I’m in the Dominican Republic attending an annual meeting with the staff of an NGO working in eleven countries; the Dominican Republic is one of them. Over the last five years I’ve conducted trainings for school leaders and had the pleasure of visiting lots of schools here.
If you are reading this post you most likely did win the lottery. Where you were born, the financial stability of your family and the educational opportunities you received set you on a path to where you are today. And, that’s what has happened to so many children on the two-nation island of Hispaniola.
The Dominican Republic (DR) and Haiti are the two countries comprising the island of Hispaniola. This island is about 530 miles (853km) from Cuba and 880 miles (1422km) from Venezuela. This satellite image shows the border between the two nations and it’s striking: one side (the DR) is forested while the other has widespread deforestation.
18.4861° N, 69.9312° W
The DR is on the windward side of the island and is subject to the prevailing winds so it’s the wetter side; while Haiti on the leeward side is protected by the elevation of the island from the prevailing winds, and so it’s drier. Geography matters and has been a key factor in the history of both nations. Besides sharing the same island and both nations having about 10 million people, they are more different than similar in just about all other ways.
Haiti was a French colony and citizens speak Haitian French (or Haitian Creole that is French-based) while the DR was colonized by Spain, thus Spanish is the national language.
In addition to differences in rainfall and language, their histories have significant differences. Inequities were considerable in Haiti since the French installed a slave-based plantation economy while the DR had small farms. Spanish law was different and allowed a slave to purchase his freedom and that of his family for a relatively small amount while French law did not allow this. Thus, over time the Spanish colony had far fewer slaves.
Here’s a really informative video (15.51) by Vox (2017) that captures some of the key differences between the two nations.
Education in Haiti and the DR
Earlier in its history Haiti’s educational system was based wholly on a French curriculum (a classical approach, courses in French, French texts, etc.). Today schooling in Haiti begins at preschool, then there are 9 years of Fundamental Education (first, second and third cycles) followed by 4 years of secondary education. The school year is 194 days beginning in September and ending in late June.
Approximately 90% of the primary schools in the nation are private (non-public). Some are managed by communities, and others by religious organizations or NGOs. I can’t find any other country in the world with a higher percentage of schools that are not run by the government.
Education in the DR is divided into three stages: preschool education (children 3-5; maternal, kinder, pre-primario) called Nivel Inicial; primary education, Nivel Básico, is grades 1-8; and secondary education, Nivel Medio, is four years. The school year begins in mid-August and ends in mid-late June.
There is a long history of private education in the Dominican Republic, and the number of pupils enrolled in private schools continues to increase. Around 15% of primary school students, and 22% of secondary school pupils, attend private schools. In Santo Domingo 72% of schools are private and enroll more than 50% of all primary education students in the city. The private school sector has seen steady growth in recent years. Like Haiti there are also schools run by faith-based organizations but the DR also has a large number of low-fee private schools owned by business entrepreneurs.
First grade student from a low-fee private school in the Dominican Republic
I’ve selected a few stats to show some comparisons. They will give you a flavor of some of the differences:
As you can see things are certainly not great in the DR, but in comparison to Haiti, the DR is making considerable progress. In recent years the DR has revamped its public education system and many new schools are being built. However, there are still too few teachers and pay is low. The DR is benefiting from the current crisis in Venezuela by hiring well trained Venezuelan teachers who have immigrated to the island.
In Haiti there have been improvements in enrollment and the commitment of the Haitian government to strengthening public education; however challenges in funding, teacher training, and access remain widespread.
Both countries have a lottery
So here is one island—only 400 miles (650 km) long, yet children in one country have far greater chances of achieving success than children in the nearby country. For a child born on the island of Hispaniola I hope he/she wins the DR lottery ticket.
And, how about you. Did you win the lottery?
Statistics are from: https://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/compare/Dominican-Republic/Haiti/Education/table
1 thought on “Postcard from Hispaniola: Did you win the lottery?”
I certainly loved working in Haiti (or AYITI as they call it) and remember reading and hearing about the striking differences with the DR.