I’m a native of Wisconsin, and while I haven’t been a resident of the state for some time, I live right next door in Minnesota, and have family there, so I’m still connected with what’s going on there. While Wisconsin’s recent fight over money and education, was not the first, it certainly was one of the more heated, with Governor Scott Walker being the first governor to be elected twice in one term after some tried to force him out through a recall.
In the U.S., the fight seems to be divided between those who think that more money is the answer, and those who feel that teachers should work more efficiently on less money. From that perspective, how do we look at a place like Haiti?
First of all, there is, to my limited knowledge, no government-sponsored education in Haiti. For this reason, the population who can read and write is around 50%. On the other hand, college education is much less expensive than here in the U.S., because in Haiti, classes are taught wherever they have room and a teacher.
My second day in Haiti, I attended a college business class that was dealing with property law. Other than that, I have very little knowledge of what was being discussed. More interesting to me, was how things happened. We got to the school and waited for the teacher to arrive. No one seemed to be concerned that the teacher was not yet there, so we sat and waited. Many of the students were at varying degrees of English proficiency, so they took the opportunity to practice with me.
Once the professor arrived, we moved into a space that was surrounded by half-walls (about 4-feet high) of cement, cement floor, and a metal roof. It was explained to me that after the earthquake, the students couldn’t focus in the older cement buildings, because of the fear of another quake. UNICEF came and built the metal structure. Unfortunately, the trade-off was that under the metal roof, it was like sitting in an oven. So the class opted to move into the cement room that felt like it was about 3 1/2 degrees cooler, minus the breeze that was coming through the more open metal structure.
The desks were simple with a 1×6 board for a bench, and the same for the writing surface. Five to six students would sit at a bench, and I seriously doubted it’s ability to hold my weight, much less that of the other four students sitting with me.
Students had photo-copies of portions of a text, but there was no bound textbook for the class. About 35 students crammed into a room that would comfortable seat a dozen in the U.S. standards. And the professor pulled out his notebook computer and digital projector.
Professors are responsible for their own tools. It seems that they also are responsible for the bulk of their students. But the plus side is that more of the money goes directly to the professor, and the school does not determine where the money goes. If the professor decides it will benefit him to buy a projector, he spends the money, and it goes with him, even if he no longer teaches at that school. It is his tool to use how he would like. This also helps to keep tuition very low, and anyone with any sort of income, seems to be taking one class or another.
Colleges, trade schools, language schools, and other institutions, are everywhere in Port-au-Prince. Clearly the Haitians find that education is the way to a better life. And I’ve been told that as an American, I could come and teach and make “lots of money”, simply because I’m a native English speaker, and my college degrees are sought-after. I was also told that if you are a foreigner, no one will check your credentials. You can tell them you have a PhD, or that you’re a medical doctor, and they will allow you to cut people open. I don’t know how factual this is, but I trust my source. It’s frightening to think of in some ways.
Other teaching situations I witnessed include an art lesson (one-on-one) at a private home (the instructor came to the student) under the carport. The teacher simply painted and had the student watch and copy. No text books, and very informal. There was also an accounting class of three students that I witnessed twice. This was also at a home, and a makeshift blackboard was attached to the side of the house for the classes. In this case, there were photo-copies as well. One time the teacher was there, but the next time, it was student-led.
Education in Haiti is operated as typical Haitian fashion. No one seems to complain about lack of supplies. They are simply there to learn and to get the qualifications that will help them have a better chance at employment (unemployed and under-employed numbers I’ve heard are up to 70%). Sadly, I’ve also read that around 80% of graduates leave Haiti to work abroad, meaning that the uneducated are left, and the country doesn’t get better.
It’s a question I ask myself. How can I change this? How can we encourage education in Haiti without driving up cost? How can we encourage Haitians to get their education, and even if they get it outside of Haiti, go back and teach the Haitians so that Haiti can get better? It was even pointed out to me that conservation from the perspective of agriculture, is simply not taught. In the slash-and-burn technique, much potentially nutritious material is destroyed by fire, rather than being reused to put back into the soil for future crops and so the nutrients are depleted.
There’s so much that can be done, but the Haitians need to do it, not the foreigners. We can encourage and equip and support them. But when it comes down to it, I firmly believe that the Haitian mentality requires any success to be Haitian-led, or there will be resistance and ultimately failure.