BwB’s Impact


Building with Books helps to improve the educational situation in Haiti by working with local communities to build new primary schools.  We build these structures in some of the poorest communities, where educational opportunities are sorely lacking because schoolhouses are either too small, not sturdy enough to house the villages' student populations, overcrowded, too remote or non-existent. Our methodology is designed to empower communities to build their own schoolhouse through the hard work of sweat equity. 


BwB’s proven construction methodology, refined over more than a decade of grass-roots work, is effective because it promotes self-reliance, a necessary ingredient for sustainable development.  Keys to BwB’s success include careful site selection, experienced staff, and village involvement throughout the construction process. BwB methodology requires the local community to contribute land, local building materials and volunteer, unskilled labor; BwB provides construction materials, skilled labor and help with project management. In 2004, residents in local villages contributed more than 55,000 volunteer workdays to build their BwB schools.


Recent History


            The country of Haiti shares an island with the Dominican Republic in the waters just south of Florida.  Although Haiti is often referenced as the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, it was also the world’s first black-led republic and the first Caribbean state to achieve independence. 

            The French occupied Haiti in the 17th and 18th centuries until the African slaves, brought to Haiti by the French, rebelled in a 1791 revolt led by Toussaint L’Ouverture.  Although the French retaliated, local forces defeated an army sent by Napoleon Bonaparte, established independence from France on January 1, 1804, and renamed the area of the island, Haiti. 

            Despite its burgeoning independence, however, Haiti did not receive international recognition from the United States until 1962.  The country experienced great political turmoil and disorganization throughout the 19th century culminating in the United States’ military intervention in 1915 and a 19-year occupation.  Haiti regained its autonomy in 1934 but continued to struggle under the notoriously brutal dictatorships of Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.  After the Duvalier dictatorships came to an end, a provisional government ruled Haiti from 1986 until 1990.  Finally, hopes began to rise with the democratic election of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1990.  

Unfortunately, hopes were short-lived, as Aristide’s ascent to power was followed by a coup.  Aristide then sought exile in the United States as Haiti continued in turmoil.  Finally, in 1994, the United States intervened again into Haitian affairs with a Multinational Force, sent to reinstall Aristide and keep peace by military intervention.  Economic sanctions and US-led military intervention forced a return to a constitutional government in 1994, while allegations of electoral irregularities, continuing extra-judicial killings, torture, and brutality continued.  After the presidency of Rene Preval, one of Aristide’s closest allies, Aristide was re-elected to the Presidency in 2001 but eventually resigned on February 29, 2004 because of increasing resistance and claims of fraudulent elections.  Boniface Alexandre, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, took office on an interim basis. 

Today, the country remains unstable, and its educational system has been greatly impacted by the violence.  A nationwide assessment conducted in March 2004 showed that the political conflict in Haiti has had a severe impact on Haiti’s children, particularly the most vulnerable.  During the period surrounding Aristide’s resignation, students in eight of 19 major cities received death threats aimed at preventing them from attending school or participating in public events.  A number of schools and hospitals were the targets of violence and looting, and many schools were closed for months.

Adding these political and violent variables to an already struggling education system makes it increasingly difficult for Haiti to provide a quality education for all of its children. Still, it is a commitment that the people of Haiti are not ready to relinquish.




BBC News. (2004) “Country Profile: Haiti.”  UK Edition.  Online.  June

14, 2004.


U.S. Department of State. (2004) “Background Note: Haiti.” Bureau of Western

Hemisphere Affairs, March 2004.  Online.  June 14, 2004.


Primary Education

Although public education is free in Haiti, the cost is still quite high for Haitian families who must pay for uniforms, textbooks, supplies, and other inputs.  Due to weak state provision of education services, private and parochial schools account for about 90% of primary schools, and only 65% of primary school-aged children are actually enrolled.  At the secondary level, the figure drops to around 20%.  Less than 35% of those who enter will complete primary school.  Although Haitians place a high value on education, few can afford to send their children to secondary school.  Today, primary school enrollment is also dropping due to economic factors.  60 percent of rural households suffer from chronic food insecurity, and food must come before education.

With an adult illiteracy rate of 52% (48% of males are illiterate and 52.2% of females are illiterate), education remains a key obstacle to economic and social advancement in Haiti. 




UNICEF. (2004) “At a Glance: Haiti.” Online.  June 14, 2004.


UNICEF. (2004) “Press Center Press Release: West’s Most Neglected Children Bear

Brunt of Haiti’s Upheaval.” Online.  June 14, 2004.


United States Agency for International Development, USAID. (2004)  “Haiti Home

Education” Online.  June 14, 2004.






Detailed Review of the Education System


Pre-higher education:


Duration of compulsory education:

            Age of entry: 6

            Age of exit: 18


Academic Year:

Classes from October to June


Structure of school system:

  • Primary
    • Type of school providing this education:  Ecole Premiere (Traditional System)
    • Length of Program: 6 years
    • Age Level: 6-12
    • Certificate/Diploma awarded:  Certificate of Beginning Studies
  • Basic
    • Type of school providing this education: Ecole Fondamentale (Reform System)
    • Length of Program: 9 years
    • Age Level: 6-15
    • Certificate/Diploma awarded: Brevet d’Enseignment Fondamental
  • Secondary
    • Type of school providing this education: Secondary (Reform System)
    • Length of Program: 3 years
    • Age Level: 15-18
    • Certificate/Diploma awarded: Baccalaureat; Diplome d’Enseignement Secondaire
  • Lower Secondary
    • Type of school providing this education: Secondary School (Traditional System)
    • Length of Program: 3 years
    • Age Level: 12-15
    • Certificate/Diploma awarded: Brevet Elementaire du Premier Cycle
  • Upper Secondary
    • Type of school providing this education: Secondary School (Traditional System)
    • Length of Program: 4 years
    • Age Level: 15-19
    • Certificate/Diploma awarded: Baccalaureat II
  • Technical
    • Type of school providing this education: Technical Secondary School
    • Length of Program: 3 years
    • Age Level: 15-18
    • Certificate/Diploma awarded: Technical Certificate


School Education:

In Haiti, the traditional education system, based on the French system, begins with six years of primary education followed by seven years of secondary education. Two streams end either in the Baccalaureat I after three years or the Baccalaureat II after four years.  In the reform system, the primary cycle lasts for nine years followed by three years of secondary education.  Pupils opt for classical, technical, or a professional stream. 

            Higher education is provided by universities and other public and private institutions and is under the responsibility of the Ministry of Education.


Teacher Education:

Teachers in Haiti must graduate from either the traditional primary or reform fundamental cycle and take a competitive entrance examination for entry into the Ecole Normale D’Instituteurs for a three-year course culminating in the Diplome D’Institutor.  Student with a Baccalaureat I also take an entrance examination and take a one-year teacher training course.  Students with a Baccalaureat II can take an entrance examination for a three-year course at the Ecole Normale Superieure in order to teach secondary school. 


Administration and Co-ordination:

Responsible Authorities:

Ministry of National Education

Head: Marie Carmel Paul-Austin, Minister

BP 1347

Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Tel +509-229-731

Fax: +509-237-887





Rev. 10.04