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Haiti seeks teacher permits amid education reform

September 8, 2014

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haitian children lined up in immaculate uniforms for a new school year on Monday, as the country’s government promised to make sure they get a better chance to learn.

The Caribbean nation’s education department is starting to require all teachers to pass a test and become certified if they want to remain in the classroom, one of several efforts to improve education in a country with dire rates of illiteracy and drop outs.

Education Minister Nesmy Manigat told The Associated Press that all teachers will be issued a two-year provisional permit, giving them time to study and take the test. Those who fail after two years won’t be allowed to teach.

“The government wants a new generation of teachers,” Manigat said. “It is quite obvious that one of the biggest problems Haiti’s education sector faces is the availability of well-trained school teachers.”

Children in new uniforms filed into schools across the capital Monday, with a festive air in some places. At one school, schoolgirls sported scarlet ribbons in their hair for the first day’s flag ceremony.

Manigat said the government will pay for training teachers and for the test, which will give the government a better idea of just how many teachers there are in the country and where they are located, as well as their level of competence.

Until now, teachers have not been required to have teaching degrees or certifications.

Josue Merilien, who represents the national teachers union in Haiti, said his membership supports the new initiative, which he says will ensure educators have the qualifications they need. “I’m glad the government is taking a measure of control,” he said in an interview at his office.

The Education Ministry also aims to crack down on hundreds of non-certified vocational schools and junior colleges and legislators plan to debate a bill that would shut them down if they don’t comply with the law.

“There’s absolute disorganization at the higher education level,” Manigat said.

The measures are a good beginning, but it’s too early to know if they’ll have any effect, said Colleen Toussaint, 44, as she bought books at the chaotic outdoor market in downtown Port-au-Prince for her son, who’s entering seventh grade.

“Most of the time the teachers don’t have enough capacity or enough training to teach the kids,” she said. “As parents, we have to teach the kids ourselves. The schools don’t provide enough education.”

Haiti’s education system has suffered for decades due to poverty, political instability and the devastating 2010 earthquake. An estimated 30 percent of young people are illiterate, and only about half of all children can afford to attend primary school, according to UNICEF, the U.N.’s children’s agency. Fewer than a quarter go to secondary school.

The education ministry recently announced that it has invested some $13 million in books and school supplies for this year — though many students still must pay for all or part of their textbooks — and also launched a school meal system that will help 800,000 children.

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Associated Press writer Evens Sanon contributed to this report.

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