Haiti's Private Schools

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Yesterday I pointed to a discussion by Shanta on the relationship between teacher absenteeism and politics. Today, Tyler Cowen points to a 2006 World Bank study on the role of private education in Haiti: 

Education is the single most important determinant of an individual’s potential to escape poverty in Haiti. The non-state sector has been crucial in making this progress despite formidable economic and political constraints. The Haitian state’s role in primary education is uniquely low from a global perspective.

Of the world’s poorest countries, Haiti is the only one in which more than 50 percent of children are enrolled in non-state schools. The country has a total of 14,424 private schools and 1,240 public schools. Non-state schools therefore comprise 92 percent of all schools, the vast majority of which do not receive public subsidies. Some 82 percent of all primary and secondary school students attend private, fee-based schools.

(Emphasis mine)

The study later observes:

School fees represent a large part of family income-between 15 and 25 percent of average household annual income per child for the poorest 20 percent of households, and between 5 and 6 percent in rural areas.

Here's a look at school attendance by age and region:


Cowen lists several theories of why Haiti is so poor, in spite of the role of private schools:

  1. Private sector education works well, because they are high returns to receiving it. The problem is on the demand side.
  2. Private sector education doesn't work well, because it is prevalent and yet most of the country is not well-educated.
  3. Haiti is a mess, in part, because education isn't much subsidized by the state.
  4. Whatever causes a weak interest in publicly subsidized schooling also makes private education less than effective.
  5. Private education doesn't work well at low levels of income, especially when educational expenditures compete against spending on survival.
  6. Private education maybe doesn't actually bring such high returns, once you adjust for unobserved heterogeneity.

What seems indisputable is that Haitians have placed a high value on education, spending up to a quarter of their income on private schooling. If education is, in fact, "the single most important determinant of an individual’s potential to escape poverty in Haiti", funneling reconstruction money into education, whether public or private, seems like a wise use of resources.

Yet even if education improved, or families were faced with a lighter burden of paying for school, graduates still face the challenges of a dearth of employment opportunities. Over time, a more educated populace might be able to create greater job opportunities, but this is less likely to occur in the medium term. What should be done in the short run?

Over at our migration blog, Dilip Ratha think that remittances will play an important role...

In the immediate term, there is a need to ensure that remittance flows to Haiti are not disrupted. In the medium-term, there is a need to leverage these flows for local and national development (without directly interfering with these flows).

...and argues that shutting the border to migrants is counterintuitive:

There is now a fear of mass migration from Haiti to the US and to Dominican Republic, and both countries are now tightening borders to prevent an influx of Haitians. This is not surprising, but this is paradoxical, like the proverbial giving-with-one-hand-and-taking-it-away-with-the-other. I should think the short-term surge in migration would subside rather quickly when Haiti begins to recover and rebuild itself.

In the longer term, higher education at a lower cost, coupled with increased remittances, should have a high chance of helping Haiti help itself.

Update: Dilip Ratha also reminds us of the importance of diaspora bonds (financial instruments sold to a diaspora for specific projects back home) in helping moblize funds for Haiti's reconstruction. Perhpas such bonds can be issued specifically for education?

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