Providing baseline indicators for precarious populations: Evidence from the Haiti National Evaluation 2017

Climate change has become an inevitable consequence of modern human standards of living and consumption. While sea level rise endangers cities around the world, small islands – such as Hispaniola (of which Haiti forms part) – are subject to a, as per the IPCC, “high level of vulnerability” due to “multiple stressors, both climate and non-climate”. The IPCC, while stressing that sea level rise and its associated negative impacts on island nations are unequivocal, also reports that, for smaller islands’ adaptation to climate change, more benefit is seen when activities are undertaken in conjunction with development of the social or economic structures within such communities.

Particularly for Haiti, with an adult population of which only 61% are estimated to be literate by the CIA, activities to assess and improve the education system are therefore of great importance: among other benefits, a strong education system has clear ramifications for the ability to react to climate change. Ensuring quality education for all is therefore seen as one of the major steps towards providing the next generation with the basic tools necessary to enable them to change their current course. A series of national assessments evaluating the local education system in Haiti can be seen as working towards this goal.

Starting in 2015, the Haitian Ministry of Education (MENPF) administered an annual test in Mathematics, French, and Creole to 4th grade students in order to obtain baseline information on the target group’s achievement in these domains. The project, centered on a participatory approach, was supported by the Institut Haïtien de Formation en Sciences de l’Éducation (IHFOSED), the Inter-American Development Bank (BID), and the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA). Drawing from 60 years of experience in conducting and obtaining international large-scale assessments for primary and secondary students, the IEA was primarily contracted to guide the processes of instrument adaptation, data collection, and analyses. The national assessment consisted of an achievement test in three subjects (Mathematics, French, and Creole) as well as background questionnaires administered to students, teachers and school directors, collecting additional information that could help provide contextual factors of students’ achievement. After three cycles of item and questionnaire development, data collection and analyses, and reporting, the project was completed in 2019, providing a great wealth of data concerning the educational system in Haiti. By participating in the series of Haitian National Educational Evaluations in general, and by providing empirical evidence on Haiti’s formal educational system in particular, the IEA aimed to contribute to the capacity building of local actors in order to facilitate sustainable change in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).
As an example for baseline indicators of precarious populations, and to motivate further in-depth research, this study focuses on the distinction between public and private education as well as the association with student outcomes in learning.

According to well-established theoretical frameworks, e.g. from the field of educational effectiveness (Creemers & Kyriakides, 2007), schools and formal educating systems play a major part in creating successful learning environments. In Haiti, the formal school system consists of private and public schools. Different from other countries, private schooling is the norm in Haiti. Primarily, this is historically justified and due to the absence of a rational education strategy and public investments (Salmi, 2000). The World Bank reports accordingly, “Of the world’s 20 poorest countries, Haiti is the only one in which more than 50 percent of children are enrolled in non-state schools” (World Bank, 2006).

The distinction of private and public education as well as its effect on student outcomes in learning has been focal point in educational research for the past decades. Circulating around findings of Coleman and Hoffer (1987), many studies have shown that students taught in private schools frequently show higher achievement than those taught in public schools. However, most research has been conducted in respect to the US and European countries. Therefore, this paper focuses on descriptive analyses of public and private schools in association with student achievement in three subjects within the context of the formal education system in Haiti. The question, whether students taught in private schools outperform their peers taught in public schools is particularly interesting against the background of the Haitian school system and the imbalance in favor of private schools.

In line with the international state of research, results of the Haiti National Evaluation 2017 show that there are more private schools (83%) than public schools (17%) in Haiti. About 85% of students are educated in private schools. On the contrary, only 15% of students visit a public school. The findings are close to the proportion of Haitian students attending private and public schools reported by the World Bank stating, “Among all primary and secondary school students, 82% attend private, fee-paying schools” (World Bank, 2006). Furthermore, students perform significantly better in Mathematics, French and Creole when being taught in a private school. Finally, Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) showed that about 50% of the variance in achievement in Math, French and Creole is explained by the difference between schools. For reference, results from TIMSS and PIRLS 2011 show, that on average across 32 countries, schools account only for 22% of the total variance in fourth-graders reading achievement, and for 26% of their mathematics achievement. In Haiti, the share of variance in achievement explained by differences between schools is about 25% higher. Results of the ANOVA therefore suggest that Haitian schools are highly diverse, and the choice of school alone is an important factor for student achievement. However, ANOVA does not include any predictors. Further research could therefore investigate whether the distinction of private and public schools has a meaningful effect on the explained variance in achievement.

Results of this study as well the participatory approach employed by the IEA throughout the Haiti National Evaluation 2017, aim at inspiring as well as enabling local stakeholders to convert the high quality, tailored data sets and results into actionable change via informed policy making. Moreover, the knowledge base developed in assessment administration and analysis can be transferred to other research activities within the country. Climate change necessarily will involve innovative solutions to problems both anticipated and unforeseen; an educated population is therefore of utmost importance in the struggle to address such challenges.

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