Over the past years, one of the major concerns of the Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training (now MENFP) has been to promote inclusive education in schools. This concern is justified by the establishment of a legal framework through a set of strategic planning documents and the Haitian State’s adherence to a host of international conventions and documents. A new conception of education through a new mission for schools is thus being defined.
The legal framework recalling the inalienable right to education of all children in the country exists in the 1987 Constitution, the laws and international conventions ratified by Haiti. It stipulates that equity must prevail in the provision of educational services to Haitians of all ages. Thus, Article 32.8 of the 1987 Constitution guarantees people with abilities different from others (disabled and gifted) the support necessary for growth and emancipation, particularly in the area of education. On integration, article 41 of the Act of May 2012 requires the State to ensure the physical accessibility of public and private schools for persons with one or more disabilities.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities ratified by Haiti in 2009 reaffirms the right to education for persons with disabilities. The emphasis is placed on these prescriptions “with a view to ensuring the exercise of this right without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity”. States Parties shall ensure that the education system guarantees inclusion in schools and provides educational opportunities throughout the life of the individual. On the basis of such equality, persons with disabilities should have equal access to inclusive and free education of good quality. The Incheon Declaration of May 2015, building on the legacy of Jomtien and Dakar, sets out a new vision of education for the next 15 years, the essence of which is to transform lives through education, through a single holistic vision that includes everyone.
Legal provisions are adopted, and both collective and individualized support measures are set out to make the school environment conducive to intellectual progress and socialization, in accordance with the needs and expectations of children and parents.
Given that Haiti has been a country marked by exclusion since its genesis, it seems necessary to orient the school towards reducing disparities and welcoming children beyond differences of origin, socio-economic conditions, family circumstances and neurophysiological reality, with a view to mitigating the impact of the discrimination underlying the caricatures and prejudices linked to gender, language, disability, colour, socio-economic status, geographical background, religion and education.
The humanist vision of education and development based on human rights, dignity, social justice and inclusion appears to be shared. As reaffirmed in the Incheon Declaration, education is described as a public good, a fundamental human right and a prerequisite for the exercise of other rights. Inclusion, gender equality and equity are emphasized in order to combat all forms of prejudice, exclusion and marginalization, through educational policies that take into account disadvantaged persons, in particular those with disabilities.
The approach that tends to incriminate pupils on the pretext that they have problems of adaptation and integration, a kind of behavioural gap that penalizes the overall and institutional functioning of the school, deserves to be analyzed in the light of the actual educational policy applied and the mechanism put in place to boost the process of socialization and inclusion. In this perspective, through its project entitled “Pupils with disabilities and teachers’ pedagogical practices in the South”, GIECLAT has provided an opportunity to discover what the MENFP’s concerns in the area of inclusive education translate into the pedagogical reality of teachers and the school reception structure put in place.
As a GIECLAT partner in this research, CASAS took advantage of this opportunity to test certain hypotheses, through the observation of classroom practices, the identification of general and specific needs, and the state of the school population. This enabled it to take stock of the issue, and to update and adjust its inclusive education plan in the light of field data.
Legal provisions and reality
Despite the legal and conventional provisions that project a school focused on inclusion, equity and accessibility, many children are victims of a system that generates inequalities and injustices. The context is not favourable for children from precarious and modest social backgrounds. The recurring cleavages: high schools/colleges, secular schools/congregational schools, morning schools/evening schools, one-eyed schools/hotel schools, rural schools/urban schools, poor schools/rich schools, boys/girls, Creole/French, only reinforce the challenges. Some children repeat grades and others drop out. Repetition and dropout rates are increasing dramatically because the supports are derisory.
According to a 2011 school census, out of a total of 2,033,232 pupils in the 1st and 2nd cycles of the Fundamental, 14.56%, or 296,039 pupils repeat their classes. The early dropout rate, whether temporary or permanent, is as high as the repetition rate, not counting the thousands of children who have never attended school.
Preliminary data collected
As observation sites, eight schools, two in the South and six in Les Nippes, have been assigned to the CASAS coordinator. Thanks to the principals and teachers, students with signs similar to disability were observed in situ, for one week per month, 7 hours a day. This was an opportunity to observe the schools and their actors, with regard to the above-mentioned divisions such as Creole/French cohabitation, male/female sex, students with disabilities/normal students, students in a precarious socio-economic situation, teachers familiar with inclusive education reference frameworks/teachers unaware of the basic concepts of the teaching/learning process.
The preliminary data collected showed that a very high percentage of teaching and administrative staff, 80%, have only a narrow vision of the concept of disability. A pupil with a disability is one who has severe impairments that affect vision, speech production, hearing and the normal exercise of an organ of the body. Many of them were not even aware of the existence of CASAS, national legal frameworks and international conventions on inclusion. It was thus understood that they were not always aware of the mission of the MENFP and the need to have a school that adapts to the physical, psychological and neurophysiological conditions of children, instead of stigmatizing students who do not adapt to school.
During the collection activities, using survey instruments (questionnaires, observation and interview guides), site visits, meetings and seminars, we presented the realistic and achievable foundations of inclusive education and recalled the mission of CASAS in relation to the fundamental concerns of the MENFP. These discussions involved principals, administrative staff and teachers. The impacts of these actions carried out, on the sidelines and during the implementation of the GIECLAT project, seem beneficial, since the awareness-raising and explanation sessions have led actors to eagerly adhere to the project, by requesting training seminars on disability in schools and the issue of inclusive education.
Physical infrastructure of schools and environment
It was very alarming. While section 41 of the Act on the Physical Accessibility of School Buildings specifies what must be respected, the data showed that the school buildings in the project schools violate the standards governing the construction and layout of school space. This arrangement, which would have previously indicated the inclusion and reception of all children, is proving to be highly problematic. There are no ramps or facilities to enable children with reduced mobility to access classrooms and toilets; there are no comforts or devices to enable pupils with any kind of disability to develop psychologically and to make use of their neurobiological and cognitive potential for learning.
What happens to children and young people with sensorimotor disabilities?
A very low presence of pupils with disabilities is revealed by the observations and testimonies collected. Despite the physical and sensory traumas recorded after the passage of Hurricane Matthew, it has been shown that schools have very few children with severe deficiencies affecting the sense organs and mental structure. Can it be concluded that there are no such children of school age in these environments? Far from it! It seems that they are kept away from school, because some officials have admitted, at our insistence, that their institutions do not receive these students, especially blind ones, for lack of means and methods to help them in their learning. The families have therefore kept the children with disabilities at home because of the lack of a reception structure, fear of stigmatization and the refusal of the school directors to accept them as full-fledged students.
Textbooks in 1st, 2nd and 3rd grades
There is a cruel lack of reading and writing manuals in these schools. In a Grade 1 classroom in a national school, out of a total of 58 students, only 10 were able to participate in reading activities. Even though some of them follow in pairs, at the teacher’s request, it was found that a high percentage of students do not participate in the exercises and create a deleterious climate in the classroom.
Apart from the chalk and chalkboard, the teacher of these basic reading and writing classes has no other materials and teaching aids to help the children pass the lessons successfully and develop a taste for written language.
Screening for Students with Difficulties
According to the current education dictionary, an exceptional pupil is a pupil who, in the absence of physical or intellectual sensory impairments, experiences significant problems in learning or functioning in the school environment (Legendre, 2000, p. 482). Thus, depending on the context, a student may have adjustment difficulties, academic difficulties, and learning difficulties.
A student with learning difficulties is a student who has a significant learning delay.
Reading and writing problems
In the 1st grade classes, observations have shown that many students are unable to read and have difficulty distinguishing between the vowel associations ve and be. This problem influences behaviour, but it is too early to conclude that it is a cognitive problem. The deprivation of textbooks by the majority of students may be one of the causes of the lack of interest in reading and the observed deficits.
In grades 2 and 3, observations have also shown that a significant number of students have problems in reading. At the time of reading, these students are unable to pronounce the words finished in ouille. For example, frog is pronounced frog, even though the teacher has taken care to write the word on the blackboard. Even after several repetitions, the students cannot pronounce it correctly.
In a class in a national school, 18 out of 50 students have problems with reading. Many of them have difficulty performing the motor operation that leads them to form the letters of the alphabet and the basic syllables of the language. Horizontal lines are broken, excessive additions make the writing almost illegible and incomprehensible. In grades 2 and 3, many students are unable to write their names.
Students with behavioural difficulties sometimes have learning difficulties. These difficulties are related to psychosocial problems and are sometimes a consequence of intellectual deficits that are probably related to the reading and writing difficulties mentioned above. Faced with this situation, the teaching and administrative staff seem tired.
Situations similar to cases of dyscalculia have also been identified. Many students are unable to compare and use addition and subtraction rules to perform basic operations such as calculating sums and differences.
In this process we observed a class whose situation seems somewhat symptomatic of the problems already mentioned. This grade 2 class has 51 students, 34 of whom are boys and 17 girls. After administering a test and tests, we found that 31 students have problems in writing, 9 are hyperactive, continually assaulting other classmates, 15 are still anxious, anxious and distressed, 22 have problems in mathematics, and a situation similar to Asperger’s syndrome in writing.
Classroom management aimed at achieving meaningful learning of teaching content is extremely difficult. The observations made in these classes, during these reading and writing activities, justify the need to consider each pupil in his or her own world and pace of learning. Errors and approximations made by pupils are normal and understandable, but they become a problem when there is no individualized accompaniment. Some pupils drop out and drop out of school, others repeat the same class several times and generate cases of over-ageing.
Other situations assimilated to cases of Asperger’s syndrome are observed at a national school and at the Lalane and Pascal School. A pupil is good at calligraphy, syllables and phonemes, but struggles to prove her abilities in learning other subjects.
Some students excel in geography or mathematics, but are unable to cope in other subjects. Such phenomena could be detrimental to these students if schools and teachers persist in the type of approach that emphasizes summative assessment and denies the merit of individualized assessment.
Learning and Health
A little bit everywhere where observations are made, we find moth heads (tet pyas). The health component is extremely important in inclusion, as a sick student may have impaired learning. Moreover, ringworm or “pyas” is a contagious disease. In addition, there is the phenomenon of absenteeism. Absences are repeated. Some school officials feel that parents do not play the game, since they do not help children to come to school. Other observed causes of absenteeism are related to economic problems. Some parents do not have money (10 gourdes) to pay for transport or to buy their children a pate or a drink. There are also children in domestic service who are prevented from attending school because of their duties at home.
Currently being implemented, the GIECLAT project on disability, which will end in March 2021, is collecting data that the MENFP via CASAS is using to better address the issue of inclusive education. It provides information on the somewhat narrow understanding of disability by proposing a more or less global understanding of the phenomenon. In the Departments of the Grand Sud (Sud, Nippes and Grand’Anse), educational personnel and partners interested in caring for persons with disabilities are invited to consider a set of facts relating to the field of disability. The approach is thus credible on three levels:
- it calls on those in charge of education (public and private actors) to consider the fact that very few children with disabilities are accepted by schools;
- it offers CASAS the opportunity to relaunch the initiative throughout the South, one of the MENFP’s fundamental concerns in terms of education and inclusion;
- it contributes to increasing the critical mass of specialists in the phenomenon by accepting, at the request of the Université publique de la Grand’Anse, to integrate more than fifty students in education sciences as trainees. Added to the students from the Faculty of Ethnology already involved in this research, the students from the Université publique de la Grand’Anse could become real resources and partners for the MENFP in the region.
Jean Charles, Wismick, Grift, Kathlyn Pierre & Isaac Marcelin, (2016), Rapport final d’une Étude commanditée par l’UNESCO sur l’inclusion dans l’éducation et la formation des enseignants, Université Notre Dame d’Haïti: UNESCO
Legendre, Renald, (2000), « Éducation 2000 », Dictionnaire Actuel de l’Éducation, 2e édition, Québec: Guérin.
- Haitian Constitution of 1987 and its amended version of 2011, Port-au-Prince, Haiti. ↵
- Loi portant sur l’Intégration des Personnes handicapées de mars 2012, pp. 18. ↵
- Education 2030, Incheon Declaration (South Korea), Towards Inclusive and Equitable Quality Education May 2015: World Education Forum 2015 in Incheon, 19-22 May 2015. ↵
- Bulletin d'Information du Ministère de l'Education Nationale et de la Formation Professionnelle no. 80 de mars 2012, pp. 12. ↵