By Claudia Gaillard, Reuters
PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – Some schools reopened in the wrecked Haitian capital on Monday nearly three months after the January 12 earthquake, but others could not because of lack of repairs or equipment, staff said.
The education ministry, backed by the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF, had called for classes to resume 12 weeks after the quake which reduced many parts of the city to rubble and destroyed or damaged more than 4,000 schools. The education ministry itself was also destroyed.
But while some schools, many private, were able to reopen using donated tents as classrooms, others remained closed or turned students away because their premises were not yet repaired. Overall figures for how many schools had restarted were not immediately available.
At the Lycee Marie-Jeanne state school, students turned up in freshly-pressed uniforms and polished shoes only to be told by their principal that the school building was not ready.
Stephanie Raphael was disappointed.
“When we heard the education minister announcing that classes would start again we were really happy, because the only way we are going to make a life for ourselves is through education,” she said.
It was the same at the Holy Trinity School, whose principal, Joseph Tancrel Diegue, said he had not yet received tents promised by the education ministry.
Students at the Santa Rosa de Lima private high school were luckier, having received large tents to serve as classrooms.
“Well, life starts again. We had to go back to school one day. Today, we have hardly done anything, just try to have some fun, but little by little we will start to work again,” said student Anne Sylvie Riviere.
“THIRST FOR LEARNING”
UNICEF representatives said the operation aimed to get more than 700,000 students learning again over the next two months, with numbers expected to rise further by the start of the new academic year in September.
Even before the quake, Haiti’s education system was weak and starved of funds. Large numbers of poor children got little or no schooling.
“The demand for education is very high in Haiti. There is a clear thirst for learning amongst children and families,” UNICEF representative Francoise Gruloos-Ackermans said in a statement. “Families value education far above any other service and we want to embrace this passion for learning.”
Local union representatives criticized the education ministry for what they said was poor preparation. Tens of thousands of children remained out of school, many living in squalid camps.
“It was a lot of high-minded rhetoric for the government to announce that the schools were opening without making any of the necessary preparations to receive the students,” said Josue Merilien, a teachers’ union coordinator.
International donors in New York last week pledged nearly $10 billion for Haiti’s reconstruction. But some doubt the government can handle these funds effectively and the World Bank will supervise a Trust Fund for the rebuilding effort.
Haiti’s government says it believes more than 300,000 people died in the quake, including at least 38,000 students and more than 1,300 teachers and other education personnel.
(Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Alan Elsner)
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