The summer is coming to an end, a period of great anxiety for parents and students alike because it brings with it the return to school, when school supplies must be purchased by parents who are barely eking out a living. The government which always promises to help alleviate costs of school supplies for families was a bit late with the promised aid this year but finally came through with an announcement by the outgoing Minister of Education, Pierre Josué Agénor Cadet. The Minister also announced grants to private and religious schools as follows: Presbyterian schools will receive 40 million gourdes; Protestant schools will receive 30million and communal schools will receive 5million gourdes. In addition, 875 million gourdes will be set aside to pay salary arrears to teachers under the universal free and compulsory school program, Programme de Scolarisation Universelle Gratuite et Obligatoire (PSUGO).
At the same time, the government is looking to rehabilitate some 500 public schools, distribute 198,000 school kits, 30,000 uniforms and make available 12,000 desks. There will be more than a hundred new schools built with the Request for Proposals (RFPs) sent out to solicit potential builders to undertake the project of building new schools to replace those destroyed during the earthquake of 2010. As for textbooks, the Minister promised that all efforts will be made to ensure that they are made available by the time school begins. Earlier in the week, the General Manager of the Henry Deschamps Enterprises reported a delay in the bureaucratic process of provisioning school supplies. But according to the Minister, the textbooks will be available before school starts, unlike previous years also more than a million and a half textbooks will be subsidized by the state to the tune of 70 percent. Compared to last years, this year’s subsidies fell short by 200,000 gourdes. The teachers’ union, L’Union nationale des normaliennes/normaliens et éducatrices/éducateurs d’Haïti (UNNOEH) criticized the government’s actions as demagoguery in an interview with AlterRadio. During the interview, the union spokesman Georges Wilbert Franck criticized the delays in funding for textbooks, arguing that most of the textbooks that have been widely accepted have not yet been subsidized by the government making it difficult for parents with meagre resources to afford them, especially in these trying economic times. Meanwhile the Ministry of Education stated that it has sent out some 5,000 engagement letters to teachers who are not currently up to date on their certification.
Meanwhile on the political front, the newly nominated Prime Minister, Jean Henry Céant is said to be in the process of forming his government and choosing his ministers after consultations with President Jovenel Moïse. According to his spokesman, Camille Leblanc, the two leaders of the Executive office have been reviewing documents on potential cabinet ministers, refraining from commenting on rumors about different individuals being considered for various posts. Mr. Leblanc assured the public that the new Prime Minister has gained a majority of allies in both houses who are supportive of his general policy proposals and is said to be working closely with representatives from various political parties and leaders of civil society. The special senatorial commission looking in to the Prime Minister’s vetting is expected to make public its findings and report on Wednesday, August 29, 2018, according to the head of the commission, the senator Onondieu Louis.
In other news, the one main issue that has preoccupied much of the country in the past few days has been the report detailing the level of corruption and mismanagement that plagued the PetroCaribe fund program initiated by Chavez’s Venezuela. A new movement christened Kot Lajan Petro Karibe a? has taken up the banner to make sure those implicated in the affair are brought to justice. During a sit-in organized by the group and attended by a cross section of professional youth groups in the country, protesters occupied the entrance to the offices of the Supreme Court of Accounts and Litigation, Cour Supérieur des Comptes et du Contentieux. The demonstration included professionals such as teachers journalists, students and people from all walks of life who are calling for an explanation for the way the funds were managed. Musicians who accompanied the crowd expressed that their participation as a patriotic duty, because the funds should have otherwise been used to help the people of limited means. The leader of the CONANE, Edouard Paultre was there to lend his support, exhorting the government to take this movement seriously, while such leaders as Pierre Esperance of RNDDH, former Deputy, Arnel Belizaire and Eric Jean Baptiste of RDNP were heckled. The leader of the Senate Ethics and Anti-Corruption Committee, Senator Youri Latortue declared that if the government does not put in place a process to investigate and prosecute this burning issue thoroughly, people may take things into their own hands. Meanwhile, the head of the electrical company, Sogener, Dimitri Vorbes has denied that his company has benefited from the PetroCaribe funds in response to questions by the ethics and anti-corruption committee.
In other news, if the Jovenel government has its way, preschoolers and primary school students will be learning a new subject: reforestation. According to Nicole Yolette Altidor, Executive Director of MDE, the Jovenel government has approved a proposal drawn by the Ministry of Environment which it shared with the Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training, MENFP to make students learn about reforestation and to be tested in the subject. With the level of deforestation, the way to reverse the trend requires a change in mentality and this must begin with students at the very elementary stages of their lives. Certain that these groups are the most targeted for making the campaign a success, the program will begin with elementary grades school children, and the next year, will be extended to students in the universities and vocational schools.
Deforestation is seen as a nationalist issue that involves all natives of the land and those who live in it, because when the hilltops are barren, it presents an environmental danger to all. It is time all Haitians become conscious of this fact and play their part in addressing this phenomenon else we will never cease to record environmental catastrophes as they are currently happening with increasing frequency. Ms. Alitor cited that a germplasm plant that is about 80 percent complete in Aubert, near Port-de-Paix in the North, which when completed will be able to provide some 4.5million seedlings a year helping the environment and boosting agriculture. In this endeavor, education of the population must also enlist help from the police to enforce laws that will help the country in the long run. For instance, where it is necessary to displace people to avoid an environmental disaster, the police might be called in to remove people who may otherwise not want to leave their property and belongings. The fear though is that the decision-making process does not limit the reforestation only as an academic exercise but something that will have practical implications as well.
Finally, the results of the Baccalauréat exams during the extraordinary session are out for the 10 departments, according to the Ministry of Education. The overall success rate was 38.2% representing 14,187 students who passed out of a total of 37,134 students. The best results come from the Grande Anse (Southwest) with a 77.2% success rate and the lowest performing Department is the Northwest with 17.6%. For the normal session, the results are less than 50% success, with the South registering the highest success rate of 58.9%, representing 2,806 out of 4,685 candidates, and the West Department with the least success rate of 35.6%, representing 16,312 out of 45,752 candidates.