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IDB approves $50 million grant for Haiti education plan

The Inter-American Development Bank approved a $50 million grant for Haiti’s education reform plan, the first contribution of a pledge to provide $250 million over five years to support the Haitian government’s efforts to make free, quality education available to all its children.

The IDB has also committed to raise $250 million more for the Haitian plan from non-traditional donors. The first one to contribute was First Citizens Bank of Trinidad and Tobago, with $1 million for the construction of a new school.

The Haitian plan seeks to establish a government-financed education system encompassing public and private schools. The goal is to provide subsidies to cut tuition costs at participating schools and enable more children to enroll and complete their studies. Even before the Jan. 12 earthquake, about 500,000 primary age children were not in school, mostly because their families could not afford it.

Another goal of the plan is to build more than 2,500 schools, using anti-seismic and hurricane-proof construction guidelines. New buildings will be larger in order to accommodate more students from preschool to the 9th grade. The earthquake destroyed or damaged more than 4,000 buildings that housed schools, vocational training centers and higher learning institutions.

In addition, the plan calls for improving teacher training and enforcing school certification. Before the earthquake, one in four teachers had not finished high school and about three-quarters of non-public schools operated without a government-issued license. In order to participate in the new system, private schools will have to meet stricter standards on teacher qualifications and building conditions.

The reform plan builds on ongoing programs. For example, to distribute subsidies it will employ a tuition waiver mechanism established under “Education for All,” a program launched in 2007 with the World Bank’s support. Schools participating in this mechanism are subject to independent audits to verify they use the subsidies as intended and do not demand additional fees from parents.

All told, the reform plan, which covers from preschool to university, will demand some $4.2 billion over five years. The Haitian government, which currently spends about 1.5 percent of GDP on education, plans to gradually increase spending on this sector to 4 percent of GDP, close to the Latin American average.

The plan will still require substantial commitments from donor countries and institutions, which have long played a role in supporting Haiti’s education sector with financial and technical resources. But the reform was designed so its components can be adjusted to the funds available.

The first IDB grant will finance both short-term and long-term investments. Among the most immediate ones is the building of 25 semi-permanent schools with 10 classrooms each, equipped with furniture, water and sanitary services and electricity. Twenty of these light but sturdy structures will be built in the quake region and five will be built in resettlement areas for people left homeless by the earthquake.

The grant will also finance the construction of 30 permanent schools. All buildings will have solar panels, water tanks, sanitary services, a kitchen, a canteen and offices for school staff and a nurse. The schools will be equipped with individual desks and chairs, rather than tables and benches, in order to make them more accessible for disabled children.

School construction will be supervised by Haiti’s FAES social investment fund, the government agency that spearheaded the building of more than 600 temporary schoolrooms financed by the IDB after the earthquake. FAES has developed building guidelines drawing from the experience of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and the French island of Martinique, which has suffered earthquakes.

Part of the IDB grant will help expand the coverage of the tuition waiver mechanism, providing subsidies for 35,000 more children from extremely poor families. It will also finance training for teachers and administrators at the 55 new schools, as well as school kits with uniforms, books, notebooks, pencils, erasers and backpacks for 27,500 children. More than 600 teachers will also receive school materials.

In addition, the grant will provide resources to strengthen the Haitian Education Ministry and build up its capacity to execute the reform plan, modernize its administration, update its legal framework for public-private partnerships and establish an autonomous school infrastructure authority.

The grant will be executed by the Education Ministry, FAES and the Education for All Unit.

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