Many public schools in Haiti reopened last week for the first time since the Jan. 12 earthquake, but most stayed closed, even in outlying provinces where damage was minimal. And in the capital, schoolchildren will likely be on the streets for months, government officials warned.
The government said last week it expected most provincial schools to reopen by Feb. 8—instead of Feb. 1 as anticipated by many families.
Anne Rose Bouget, a primary school teacher in the southwestern city of Les Cayes, said schools reopened there with more students than usual because some 300,000 people fled Port-au-Prince, the capital, after the quake.
Most of Haiti’s schools are damaged or destroyed. Many teachers are dead. And the students now often live in squalid camps.
“With everything that has already happened in the past few years—the floods, hurricanes, unrest—these children cannot afford to lose more time outside school,” said Berdadel Perkington, 40, a teacher giving an impromptu math lesson to a group of children outside the collapsed National Palace.
“The children are in shock and they are traumatized,” said Marie-Laurence Jocelin Lassegue, the minister of culture and communications. “Some of them have lost their friends, their parents. It’s like the end of the world for some of them.”
Kent Page, a spokesman for UNICEF, the United Nation’s children’s agency, said children need to get back to class so they have a sense of normalcy.
“None of us like being out of school,” said Ludmia Exiloud, 14. “We miss our studies. There’s nothing to do.”
But schools—reopening them, restaffing them, restocking them, relocating them—are just one of many urgent priorities in the country. The Ministry of Education—its own building destroyed—is still assessing damage.
In the long term, UNICEF hopes to boost overall school enrollment. Child-welfare groups say just over half of all school-age children in Haiti don’t attend school, though even the poorest of families try to send at least one child to class—hoping he or she will someday earn enough to support extended family.
A version of this article appeared in the February 10, 2010 edition of Education Week as Some Public Schools Reopen in Haiti