Primary education was compulsory in the late 1980s, but scarce government funds and a limited number of schools resulted in low enrollments in many rural areas. The school year began in October and ended in July, with two-week vacations at Christmas and Easter. Regular primary education consisted of six grades, preceded by two years of kindergarten (enfantin), which was heavily attended and which counted statistically in primary enrollments. Primary education consisted of preparatory, elementary, and intermediate cycles, each of which lasted two years. Promotion between grades depended on final examinations and on class marks recorded in trimesters. At the end of the sixth year, students who had passed their final examinations received a graduation certificate (certificat d'études primaires). After receiving the certificate, students could take examinations for entry into either secondary school or higher-primary school that led to an elementary certificate (brevet élémentaire) after three years. It was therefore possible for a student to take two years of kindergarten, six years of primary school, and three years of higher-primary studies for a total of eleven primary-school years. This primaryeducation system, however, was expected to change in the 1980s because of measures included in the 1978 Education Reform.
Primary-school enrollment was estimated at 642,000 in 1981, more than twice the official figure for 1970. According to the 1982 census, 40 percent of children in the six-year-old to eleven-year-old bracket were enrolled in school, compared with only 25 percent in 1971. Primary-school enrollment was 74 percent in metropolitan Port-au-Prince, but it was only 32 percent in rural areas. Most primary-school students were enrolled in private establishments in 1981, a reversal from the previous decade. An increase in the number of private primary schools accounted for the switch.
School nutrition programs, which increased about 12 percent annually between 1976 and 1984, contributed to increased primaryschool enrollments. By 1986 about three out of four students received meals at school. The United States and Europe supported the meal programs through surplus commodities. Private development agencies also provided support. At the same time, a number of private agencies, mostly from the United States, sponsored students in primary schools, helping to pay for tuition, books, and uniforms. By 1985 at least 75,000 primary students received such support. One-third of these students, however, were in Port-au-Prince. Enrollments of rural children continued to be low.
Dropout rates for primary students were high. According to some estimates for the mid-1980s, more than half of Haiti's urban primary-school students dropped out before completing the sixyear primary cycle. In rural areas, the dropout rate was 80 percent. In addition, dropout and repetition rates in rural areas were so high that three of every five primary-school students were in either first or second grade.
There were more than 14,000 primary-school teachers in Haiti in the early 1980s; however, only about 40 percent of the public primary-school teachers and about 30 percent of those in private schools had a secondary-level or teacher training certificate. In 1979 public school teachers were earning US$100 a month--the same salary paid to teachers in 1905, when the profession was considered prestigious. Private school salaries were about 50 percent lower than those of public school teachers. The National Council of Government (Conseil National de Gouvernement--CNG), reacting to demonstrations by teachers, agreed to raise salaries in 1986. Private school teachers' salaries, however, remained low. Because of the low salaries, many teachers left the profession.
In the 1970s, the Haitian government, with support from the World Bank and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), began to reform its educational system, mostly at the primary level. In 1978 the government unified educational administration for the first time by putting rural schools under the authority of the Department of National Education. Before 1978 rural schools had been administered by the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources. The education reform also introduced a new structure for primary classes, established Creole as the language of instruction, and introduced new curricula and procedures for teacher certification. The new structure consisted of ten years of primary education in one four-year and two three-year cycles, followed by three years of secondary education. Promotion from first to second grade and from third to fourth grade was to be automatic in order to prevent large numbers of students from repeating grades and overloading the system at the lower grades. The new curriculum for first through fourth grades included three months of study skills and classes in reading, writing, mathematics, and environmental sciences.
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