Rebuilding Haiti’s education system with World ORT


02 March 2010 Rebuilding Haitis education system with World ORT Amid the rubble and heartbreak of Haiti lies an opportunity to rebuild the countrys education system and World ORT is one of the best organisations for the job. Experts Daniel Kahn and Igal Guez have spent a week in Haiti to investigate how World ORT can put its 130 years of experience in education and training at the service of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. They have returned shocked by the devastation they have witnessed but energised by the potential for positive changes in the countrys socio-economic fabric and the certainty that World ORT is superbly qualified to play a significant role in the process. Igal Guez, World ORT representative in Haiti, kneels among young survivors of the earthquake in front of the school set up by Natan the Israeli Coalition for International Humanitarian Aid. With him are two Israeli volunteers. World ORT is maybe the best organisation for the task, said Mr Guez, a former research and development engineer at DuPont who is now the award-winning principal of the Har Vagai High School in Israel. Together with Daniel Kahn, whose career in education, social welfare and international relations has taken him from France to Israel and countries across Africa and South East Asia, Mr Guez was shocked by seeing at first hand the aftermath of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake which struck Haiti in January. But the meetings they had with local businesspeople, NGO personnel, politicians, diplomats and educators provided them with important insights into the countrys needs as it starts on the long road to recovery. Although Haitis education system was once considered among the best in the Caribbean, the doctors, lawyers, accountants and engineers it produced have either left the island or are approaching retirement. In recent years, political instability has seen private schools and universities mushroom while public education has been reduced to a barely significant rump. On every street corner you can see advertisements for schools 90 per cent of the schools were private and you did not need to be well educated or have training to establish one, said Mr Guez. Around Port-au-Prince there are 187 private universities. Education is a business. And with an elementary education costing anywhere between $60 and $600 per month in a country where 76 per cent of the population live on less than $2 a day, it is a business which far too few have access to. Only half Haitis children entered the school system and of those who did little more than one per cent matriculated. Now a bad situation has become even worse with the earthquake destroying some three-quarters of the schools. But with more than 200,000 of the countrys 10 million people killed and much of the already meagre infrastructure ruined, the need for people with the kind of practical, vocational education which World ORT is so adept at providing is greater than ever. The enormity of the need for schools is highlighted by the fact that 40 per cent of Haitians are aged under 15 (compared with 20 per cent in the USA) and nearly two-thirds of the population is under 25. The biggest gap in provision is for a good vocational school providing intermediate level skills to produce technicians, people with an understanding of the practical rather than the theoretical in construction, nursing, fishing and IT, Mr Guez said. Schools in Haiti are teaching with blackboards but they need workshops and laboratories and thats exactly where ORT can step in. I dream that an ORT school will open there. So much money is being given to Haiti; if just part of it is directed to education then a good organisation like ORT can step in and show how its done. And the country may then find ways to build on that example. By setting up just one good school, ORT would contribute a lot to Haitis future. Mr Guez is not alone in seeing World ORTs potential to trigger positive, practical change in the development of the education system. Everyone we talked to was eager to see World ORT come to Haiti, said Mr Kahn. World ORT has the appropriate structure to rehabilitate vocational education there. Among them was Jacques-Edouard Alexis, whom Mr Kahn and Mr Guez met in a small tent in the parking lot in front of the remains of the building which had once housed his office. Mr Alexis has served two terms as Haitis prime minister as well as a stint as education minister. An agronomist, he was a senior member of faculty at the State University of Haitis agronomy and veterinary medicine unit and was also a founding member and vice-chancellor of the respected private Quisqueya University. He is a man of vision and now leads a think tank focused on reform, mainly in terms of education, said Mr Kahn. He invited ORT to open vocational training programmes in the provinces the immediate need is to provide skills such as plumbing, carpenters, masons, and telecommunications. The idea is to strengthen education in outlying districts, part of a government strategy to provide incentives to the one million people who fled Port-au-Prince after the earthquake not to return. I think its a good idea. Before the earthquake there were two million people in the capital and it was chaos; two million people with little or no income, it created a high level of violence. In the meantime, based on the needs identified during their stay, Mr Kahn and Mr Guez are putting together some more modest projects which, money permitting, can be set up relatively quickly and to great effect. One is to open two new sections at Haiti Tec, the massive technical training school set up in 2001 by a coalition of Haitian businesspeople and supporters in South Florida to provide affordable courses for local people in trades and skills which were in short supply. One section would be for high school students aged between 15 and 18 at the moment the school only accepts students aged at least 18; the other would be to train vocational teachers training the trainers, said Mr Kahn. In a telephone conference with 50 senior representatives of North American Jewish Federations, Mr Kahn outlined some of the other project in the pipeline, all of which, he said, had received favourable responses from senior officers at UNESCO. Among these projects is a residential 10-day training courses for construction workers focusing on earthquake-resistant building techniques. The techniques involved are simpler than you can imagine, said Mr Kahn. And the cost of a properly made building is less than one-fifth more than the low-grade buildings which were so common in Haiti before the earthquake. The idea is to train 1,000 people per year for four years. It was the inferior quality of these buildings which was largely to blame for the huge death toll in the Haiti quake a fact highlighted by the fewer than 1,000 people reportedly killed in last weeks much stronger quake in Chile, where buildings are constructed to much higher standards. World ORT has also offered to build a vocational school for children aged between 15 and 18 in an Israeli Childrens Village whose construction is being planned by MASHAV, the Centre for International Cooperation at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The village, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee Assistant Executive Vice President William Recant told the teleconference, was a holistic approach to long term rehabilitation and reconstruction and would cater for up to 20,000 people. Another project is the creation of a preparatory year for young people about to enter university. The students would be offered free tuition in return for working part time in the refugee camps. Such a programme would involved between 80 and 100 students and provide support for 15,000 families in the camps. We know from experience that such programmes are a very efficient way of raising a new generation of leaders, Mr Kahn told the teleconference. World ORT is a member of the Coalition of Jewish Disaster Relief, which coordinates the work of major Jewish organisations in North America to prevent duplication and maximise the effectiveness of aid efforts. William Daroff, Vice President for Public Policy and Director of the Washington Office of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), who introduced speakers at the teleconference, said that his organisation had so far raised nearly $5 million for relief work in Haiti. With the appropriate financial backing, World ORT could implement its project ideas quickly and efficiently through its International Cooperation Department (ORT IC), which has served non-Jewish communities around the world since 1960. From a sustainable forestry school in Guinea to rehabilitating ex-combatants in Burundi; from capacity building of NGOs in Montenegros nascent democracy to the re-building of communities devastated by the Asian tsunami, ORT IC has provided meaningful support to disadvantaged people in every continent except Antarctica and Australia more than 350 projects in nearly 100 countries. ORT ICs work has received support and praise from major organisations such as the World Bank, Hewlett-Packard, the United States Agency for International Development, the Coca-Cola Foundation, the United Nations and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. World ORT Director General and CEO Robert Singer said the organisations international network, recognised expertise and directly relevant experience clearly positioned it as an ideal contributor to Haitis long term reconstruction. World ORTs philosophy is to help people to help themselves, Mr Singer said. Many organisations come and provide vital assistance in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. We, on the other hand, work with communities to ensure they have the ability to rebuild and the skills for self-reliance. How else will Haiti have the people it needs for its reconstruction and effective rule unless we invest in the next generation?