History of Education in Haiti

"African slaves were worked so hard by French plantation owners that half died within a few years; it was cheaper to import new slaves than to improve working conditions enough to increase survival. This attitude allowed no time or resources for the education of the enslaved. Children of slaveholders were tutored in the early grades at home and then sent to France for further study. There were few schools in Sante Domingue. At the time of independence, years of war had demolished most infrastructure including any educational facilities.

Independence through the 1800s
At the beginning of independence, King Christophe in the north of Haiti looked to Englishman William Wilberforce to build up the new nation's educational system. King Christophe, though illiterate, understood the necessity of education. He was keen to show that formerly enslaved educated persons could hold their own with the educated of the world. Wilburforce encouraged Prince Saunders of Boston as well as four others to join their efforts at developing a Lancastrian model of education. This is a Monitorial System where the teacher teaches the more advanced students who then in turn teach the less advanced. It is designed to educate a large number of students without benefit of a large number of professional teachers.

In the south of Haiti, President Alexandre Pétion turned to the French to guide his development of the educational system. He was personally familiar with it since he had studied ballistics in France. His approach to the issue of inadequate numbers of teachers for the primary grades was to focus on secondary education in the Napoleonic approach to education.

The first Constitution, promulgated in 1805 by King Christophe, stated that "... education shall be free. Primary education shall be compulsory... State education shall be free at every level." It guaranteed the right for everyone to teach -an "open-door policy" to private initiatives which meant that every person would have the right to form private establishments for the education and instruction of youth. The practice of providing accessible public education for all was established later when the Constitution was revised in 1807. Much later in 1987, the declaration that education shall be a right for every citizen was added to the Constitution.

(These educational goals expressed in the Constitution have not been achieved. In the beginning, the government's primary focus was on building schools to serve the children of the political elite. These schools were predominantly found in urban areas, and patterned after the French and British school models. At the end of the 19th century, there were 350 public schools in the country. It rose to approximately 730 by the eve of the American Occupation of Haiti in 1917.)

The American Occupation of 1915-1934
At the beginning of the United States occupation of Haiti there was an effort by the U.S. military to improve the education but not to the degree to which they had in the previous countries that they had occupied such as Cuba or the Puerto Rico. Their initial assessment of the Haitian educational system was similar to many that had been made before. The solution of the military, as first understood - of broadening the type of education and opening it up to more of the population, was considered a positive change by many Haitians as well as a number of American editorial writers who were keeping an eye on Haiti. The most basic issue was that the current educational system did not successfully educate the average Haitian who spoke only Haitian Creole. The Haitian education system was built on the idea of the superiority of the French language over any other language, and the profound inferiority of Haitian culture to that of the French culture. This concept of superiority were born in the minds of the elite during the years of slavery and were re-enforced when the French Catholic Church was allowed to return and begin establishing schools as a result of the Concordat of 1860. The classical education, more commonly called an "academic" education was meant to prepare the elite for further education in France. There was heavy emphasis on the literature of France and rhetoric and very little science or practical education such as engineering and the learning tended to be rote. The language of instruction was French which was further re-enforced at home, among friends and in their reading materials down to food labels in their pantries. Non-elite students did not have the benefit of speaking French at home. In the schools that served the non-elite, French was still the language of instruction but there was a good chance the teacher was not fluent and the teaching became even more rote. Further down the social ladder, the quality of the teacher's either Creole or French was even less certain. To ensure universal education for all, it was clear that profound, deep, systemic changes would need to begin.

The Occupation's solution, however, was different than prior attempts at repair in that there was to be a new and extreme emphasis on agricultural education over the traditional academic education that the elites received. The decision process surrounding this move to agricultural education and its implementation caused a great deal of concern and controversy in Haiti as well as in the U.S. - particularly among black American leaders. To them it smacked of attempts in the southern United States to limit black citizens to simple agricultural training to keep them from moving up the social economic ladder and to keep them from moving into a profession or positions of leadership. (Note that there was an ongoing debate in the United States among leaders of black people at the time about the best educational path for black Americans - see the discussions between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois (whose father had been born in Haiti.) - however no black leader advocated for solely agricultural training.) US. black leaders discovered that the U.S. decision makers in Haiti were all white military men - the majority of whom were southerners raised with Jim Crow laws. Concerns were raised about systemic racism such that one such leader Rayford W. Logan - an American French speaking advocate of Pan-Africanism - went on a fact finding mission, traveling much of the country and examining documents published by the Occupational forces. While there was no systematic record- keeping for all the Occupation years or for all the other efforts in the occupied countries, he was able to see clear patterns of denial of funds and minimization of Haitian culture. He concluded that the occupation's educational efforts were failing due to issues related to racism - some subtle and some blatant.

In the initial treaty with Haiti no mention was explicitly made of educational improvements or policy as had been done in the Philippines, Cuba and Puerto Rico. Rayford considered this "an almost inexplicable omission".
The Occupation budget for education in Haiti in 1920 paled in comparison to previous amounts allocated in other occupied countries. (Note that all monies for education came out of the Haitian treasury - there were no monies forthcoming from the United States.)
Haiti had $340,000.
Cuba had 20 times the budget ($7,000,000) for the same number of people.
Puerto Rico had 11 times the budget ($4,000,000) with half the people of Haiti.
Dominican Republic had 5 times the budget ($1,500,000) with a third of the people.
While the U.S. was in the Dominican Republic, the salary of a teacher there had increased from $5 to $10 a month to $55 a month. Dominican rural schools had increased in number from 84 before the occupation to 489 in 1921. Logan attributed this disparity to racism, even though citizens of both countries were descended from African slaves. The Dominican Republic citizens described themselves as white people or mulatto while Haitians described themselves as black or mulatto.

In Haiti, the Occupation had essentially developed two school systems - one run by the U.S. - the agricultural sector called Service Techniques and the one run by the Haitian government - the academic from the elite lycee schools to the primary school in the mountain villages.

The implementation of the Service Techniques was highly problematic. The classes were taught by American teachers - few of whom spoke French let alone Haitian Creole. This required most classes to use translators which slowed down the teaching process considerably and added another cost.

Logan found that the salary differentials were such that Haitian primary school teachers were paid $72 a year while the American inspector of schools in that local area was paid between $1800 and $2400 a year. Academic schools were clearly deprived of funds while agricultural schools were generously funded. The Americans paid little attention to rural schools - home of the vast majority of Haitians.

After 13 years of Occupation there were only a third of the rural schools - 306 - as opposed to the 1074 required by the Haiti law of 1912. There was also a dearth of government owned school buildings - Haiti had much more of a deficit in numbers of school buildings than other countries the U.S. had occupied. In the Philippines, the Occupation had built 1000 schools; in Cuba, 2600 schools with attendance jumping from 21,000 to 215,000.

Given the concern about European influence in the Caribbean prior to World War I it is not surprising that Occupation forces wanted to diminish the influence of the Germans and French in Haitian life. Germans controlled important parts of the economy but it was the French who controlled the culture. It was much easier to replace the Germans with American businessmen but there was not an easy replacement for the French way of life. When the Haitian government asked that French Trappists (one of Catholicism's holy orders) be allowed to provide schooling, they were denied - even though this would have been a less expensive method of education. There was also a deep concern surrounding the separation of church and state among the Occupation leaders because it did not fit the model of American democracy. In the Americans' view the Catholic Church was intertwined with French influence and its reach into Haitian society needed to be reduced even though this would negatively affect academic education. At one point, two French professors were denied the ability to teach and the French Ambassador to the United States made an official complaint. It was the hope of the Occupation to reduce cultural reliance on the French but the American military badly underestimated the intellectual, language and emotional ties to France among the elite.

There were some elite who at the beginning of the Occupation offered support for the Occupation's educational efforts but once it became it clear that there would not only be no support for the academic schools, that many of them would actually be closed - the elite became increasingly anti-American.

While many in Haiti had a plethora of reasons to be frustrated with the Occupation it was actually students who instigated the final demonstrations against the Americans that finally forced them out. They had been promised scholarships to the Service Techniques but did not receive them. It was the straw that broke the camel's back and began the revolt that ended the Occupation in 1934.

Post Occupation
The government attempted to expand access to public education in the 1940s.

Duvalier Era
This was halted during the Duvalier era. Between 1960 and 1971, 158 new public schools were built. Private education represented 20% of school enrollment in 1959-60. After his son Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier took over in 1971, the public sector continued to stagnate, but the private sector accelerated partly due to a rule instituted by Baby Doc that religious missionaries were required to build an affiliated school with any new church. By 1979-80 57% of enrollment in primary education, and 80% in secondary education was private. During the Duvalier era a number of qualified teachers left the country to escape political repression. During the 1980s, the average annual growth rates in private and public enrollment were 11% and 5%, respectively.

Post Duvalier Era
The expansion of private schools increased further after the end of the Duvalier regime in 1986, as many religious communities established their own educational institutions. The years 1994-1999 were a peak period for school construction and the private sector has been growing exponentially since.