existed in a state of chaos for almost all of its history.  Before 1990 this can be attributed to the lack of a democratic election process, with violent turnover between regimes.  However, after 1990 and the instillment of a democratic process, the reasons for Haiti’s instability grow more complex.

1990 marked the first year of democratic elections in Haiti.  It is from this point forward that I will focus on what has happened to the Haitian government and what has caused it to fail.  This election was fair and free of corruption, and resulted in Jean-Bertrand Aristide being elected as president.  This government functioned for 6 months until a military coup overthrew him and sent him into exile.  Since then violence and corruption have been the two main factors that have attributed to the continued decay of Haiti’s government.  In 2011 Haiti was ranked the 9th most corrupt state out of 182 in the annual Corruption Perceptions Index.  While corruption has gone a long way in creating an illegitimate government in the eyes of the Haitian people, its greatest effect has probably the one it has had on foreign aid.  Several countries that in the past have been quite generous with aid have become increasingly reluctant to deliver aid to Haiti in fear that the government will not properly manage these funds.  Thus the Haitian people have been trapped in a never ending circle in which they either have a promising leader not receiving aid due to corruption of the previous regime, or you have a corrupt leader receiving aid earned from the non-corrupt regime.  In 2001 over 500 million in aid was suspended due to suspicion of corruption, and the effects international sanctions and the suspension of aid packages have been felt more by legitimate leaders succeeding corrupt governments than the corrupt leaders themselves.

Until Haiti can develop a government free of corruption and trusted by the international community it will be near impossible for them to progress.  While Haiti’s leaders need to gain the trust of their people, it is of almost equal importance that they gain the trust of international leaders instead.  Corruption has been one of the main factors keeping Haiti as a failed state, and unless Haiti can rid itself of this corruption, it may forever stay one.

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Haiti: An Overview

Latin America and the Caribbean is a region of relative state stability.  A map of failed states published in 2009 shows that when compared to the rest of the world, this region is actually quite stable.  While there are some weak states, no states have failed save for one outlier.  That outlier is Haiti, a country that has faced constant chaos and instability for quite some time.  Here I will give a brief overview of what has gone wrong in Haiti and what can be done to help the country better its economic and political stability.

The main basis behind Haiti’s struggles as a state can be attributed to its government.  Haiti has been defined by its political instability since the brutal regimes of Duvalier and his son ended in 1986.  The time period of then until now has consisted of many different faction fighting for power.  Political parties have typically ignored the interests of the majority of the Haitian population and instead set their sights on personal gain and glory.  With the corrupt nature of the elections in Haiti it has thus been near impossible to get the country out of the black hole it is currently in, even with a whopping 6.9 billion dollars in aid coming in from a variety of countries between 1990 and 2008.  However, the government has only directly received about 10 percent of this, and of that 10 percent just a slight fraction has been put to assisting major problems in the country.

The solutions to fixing Haiti are much easier said than done.  While I will later devote a post specifically to solutions, here I’ll outline a few general ones that would help Haiti become less of a failed state.  The first in foremost is concentrating all aid of the biggest problems.  Several countries that have aided Haiti for a number of years are growing weary of seeing their money go to waste, and if neither the Haitian government nor the UN officials assisting in Haiti can start to channel the aid towards combatting poverty and hunger as well as infrastructure, the donating countries might cease their aid.  One argument is that with aid Haiti should bail out its private sector.  In jumpstarting the economy one might hope that it would be easier to sustain a higher level of stability as a country.  The most obvious and general solution to fixing Haiti’s issues is to legitimize the government.  Corruption and mismanagement have run rampant in Haiti since 1986, when the last dictatorship ended.  Haitian citizens lack the trust in government that is necessary to build a successful state.

Issues in Haiti are deep rooted and have existed for nearly all of the countries history.  At this point it may not even be rational to aim towards making it not a failed state, as it has been so deeply entrenched in this status for so long that lots of smaller, short term goals are needed before a long term goal can be met.

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