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IDB backs major education reform in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE – At a board meeting of the Interim Haitian Recovery Commission, the Inter-American Development Bank today committed to raising $500 million for an overhaul of the Haitian education system.

The IDB, which has been working on the plan with the Haitian Ministry of Education, the Presidential Commission on Education and many donors since shortly after the Jan. 12 earthquake, pledged to provide $250 million in grants from its own resources and to find an additional $250 million from non-traditional donors.

As envisioned by Haitian authorities, the five-year, preschool-through-university plan will cost about $4.2 billion, an estimate that includes the construction of thousands of schools, the retraining of tens of thousands of teachers and subsidies to reduce or eliminate the cost of tuition for all children in a new publicly funded education system.

Tuition fees represent a huge expense for most families in Haiti, where nearly 90 percent of schools are private and per capita income stands at around $400. Even before the earthquake around half the primary education age children were not enrolled in school.

The resources needed to finance the reform will have to come from both the Haitian government’s budget and external donors. At present, Haiti spends only about 2 percent of its gross domestic product on public funding of education. The average in Latin America is close to 5 percent of GDP.

Under the reform, most Haitian schools will become publicly funded institutions, foregoing or drastically reducing tuition charges. The government will pay teacher salaries for schools participating in the plan. To remain in the new system, schools will have to adopt a national education curriculum and meet increasingly stricter certification standards, including teacher qualifications and building facilities.

The plan will also finance the construction of larger schools in safe locations, following earthquake- and hurricane-resistant standards. Schools will be used to deliver other social services such as nutrition and health care.

A first $50 million grant, soon to be submitted to the IDB’s Board of Executive Directors, will help Haiti fund a quick-start program to clear debris from schools hit by the earthquake, build and furnish temporary classrooms and provide scholarships for hundreds of thousands of students for the coming school year.

To support the Haitian plan, the IDB will work with traditional multilateral donors such as the World Bank and with alternative donors such as foreign universities, corporations and foundations.

Along with financial backing from the IDB and other donors, Haiti is also receiving technical assistance from leading experts in education reform such as Paul Vallas, who led the transformation of the New Orleans public school system after Hurricane Katrina.

Since the earthquake the IDB has helped Haiti in its efforts to reopen schools, financing the construction of nearly 600 provisional classrooms on the sites of 60 schools, mostly in the Port-au-Prince region, allowing some 65,000 students to return to their lessons in safe facilities. The IDB also provided resources for school equipment and teacher financial aid.

IDB Support for Haiti in Other Sectors

During the IHRC board meeting, co-chaired by Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, participants were also informed about IDB-financed projects to support development in agriculture, transportation and water and sanitation.

In March the IDB’s Board of Governors agreed to provide Haiti $200 million a year in grants over the next decade as well as to cancel Haiti’s pending debt. So far this year the IDB has disbursed nearly $100 million to Haiti and approved new projects totaling $166 million.