Haiti's postcolonial leaders promoted education, at least in principle. The 1805 constitution called for free and compulsory primary education. The early rulers, Henri (Henry) Christophe (1807-20) and Alexandre Pétion (1806-18), constructed schools; by 1820 there were nineteen primary schools and three secondary lycées. The Education Act of 1848 created rural primary schools with a more limited curriculum and established colleges of medicine and law. A comprehensive system was never developed, however, and the emerging elite who could afford the cost preferred to send their children to school in France. The signing of the Concordat with the Vatican in 1860 resulted in the arrival of clerical teachers, further emphasizing the influence of the Roman Catholic Church among the educated class. Roman Catholic schools essentially became nonsecular public schools, jointly funded by the Haitian government and the Vatican. The new teachers, mainly French clergy, promoted an attachment to France in their classrooms.
Clerical teachers concentrated on developing the urban elite, especially in the excellent new secondary schools. To their students, they emphasized the greatness of France, while they expounded on Haiti's backwardness and its lack of capacity for self-rule. Throughout the nineteenth century, only a few priests ventured to the rural areas to educate peasants. In both urban and rural settings, they followed a classical curriculum, which emphasized literature and rote learning. This curriculum remained unaltered until the 1980s, except during the United States occupation, when efforts were made to establish vocational schools. The elite resisted these efforts, and the government restored the old system in 1934.
Education in Haiti changed during the 1970s and the 1980s. Primary enrollments increased greatly, especially in urban areas. The Jean-Claude Duvalier regime initiated administrative and curriculum reforms. Nevertheless, as of 1982 about 65 percent of the population over ten years of age had received no education and only 8 percent was educated beyond the primary level.
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