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Seeking Solutions for Haiti’s Primary Education Challenges

On April 30, the Haiti Research and Policy Program’s Dialogue Series welcomed Sophia Stranksy, CEO of the Digicel Haiti Foundation, to discuss the foundation’s primary education and youth programs. The discussion also explored the potential for real-time, low-cost, mobile phone-based monitoring systems to track the impact of education programs on student’s overall learning, literacy and numeracy, and to identify improvements in teacher’s teaching capabilities.

Sophia Stranksy, CEO of the Digicel Haiti Foundation discusses primary education and monitoring the impact of these programs with Haiti Research and Policy Program Tatiana Wah, Alex Fischer and CGSD Education Program Radhika Iyengar and Sarah Muffly. Photo credit: Dhiya Kuriakose.

Haiti faces ongoing pressures of high population growth (and more children to educate), high illiteracy rates and low primary education completion rates. To better understand the current education performance in Haiti, in 2012 the Earth Institute Haiti Research team conducted a household survey in the South Department of Haiti to identify baseline measurements of development goals at a regional scale. The results of this comprehensive study found that none of the 10 communes surveyed were on target to reach Millennium Development Goals for universal primary education by 2015. Additionally, throughout the 10 communes, the Earth Institute study found that only 17 percent of children continue schooling through the final year of primary school. For the full report please click here.

Results such as these demonstrate that despite the Government of Haiti’s efforts to enact free and compulsory primary education policies, access remains a critical challenge for numerous reasons, including affordability, adequate facilities and quality of education. Therefore, partners such as the Digicel Foundation have joined with the Government of Haiti to expand educational opportunities for youth throughout the country, and address major barriers to quality education.

Stranksy spoke about the Digicel Foundation’s education programs and how they adjusted after the earthquake to respond to the need for school reconstruction and youth engagement. The foundation has set a target of building 150 new schools by 2014, and as of the end of April 2012 has already completed 94 buildings. Beyond extending access to schools, the program simultaneously trains teachers to ensure that children are receiving quality education. Currently more than 600 teachers are enrolled in the Digicel Foundation’s programs, which will offer quality educational opportunities to children throughout the country.

Stranksy emphasized the changing nature of government leadership in the education sector, noting that after the recent earthquake, the Ministry of Education had limited capacity to coordinate educational programs, given the near decimation of its staff and resources. However, the ministry has increasingly provided leadership and guidance for the foundation’s support of the primary education system. This could be further advanced if the ministry had the tools for systematic monitoring of school performance and student progress.

Stransky also noted the challenges of building schools in remote parts of Haiti, including transportation and logistical constraints. She noted an example in one area, where donkeys were the best option to transport cement and building materials. She also discussed the multifunctional role of the new schools as emergency shelters. With rebuilding after the earthquake, both the Digicel Foundation and the government are using global construction regulations to ensure safer schools, and to deal with the lack of unified building codes. Despite numerous conversations with national and international donors and partners about building safer schools after the earthquake, the government has no reliable tools for monitoring and enforcing better building codes, so it remains largely unregulated, to the potential devastation of students and teachers in the face of another natural disaster.

One such tool that could address is this is the use of mobile phones monitoring systems with GPS, cameras and survey capability that could enhance school inspectors’ and safety monitoring teams’ ability to systematically check school construction.

The question of how to systematically improve education in light of Haiti’s objectives of universal primary education remained after the conversation. The lack of real-time monitoring and systematic monitoring of progress toward core indicators at regional scales means it is difficult to determine the full impact of projects, even when they are well-designed and significant in scale. The discussion ended by focusing on the possibilities to use mobile monitoring tools for a variety of facility mapping, program tracking, and even for literacy and numeracy tests as seen in the 2012 pilot study in Port-a-Piment Watershed. This potential to develop more robust monitoring platforms, at a relatively low cost in Haiti, is critical to help prioritize education investments, ensure coverage in the most needy areas and target education system support and development.

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