”Ayiti Cherie”, I am proud to leave you with important progress achieved, but sad to leave you still needing so much more.
I arrived in Haiti early 2015 in order to lead the education team. It has been an extraordinary experience; with celebration of important results achieved and establishment of strategic partnerships but also with difficult negotiations and complex situations that have brought set-backs.
I have come to get to know and like the people and procedures in Haiti, and I would sum up my key lessons learned in the following way:
Less is more. In one of the most fragile and poor states of the world, support is needed across the board. At all levels of education, the public sector plays a limited role in provision, quality assurance and regulation. While the original scope of the IDB operations ranged from pre-school to higher education, we have slowly but steadily been moving toward building simpler operations with a narrower scope and clear measurable results. Project execution has subsequently improved markedly.
Start at the beginning. Children are off to a late and bad start in the Haitian education system, which is hence characterized by overage students, high repetition rates and drop-out. In addition to other health and nutrition challenges related to poverty, uneven access to preschool widens the gap in opportunities for children in Haiti. The Bank is leading the efforts of coordinating all stakeholders working on Early Childhood Development (ECD) as part of the ECD Action Network (ECDAN) where Haiti is a first wave country.
Coordination is key. Lessons learnt across the donor community in Haiti has showed that unidimensional interventions – in infrastructure, tuition waivers, teacher training, or didactic materials – are insufficient to produce quality education. Furthermore, with a low-capacity counterpart it is key to coordinate and build strategic partnerships from the central to the school-level. Together with the World Bank and other partners, we are jointly supporting the Government in building a Quality Assurance System in schools. While the number of beneficiary schools and children is smaller through such an approach, collaborative action has been found in similar contexts to boost student learning and wellbeing.
Simplicity brings results. Going forward, we will be scaling elements that have already been successful in the Haitian context, including school feeding. The implementation of the construction of 90 new public schools has been complex, and hence suffered considerable delays. Comparatively, simple procedures led to rapid execution of payment of tuition waivers which have helped 35,000 children annually to attend primary school. Given the fragile context, we should focus on simple execution and implementation, for example through joint execution mechanisms and simplified contract management and supervision schemes.
We still have a long way to go. By strengthening the publicly funded education system – which serves the poorest – and by increasing access to quality education for children in disadvantaged communities, IDB projects contribute to promoting inclusive growth. Introducing the above-mentioned lessons learnt would ideally help us ensure results of improving access to quality preschool and primary education. Nonetheless, sustainability of any project or reform hinges mainly on local empowerment and we would in the long run also hope to see improvements on cross-cutting themes such as transparency, accountability and governance.
I leave Haiti in the good hands of the team that has made it possible to provide strong support to the government and achieve lessons learnt and results that today benefit the overall education sector. I am honored to have been part of this journey and look forward to the next steps towards much needed structural and systemic reform of the education sector in Haiti.
The next stop for my family and I will be Ecuador, where I will again support IDB’s Education team. It will be a big change from living in Haiti, and we very much look forward to this exciting new adventure in beautiful Quito.