Improving Learning In Haiti’s Classrooms

06/06/2017 08:24 am ET Updated Jun 06, 2017

In Haiti, about ninety percent of children are estimated to be in primary school. That is a real achievement compared to 20 years ago. But evidence shows that it is not enough to ensure that children are in the classroom. For real benefits, children need to engage in real learning when they are at school.

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Improving the quality of education and retention of students to the end of primary school and beyond poses a challenge for Haiti. New research for the project Haiti Priorise examines responses.

Haiti Priorise is a research project in which experts study the costs and benefits of different approaches to solving Haitian challenges, from health and economic initiatives to environmental ones. Other Haiti Priorise research papers that we have already released examine the merits of scholarships for girls, vocational training, civics education, early childhood education, teaching children at the right level, and using payments to parents to keep children in school for longer.

In the latest research, Dr. Damien Échevin, Economist and Research Associate at University of Sherbrooke and Laval University, works to identify the costs and benefits of proposals that may improve access, retention and quality.

The first such idea is to provide primary education in Creole rather than French. This has been much-discussed in recent years.

Dr. Échevin estimates that the upfront cost of switching to instruction in Creole is around 22,000 gourdes ($319) per pupil over the entire length of time they spend in primary school. He projects this would lead to 73 percent of children completing primary school, an increase from today’s 50 percent rate. Other benefits would include higher future wages for those children from their extra education, and a saving for the education system. These benefits would add up to 182,000 gourdes ($2,665) per pupil.

This means that every gourde spent would achieve benefits worth 8 gourdes. However, there are disadvantages. Although mother tongue instruction would lower dropout rates and increase primary school completion, returns to speaking Creole are limited. There are potential negative effects of having less proficiency in a global language like French. Children would need to learn another language to broaden their economic horizons. And private schools that have French as the official language of instruction may syphon off the wealthier students. The economic analysis adds new information for this debate, and suggests that this proposal warrants further discussion.

Another oft-discussed approach to improving education is to improve teacher training. According to figures from the Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training (MENFP), public and non-public institutions offering in-service initial training are responsible for about 400 graduates every year. This number is insufficient to meet the needs of the education system.

On a per-pupil basis, improved teacher training would cost 8,900 gourdes ($131) over the entire primary school time. This includes training costs for the teacher and a salary increase. This improvement in teacher training will lead to better education, and thus to higher income for children over their lifetimes. This is worth 54,000 gourdes ($789) per pupil, meaning that every gourde spent generates benefits worth 6 gourdes.

An alternative approach is to subsidize access to private schools. The supply of public schools in Haiti is limited. According to the 2013-14 school census, only 16 percent of the 16,993 schools in Haiti are public.

A subsidy could come in the form of a voucher or tuition subsidies. Tuition waiver programs have had a proven impact on participation in Haiti. However, by increasing the ratio of students-to-teacher, such an approach could have a detrimental effect on educational outcomes.

This is substantially more expensive than either of the first two proposals. Funding such a subsidy would cost 48,000 gourdes ($703) per pupil over the entire primary school. Again, we would see an increase in both future wages as well as completion rates – and this would also save the education system money. Added together, these benefits are worth 139,000 gourdes ($2,041) per pupil. So every gourde spent generates benefits for Haiti worth 2.9 gourdes.

Finally, Dr. Échevin considers whether the cost of a school uniform may be posing a barrier to education. The school uniform represents a large share of education expenditure in developing countries and it is generally considered a serious impediment to school enrollment. Data from elsewhere suggests that provision of free school uniforms leads to 10 percent-15 percent reductions in dropout rates.

A uniform costs just 3,500 gourdes per student per year, or 18,000 gourdes ($256) for a pupil for the entire primary school. Dr. Échevin projects that such investment could increase completion rates from 50 to 56 percent, increasing the future earnings of children who stay in school longer, and save parents the cost of the uniform. Such benefits add up to 53,000 gourdes ($778) per pupil. So every gourde spent leads to 3 gourdes of benefits.

Along with other papers on education, this latest study adds to the evidence base for decision-makers to consider when identifying not only how to improve educational access, but how to keep children in school for longer, to learn more while they are there.

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