Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Haitian Educators Work for Education Reform in Time of Crisis: Public Education for Haitians in U.S. Lacking

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Haitian Educators Work for Education Reform in Time of Crisis: Public Education for Haitians in U.S. Lacking

Article excerpt

Haitian Educators Work For Education Reform In Time of Crisis: Public. Education for Haitians in U.S. Lacking

by B. Denise Hawkins

NEW YORK -- To many observers, the dilapidated, Black, island nation of Haiti is a portrait of desperation.

But in Michaelle Vincent's eyes there is hope for "a new Haiti" that she declares will emerge someday soon from "the mess" it is in now.

"We are going to get through this. There is light at the end of the tunnel. It may be far away, but there is light," said Vincent, who coordinates the division of bilingual/foreign language skills for Miami's Dade County Public School System.

"When Haiti comes back to the way it is supposed to be, we are still going to have to educate. We have to get ourselves together. We must prepare," said Vincent, who left Haiti for the U.S. when she was 13. "We should have prepared years ago, but the time is upon us. When we reach the end of the tunnel where there is light, we are going to have so much work to do when it comes to education, it is unbelievable."

In August, with Haiti still in a political quagmire and plans for another U.S. military invasion looming, Vincent and more than 200 other Haitian scholars from around the world had education on their minds. Haiti's best and brightest teachers, administrators and professors came to New York's City College from nearby Brooklyn and as far away as Africa, Belgium, Germany and Canada to discuss how they could help build and reform what's left of the education system.

The three-day session titled "Building a Modern and Democratic Education System," was sponsored by the Haitian Ministry of Education.

There is barely an education system in Haiti to speak of, for most people, said the Rev. Yvon Joseph, C.S.C, the keynote speaker. The shoddy public school system that few children can afford is the result of historical and political choices the government has made, said Joseph, who called on the educators to create a partnership with Haiti.

New York conference delegate Menes Dejoie also expressed a sense of urgency for education reform in Haiti. "Our focus now is on education," said Dejoie, a bilingual school psychologist from District 17. "We cannot put education on the back burner any longer. We need to know what we can do once the problem is solved in Haiti, once things get back to normal."

In a lengthy address to conference delegates, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide called for a survey of the Haitian academic community in the United States to find those who could help restore the nation's education system. Aristide also assured them that education is part of a larger vision for a democratic Haiti.

But "Haitians alone won't be able to do it," said Aristide who is looking to those in Haiti's "10th Department" to provide leadership and resources.

Although Haiti is officially divided into nine regions or "departments," Aristide, during his campaign in 1990, christened those estimated 1.5 million Haitians living in other nations, members of a new "10th Department."

The human resources are available to "transform the political and education system in Haiti," Dejoie maintains. "There is indeed a willingness on the part of many Haitians now working outside of the country. We are eager to reach out and help in order to make education a priority."

Following the 1957 election of Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, there was widespread suppression of Haiti's intellectual and academic community. In fact, they were encouraged to flee their homeland for many independent African nations.

Haitian journalist Andre Charlier referred to the early wave of exiles, which included himself, as the "first Haitian brain drain."

Laying the Foundation

From their hubs in New York and Miami, many Haitian educators are leading dual education campaigns -- helping lay the groundwork for better schools and access in Haiti, while struggling to secure the educational future of Haitian children in the United States. …

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