Science education in Haiti 'must be reinvented'
Scientists, science policy experts and educators have jointly devised a set of policy guidelines to boost Haiti's science capacity by developing the higher education sector, to help the country recover from the January earthquake and contribute to long-term economic development.
Experts from Haiti, Puerto Rico and United States attended the meeting last month (10–12 July) in San Juan, Puerto Rico, which was triggered by the Haitian government's failure to include science in its post-earthquake recovery plans, according to Jorge Colón, president of the Caribbean Division of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which organised the workshop.
Before the earthquake, Haiti's limited economic resources for education were for primary and secondary schooling, with very little spent on higher education. Science graduates mainly go into teaching and the country's research funding is very limited.
Paul Latortue, who has served in Haitian government and education posts and is now a dean of the School of Business Administration at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR)-Río Piedras, said the entire Haitian education system should be "reinvented" because it has a very low number of students and the vast majority of schools are private in a nation where people do not have money to pay for education.
"I don't see laboratories in the schools," Latortue, who co-organised the meeting, told SciDev.Net. "I've been bringing science teachers from Haiti to be trained in Puerto Rico during the past 20 years, and the people who are teaching chemistry there (in Haiti) don't understand basic concepts because they have no training."
"I think Puerto Rico is in a key position to help remedy this [teachers lack of training in science]," Latortue said. "Here in Río Piedras the expansion of graduate education such as Master's and PhD is now very important, so we want to open our doors to Haitian people with Bachelor's degrees to come here to graduate school".
Colón explained that the main recommendations coming out of the workshop, expected to be released in November, included training personnel, boosting Haiti's underdeveloped science community and increasing the number of teachers trained in science.
Latortue and Colón said Haiti needed to reinforce its science capacity to improve in areas like health, water purification, production and conservation of food, disaster prevention, agriculture and the recovery of land from a severe deforestation.
"This a period of urgency, but also of opportunity," Colón said. "It is important that in the next months science education gets a boost if we want to reach the goals of development for Haiti in the long term."