PORT-AU-PRINCE–(ENEWSPF)–5 April 2010 – Less than three months after a devastating earthquake that shook the lives of many children in the Haitian capital Port au Prince, will begin their return to school today.
The call to return to classes, led by the Haitian Ministry of Education and backed by UNICEF and its partners, is the first step in an operation that hopes to see more than 700,000 students back in places of learning over the next two months. These numbers are expected to increase towards the start of a new academic year in September.
“The demand for education is very high in Haiti. There is a clear thirst for learning amongst children and families,” said UNICEF Haiti Representative Francoise Gruloos-Ackermans. “Families value education far above any other service and we want to embrace this passion for learning.”
“As we continue to address issues from the safety and security of school buildings to the creation of a fully inclusive and effective education system, today marks an important step towards those goals and offers hope to many children affected by this disaster.”
The 12 January earthquake caused the death of an estimated 38,000 students, more than 1,300 teachers and other education personnel and left more than 4,000 schools and the Ministry of Education’s headquarters destroyed. All available data on education was lost. Nearly 3 million students are believed to have suffered an interruption to or complete cessation of their education.
UNICEF and its partners has worked with the Haitian government to provide 3,000 school tents to date, along with kits of student and teachers’ materials and recreational items, and school furniture to assist children whose schools were destroyed, or who have moved to re-settlement camps after losing their homes. Rapid orientation has been provided to teachers and volunteers to re-start education, with an interim curriculum covering basic life skills, psychosocial support and disaster preparedness.
UNICEF has also provided seven prefabricated offices for the Ministry of Education and is working with the Ministry and partners on a model for earthquake proof schools using innovative building technologies, including environmentally friendly compressed earth blocks.
The government has also announced that the current school term will be extended until August, to provide children with more time to catch up on months of learning lost through the earthquake.
Priorities in the coming months will include issues such as engagement with the private sector – which normally provides schooling for some 80 per cent of enrolled students – development of social protection mechanisms to support the most marginalized and excluded families, improvements in the quality of education, school safety, non-formal education opportunities, technical and vocational training, and increasing community involvement in the management of education.