Equity and Quality in Private Education The Haitian Paradox (1998)

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With a per capita income estimated at 270 dollars in 1994, Haiti is the 14th poorest countries in the world and has become the poorest nation in the Westem Hemisphere. It has limited natural resources, a relatively unproductive agriculture and an embryonic industry. After several decades of government neglect during the Duvalier era, economic and social conditions worsened as a result of the September 1991 coup and the ensuing international embargo (1992-94). Falling incomes and government inaction have led to an alarming situation in which nearly 70 percent of the rapidly growing population (2 percent per annum) lives in deplorable conditions while the richest 5 percent own half of the country’s wealth.  At the same time, Haiti has a unique education system where, in sharp contrast to most countries in the world, the overwhelming majority of schooled children are enrolled in private schools (75% and 82% at the primary and secondary levels, respectively). This is the second highest proportion of private school enrollment in the world. This paradoxical situation reflects the historical fact that, in the absence of a well-developed and functioning system of public schools–only 63 percent of the 6-12 year children are schooled–, religious communities and private operators have filled the void and gradually become the main providers of education services in the country. This trend has accelerated in recent years. Under the defacto government and during the embargo years, the absence of public resources for education was partly compensated by the continuing growth of private schools.  This situation raises the question of the fairness of a system in which, in most cases, the quality of the education children receive is directly related to where they live and to the level of tuition their families can afford to pay. Is private education playing an appropriate and desirable role in Haiti? Should the government expand public education to reduce existing imbalances? How can the govenment best use its limited financial resources to ensure that the poor have access to education? Is continued reliance on private schools a viable strategy, considering the weak institutional and financial capacity of the Ministry of Education to monitor the quality of schooling and to offer incentives for improvement? To answer these questions, the paper will start with an overview of the current education situation in Haiti and a presentation of the relevant historical background. It will then analyze the positive and negative features associated with the unusually strong presence of private education in the context of a poor country, and asses their implications for the public education system. Finally, it will consider different options for fostering a more balanced and harmonious development of private and public education