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Cultural deficits in schools come at cost to Haitians

  • March 17, 2024
  • 18
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«The Haitian student is not familiar with their country’s culture, leaving their learning incomplete,» says Jacques Michel Gourgues, a doctor in Educational Sciences

Read this article in French

In Haiti, the cultural deficit in schools contributes to dropout rates and a loss of connection between generations, compromising social cohesion, according to specialists contacted by AyiboPost.

«The Haitian student does not know their country’s culture, leaving their learning incomplete,» says Jacques Michel Gourgues, a doctor (PhD) in educational sciences.

Important components such as Haitian music, painting, dance, and cuisine, historical monuments, the country’s tourist and mystical attractions, and other local knowledge that should contribute to the construction of a common identity and the development of the learner are not sufficiently highlighted, according to Gourgues.

«Our African origins, for example, are not emphasized enough in our school programs. Students know very little about them, apart from the geographic location of the continent,» continues the researcher.

«All this creates citizens detached from their own reality,» emphasizes the author of the book «Textbooks in Haiti: Tools of the Colonial Era,» released in 2016.

Our African origins, for example, are not emphasized enough in our school programs. Students know very little about them, apart from the geographic location of the continent

The educational reform initiated in 1982 by the then Minister of National Education, Joseph Claude Bernard, placed emphasis on the importance of culture in the formation of the learner.

Nesmy Manigat, the current Minister of National Education and Vocational Training (MENFP), declared to AyiboPost his ambition to implement initiatives aimed at promoting and valuing culture and art within the educational system.

Read also: Nesmy Manigat: «Economic interests manipulate many opinions on reform»

The integration of new subjects into school curricula, the promotion of Creole, and the signing of several memoranda of understanding with other cultural institutions are part of these efforts.

However, according to Nesmy Manigat, the ministry is facing a budget problem in recruiting specialized teachers, whether from the National School of Arts (ENARTS) or from other faculties, to integrate into the education system.

«Only 10% of the state budget is allocated to education, and the share of gross domestic product (GDP) allocated to education is only 1%,» complains the Minister of Education.

The integration of new subjects into school curricula, the promotion of Creole, and the signing of several memoranda of understanding with other cultural institutions are part of these efforts.

These efforts are commendable, according to Jacques-Michel Gourgues. However, says the professor, in a context where the doors of hundreds of schools remain closed and thousands of children are forced to stay at home, the impacts will remain limited. «It’s a drop in the ocean,» analyzes Gourgues.

The incorporation of culture into education, as a fundamental element both for identity and for intellectual fulfillment, would offer a deeper understanding of the country’s history and traditions, while preparing students to play an active role in their country’s progress, according to specialists.

Read also: Opinion | Haitian schools seem to be more conservative than churches

In 2004, noting the glaring lack of cinemas in the country, the «Mwèm» foundation launched a series of initiatives including «Sinema anba zetwal,» aiming to organize film screenings in various municipalities and communal sections of the country.

This initiative later evolved into «Mobi Ciné» in the 2010s, while preserving its initial objective. This time, it expanded to include popular neighborhoods, schools, libraries, and youth cultural centers.

However, in 2020, Mobi-Ciné came to a halt due to rising insecurity.

«The experience I had with Mobi-Ciné reveals the urgent need to cultivate cultural awakening,» explained Raymond Noël, also known as Welele Doubout, who is responsible for and operates within the Foundation.

Only 10% of the state budget is allocated to education, and the value of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) allocated to education is only 1%.

For Allenby Augustin, general manager of the Center of Arts (Centre d’Art), the exposure to art and culture allows learners to nourish their imagination by drawing from various sources such as cinema, literature, theater, music, dance, etc.

«These elements have a considerable influence on the intellectual and social development of the individual, contributing to the emergence of their critical thinking,» he underscores.

According to Éliézer Guérismé, communication director of the theater festival While readingthe problem is evident among some parents and school authorities.

«Some guardians have a very negative perception of art. They equate it to a ‘waste of time’,» explains Guérismé.

Since 2019, While reading‘s management has been organizing theater sessions for school audiences. This is aimed at helping students to become familiar with art and to flourish. «But sometimes, schools do not cooperate, claiming that their schedules are already overloaded,» Guérismé told AyiboPost.

Some guardians have a very negative perception of art. They equate it to a ‘waste of time’

In recent years, cultural and artistic spaces have faced significant challenges in fulfilling their mission due to the acceleration of security and economic crises.

Entertainment venues and cultural dissemination spaces such as theaters and cinemas are permanently closed.

Museums, art galleries, libraries, and cultural centers are experiencing dysfunction.

Cultural events are becoming rare and attracting fewer and fewer people. Access to historical, heritage, and archaeological sites has become increasingly difficult.

Read also: Due to the insecurity in Haiti, cultural centers can no longer operate

Inaugurated in 1983, the Museum of the Haitian National Pantheon (MUPANAH) is the only space reserved for the remains and relics that belonged to the fathers of Haitian independence.

This institution’s mission is to preserve and disseminate Haitian cultural and historical heritage.

According to Martine Bruno Boucicault, the museum’s communication director, the institution is doing its best to fulfill its role by reaching out to the public, especially schools.

«However, in recent years, schools outside of Port-au-Prince have been unable to visit the museum,» she explains.

Cultural events are becoming rare and attracting fewer and fewer people. Access to historical, heritage, and archaeological sites has become increasingly difficult.

Francisco Silva, a painter and illustrator in Haiti for nearly 15 years, shares the same perception.

The appreciation of art and culture has often been undervalued in our society, characterized by a persistent clan-like tendency that hinders its full development.

«In rural areas, for example, a young person with artistic talent finds himself limited in his exploitation of it, whether in the fields of dance, theater, visual arts, or music, if he does not go to a big city or to Port-au-Prince,» shares Silva.

Silva leads several workshops on art with children in Port-au-Prince and in provincial cities.

«When I intervene, especially in remote regions, to lead artistic workshops, whether on painting, visual arts, I see a real thirst for learning and self-fulfillment in children,» he explains.

«However,» Silva continues, «once the activities are over, the fact remains: the absence of exhibition and valorization spaces hindering the creative momentum of young people.»

Read also: The slow agony of MUPANAH

In an effort to reach out to the public outside of Port-au-Prince, the MUPANAH used to organize memorial activities in provincial cities. However, these activities no longer take place in the current context.

However, once the activities are over, the fact remains: the absence of exhibition and valorization spaces hindering the creative momentum of young people.

For several years now, initiatives have been trying to address reading deficiencies in provincial areas. This is the case with the Centers for Reading and Cultural Events (CLAC) introduced by the International Organization of La Francophonie (OIF) since the 2000s.

In order to meet the needs for reading and cultural enrichment in provincial areas and strengthen public reading, the OIF has established 16 reading centers as part of the network of other CLACs around the world.

According to François Nedje Jacques, coordinator of the CLAC network and municipal libraries at the National Book Directorate (DNL), two of them, located in the municipality of Saint Raphaël and in Plaisance, are no longer operational. Two others, located in the municipalities of Verrettes and Cabaret, had to stop functioning for a certain period due to insecurity.

«Unlike before, we have noticed a drop in library attendance relative to the current context of the country,» reveals the official to AyiboPost.

Read also: The bandits spare no libraries in Port-au-Prince

Coupled with insecurity, the persistence of the social and economic crisis worsens the situation for families.

According to Jacques Michel Gourgues, a child raised in a family where the parents have a library and the means to expose the child to culture and art from a young age will have a greater chance of succeeding in school than another child who does not have these privileges.

«Social inequalities lead to educational inequalities. This partly explains the dropout rate in Haiti,» says Professor Gourgues.

Unlike before, there has been a drop in library attendance relative to the current context of the country.

According to data cited by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Haiti, more than 10% of students drop out before the 6th grade and more than 40% by the end of the 9th grade.

Several specialists emphasize the importance of implementing public policy for access to culture in Haiti, which would help reduce academic failure.

According to Allenby Augustin, director of the Center for the Arts, if Haitian society does not find its foundation in the principles of valorization and cultural transmission, «it will have to face the consequences, such as becoming an increasingly fragmented society with individuals sharing almost no values.»

By Lucnise Duquereste & Wethzer Piercin

Civer image : On May 18, 2023, a Haitian schoolgirl participates in a parade at her school in Pétion-Ville during the celebration of the 220th anniversary of the creation of the Haitian flag.| © Jean Feguens Regala/AyiboPost


In Haitian Creole | Watch this report produced by AyiboPost in 2021 about traditional tales in Haiti and their importance in education:


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Lucnise Duquereste