Lessons from Haiti

Schools in Haiti have reopened this spring for the first time since a 7.0-intensity earthquake devastated that Caribbean nation on January 12. I have a personal tie to Haiti: My son, a journalist, is based there, survived the quake, and is continuing to tell the story of its challenging aftermath. My husband and I visited our son and his colleagues there last September, and were moved by the beauty and fragility of that troubled country, as well as by the warmth and resourcefulness of its people. The extreme lack of infrastructure, obvious prior to the earthquake, has, of course, been central to the story of the attempts to rebuild and restore daily life in its wake. It goes without saying that an essential component of that process is the education of Haiti’s youngest citizens.

Prior to the earthquake, only about half of Haiti’s children even attended school. Adult literacy hovers at under 50 percent. Many individuals both within and outside of Haiti view the post-quake focus on rebuilding the country’s infrastructure as an opportunity to strengthen and expand its education system in particular. It was impossible not to be moved by the recent images of youngsters gleefully streaming back to newly re-opened classes, many now housed outdoors or in tents next to the rubble of the buildings that once housed them. Living for weeks in makeshift camps for the hundreds of thousands made homeless by the quake, many children returned to school not knowing whether their classmates had survived the disaster.  The joy of reunion among students and teachers was a pleasure to see, even via televised images–and it reinforced something educators already know well:  Formal education and social interaction are inextricably woven together, posing both opportunities and challenges.

What opportunities and challenges do social interactions among students present in your educational setting?  How do you build on the positives and mitigate the negatives?  If you were asked to help re-design an entire educational system following a disaster–like Haiti’s, or like that of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina–where would you begin?  Let’s explore these ideas and develop them further over the weeks and months to come.

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