JÉRÉMIE, HAITI – Chrislande Julot, an 11-year-old girl who lives with her widowed mother, says she dropped out of school in 2008 because her mother could no longer pay her tuition.
But thanks to a national government program, Chrislande now attends second grade at Centre Université Chretienne in Jérémie, a coastal town in southwestern Haiti.
“I am just so happy to be back in school,” Chrislande says.
The secondary school operates regularly in the morning. But in the afternoon, children who have not been in school participate in a free, government-run program there called Programme de Scolarisation Universelle Gratuite et Obligatoire.
“It is thanks to this program that I can continue going to school,” Chrislande says.
It was not difficult for her to readapt to school despite the two-year gap, she says. She credits her teacher, who has a way of making her understand.
“My teacher has patience with the students,” she says. “He shows them how to read better, he gives examples, and he demonstrates how things can be done so that I can follow really well.”
Children and teenagers who had never been to school or were forced to drop out say the government’s free school program is enabling them to obtain an education. They attend school in the afternoon to catch up to their peers so that they can successfully enter the sixth grade in the regular school system. But half of students have dropped out of the program at some schools because of a lack educational materials, no hot lunch and boredom. The government’s focus during the program’s second year is education quality.
Haiti has one of the lowest enrollment rates in the world – 76 percent at the primary level and 22 percent at the secondary level, according to the World Bank.
President Michel Joseph Martelly promised during his 2010 presidential campaign that if elected, every child in Haiti would be able to go to school. There are nearly 1.3 million children enrolled in the free school program, according to a 2013 interview with Vanneur Pierre, the minister of education, on the ministry’s website.
Eighty percent of children enrolled in the program go to state schools, while 20 percent attend private schools. To be selected for this program, a school needs to apply and prove it has the necessary space and teaching staff.
Rosandre Dorce, 14, is one of the beneficiaries of Martelly’s school program. She attended three years of preschool at a state-run school and then completed first to third grade at a Baptist school in Jérémie before she had to drop out.
“Even though the state schools do not ask a lot of money for school fees, I had to stop going to school for two years because my parents just could not afford it,” she says, while balancing a 5-gallon bucket of water on her head. “It was difficult for me to see other children go to school while I was not doing anything.”
But thanks to the free school