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Haiti gives IDB mandate to promote major education reform

PORT-AU-PRINCE – Haitian President René Préval today gave the Inter-American Development Bank a mandate to work with Haiti's Ministry of Education and National Education Commission to prepare a major reform of the Haitian education system.

The five-year plan, which would require around $2 billion in funding from foreign donors, will be aimed at expanding tuition-free education services in Haiti. At present, nearly 90 percent of Haitian schools are private. Even before the Jan. 12 earthquake, which destroyed or damaged more than 4,000 schools, around half the children of primary education age were not enrolled in school.

In a press conference held on the grounds of the National Palace, Préval noted that he has limited time before his term ends in Feb. 2011, so he urged donors to press ahead with key initiatives that will have to be carried on by future presidents.

"Let's use these eight months to engage in projects that must continue after this period," Préval said. "So let's quickly prepare the education plan, so that it can get moving, let's sign as many roads projects as possible, as many electricity projects as possible. We have eight months to do all of this together."

IDB President Luis Alberto Moreno said the Bank could provide $250 million in grants over five years for the education reform plan, which it would seek to leverage with donations from foreign universities, corporations, foundations and individuals interested in supporting Haitian educational institutions. He added that he would call on other donors, such as the World Bank, to support Haiti's new plan.

"Our commitment to Haiti, as you know, is very important. We were given, as part of a recent capital increase, the possibility of giving Haiti $200 million a year in grants for the next 11 years," said Moreno, who mentioned roads, water, energy, agriculture and private sector investments as other sectors in which the IDB expects to be active in the coming years.

Moreno added that the education reform plan is likely to be one of the first to be presented for additional funding to the Haitian Interim Reconstruction Commission and the Multi-Donor Trust Fund. These agencies were established after the March 31 United Nations conference where international donors pledged to provide Haiti nearly $10 billion to recover from the earthquake.

Along with financial support from the IDB and other donors, the Haitian government will also receive technical assistance from leading experts in education reform. One key advisor will be Paul Vallas, who led the transformation of the New Orleans public schools system after Hurricane Katrina.

Under the proposed reform, most Haitian schools would become publicly funded but privately run institutions, foregoing tuition charges. A central fund would be established for the government to pay salaries of all teachers and school administrators participating in the new system.

In order to participate in the reformed system, schools would have to undergo a certification process to verify the number of children served and staff hired. As incentives to take part in the plan, schools would receive financial support to upgrade their facilities as well as text books and educational materials.

To remain certified, schools would have to meet increasingly stringent standards, including the adoption of a national curriculum, teacher training and facility improvement programs.

At the same time, the plan will finance the creation of new schools, using existing buildings suitable for educational purposes and constructing new ones in safe locations and following quake- and hurricane-proof standards. Schools would also be used to provide critical services such as nutrition, health care and other social services.

The plan could also serve as a platform for many other innovations for improving Haiti's education system, including the recruitment of highly educated persons to serve as teachers in Haiti or the creation of partnerships between Haitian and foreign educational institutions.

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