UNESCO helps to develop a special syllabus for the return to school in Haiti
Children in Port au Prince began returning to school this week, three months after the deadly earthquake on 12 January. But their normal lessons were replaced by a special syllabus developed by UNESCO and the Haitian Ministry of Education to take into account the trauma and disruption experienced by both children and teachers.
Developed by UNESCO and the Haitian Ministry of Education and Professional Training at a seminar held on 25 and 26 March, the syllabus will be followed by some 600,000 pupils in both public and private education
“We have given priority to main objectives,” declared Jackson Pleteau, Head of Secondary Education at the Ministry. “We defined a corpus of knowledge that pupils must master to complete the year. We also envisage deferring certain subjects to next year.”
Under the new syllabus, education will be resumed in stages starting with psychosocial activities, such as singing, dancing and creative expression, to help children cope with the extreme stress they experienced as a result of the earthquake. They will also learn about earthquakes as a natural phenomenon. Regular lessons will resume a few weeks later. The Ministry of Education foresees an accelerated programme over 18 weeks to allow pupils to complete the school year that ends in August. UNESCO will post this syllabus on line to make it available to all teachers in Haiti.
However, only a few schools have been able to open their doors so far and very few children have turned up for classes.
In most places, rubble is still being cleared and tent classrooms are being set up to accommodate pupils safely. Such is the case of the co-educational Thérèse Rouchon School in the Turgeau neighbourhood. Still visible among the debris are wooden benches, exam papers and the blackboard with notes from the last lesson given a few hours before tragedy struck.
“We expect the school to reopen later in April and clearing up work is to start in a couple of days,” explained the Principal, Astrid Rouchon. “This work will be carried out by the Education Ministry, which will also provide material and set up tents.” Ms Rouchon said she was unable to give a precise date, but she expected the school to be operational by mid-April.
Sainte Marie des Anges, a school in the elegant Paco neighbourhood, has fared little better. The boys’ building is completely destroyed, while cracks and gaping holes in the facade of the girls’ brick building mean that it cannot be used either.
The Principal, Pastor Franck Petit, had a large hangar built with wooden partitions. The school re-opened on Monday, but the return to class has been difficult for the children who turned up. “They have reacted in different ways,” said Pastor Petit. “Some cried and refused to enter the building, afraid they might get buried alive.” He had to explain that the new wooden school rooms were safe. “Several children,” he adds, “cried while we hoisted the flag, possibly in mourning for a relative, a mother, a sister, we don’t know. It is very hard, for both pupils and teachers.”
Some 38,000 pupils and students died in the 12 January earthquake, which also killed 1,300 teachers and education personnel. The Ministry of Education was destroyed along with 4,000 schools – or close to 80 % of educational establishments in the Port-au-Prince area.