My experience at “Faculté Des Sciences”

The intent of this text is to cheer and inspire my fellow Haitian citizens who are struggling in many universities with the aspiration of becoming prominent people for the society. Perhaps a few skeptical people may ask why it is written in English, but my intention is to write to students, so I am confident that they can fully grasp the substance of this text. Many people have this very pessimistic perception about universities in Haiti: that we are mediocre and that foreign students are necessarily better than ours. They forget that we Haitians, we are very hard workers, very highly motivated and enthusiastic learners. It is true we lack sufficient investment in our education system, but our unyielding motivation is enough to make us well-educated. With that said, let me share with you my experience at Faculté Des Sciences in Haiti and shed light on some misunderstanding that people might have about us.

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Let’s start from the beginning. I entered “Faculté Des Sciences” in 2009. Three months later the earthquake occurred and destroyed our facility. I lost my brother Joseph Vladimir Laguerre who was a senior in mechanical engineering. I was shocked but since then, I decided to become a civil engineer. Six months later, The faculty reopened in temporary shelter (which ultimately lasted more than 5 years) and my father compelled me to go back. The conditions were harsh, and I could not keep myself from recalling the day of the earthquake which was still vivid in my thoughts. Nevertheless, I was determined to learn. I was a zealous student; I studied hard, and I gained the maximum of knowledge that I could. I had a very interesting group of students in my inner circle(Garlin, Delcine, Civil, Ismael aka Bourik President (lol), Steven aka Vice-President Bourik(lol), Malachie, Jessica, Wadelin, Anne Martine, Terry, Seide, Maignan…) which cheered each other all the time and helped us to excel. I also had outstanding professors, which taught me the fundamentals of engineering. I aced many of my courses, and graduated with excellence. After that, I did my master’s degree at the University of Pittsburgh, and now I am doing my PhD at Rice University and I am making the same effort as anybody else to keep up with my classes and my research. My message to all Haitian students is to have a “nevertheless mentality”. As long as you are enthusiastic and make huge effort in your learning, it does not matter too much where you are studying. The real determinant of how much learn is you and your endeavors. Now, all of the brilliant guys in my inner circle at FDS are now having a good level in engineering because they were diligent students.

Now, let me address some critics a few odds have about us at the FDS. Very often, simple-minded people label us as mere mathematicians which means that we are not good engineers and that we cannot contribute to solve actual problems in Haiti. They never make a profound analysis, but they try to support their simplistic argument by referring to the collapse of FDS during the 2010 earthquake. That is to say, our building should have been earthquake resistant. This argument apparently makes sense, but it is not complete. A such conclusion should not be yielded based on a single event. Actually, we are not mere mathematicians. It’s true that we do a lot of mathematics, but it represents the prerequisites in preparation for engineering classes. It is the same requirements as in many other universities around the world. At FDS, we cover a lot of interesting classes in the civil engineering department (concrete, hydraulics, pavement, transportation, geotechnics, bridges). That’s why I am saying: “we are not only mathematicians”. A few naysayers may now accuse me of speaking with a forked tongue based on my previous blog (De la théorie sans pratique en Haiti) where I denounced a lack of practice and too much theory in our Faculty. This is not a contradiction. Doing theory does not mean doing only mathematics. All the non-mathematical classes I mentioned above were also part of the interesting theories learned.

There is a lack of investment at FDS, nevertheless we are making huge effort and we are able to produce some talents. I thus find it ruthless, insensitive and unkind to label us as mathematicians. If you never visit us in our campus, never give a penny in our budget, you are not in a good position to judge us.

Haiti’s Progress Toward SDGs over the Past Couple of Decades

The “Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)” are a set of 17 goals elaborated by the United Nations (UN) which aim to end poverty and to trend to a more prosperous planet. For each goal, the UN has provided many indicators to measure progress for different countries. In order to evaluate Haiti’s progress toward the SDGs, I have selected 10 SDGs and several indicators and summarized them in Figure 1. Generally, Haiti’s situation about those goals has been stagnant over the past couple decades. For all the indicators analyzed, a decline or very slight progress has been observed.

Poverty, Hunger, and Health (SDGs 1, 2, and 3)
As the poorest country in the northern hemisphere in terms of GDP per capita, the level of development is quite low by evaluating it from many perspectives (human rights, basic needs).  According to Sen A. development is closely related to freedom, not being able to meet basic needs such as adequate nourishment, a minimum economic gain, or minimum healthcare is a barrier to people’s freedom. Evaluating Haiti from this perspective shows generally no progress. As can be seen in Figure 2, the “No poverty” goal which is evaluated by the proportion of population below the international poverty line shows no progress. From 2000 to 2015, Haiti has an average of 33.15 % of its citizens below the poverty threshold, with all the values per year close to the mean. However, since 2013 slight improvement is being observed. Furthermore, the prevalence of undernourishment (hunger’s indicator) is also quite large with an average value of 54% from 2000 to 2015 (Figure 3). Additionally, the prevalence of malnutrition maintained an average of 7.3% from 2000 to 2012 (Figure 4). When it comes to healthcare, the neonatal mortality rate with an average of 28.63 per 1000 birth maintain a value above 25 per 1000 births as shown in Figure 5. All these indicators show no substantial progress for Haiti towards SDG 1,2 and 3.

Education and Gender Equality (SDGs 4 and 5)
With a human right development approach, we can analyze education and gender equality in Haiti. One of the Human Rights’ motivation is to ensure capabilities of the citizens regardless their age and sex to participate in the community’s life, thus requiring a minimum education and equality among people. The indicators chosen to evaluate those two goals are “Literacy Rate” and “Proportion of seats held by women in governments”. As can be seen in Figure 6 the percentage of women in local government is very low, it went up in 2012 at 12 %, but thereafter has trended to 4%. This is a proof of huge inequality within Haiti, which means that policies are created and voted by men, thus biased. Moreover, Figure 7 shows how the literacy rate is growing, but still under 62 % which means more than 38% still can’t have the right to elementary education.

Clean Water, Access to Energy, and Life on land for the Goals (SDGs 6, 7, and 15)
As can be seen in Figure 8, the proportion of the population with access to electricity is slightly increasing but is still below 50%. Furthermore, the proportion of people with access to safe sanitation services is in a negative slope (Figure 9) which is very discomforting as it increases vulnerability to preventable diseases. Additionally, the forest cover (indicator for SDG 15) has been less than 5% in the recent decades (Figure 10). These three indicators thus show how the SDGs 6,7, and 15 are far from being achieved.

Economic Growth (SDGs 8)
As can be seen in Figure 11, the economic growth of Haiti is analyzed with two indicators: the “Annual Growth Rate of Real GDP per Capita” and the “Annual Growth Rate of Real GDP per Employed Person”. To begin with, it shows little growth and even decline occasionally. In addition, it shows some inequality of growth for employed and unemployed people. Employed people have greater growth and a lesser decline from 2000 to 2007. But, thereafter it’s the opposite.

Climate Change (SDGs 13)
The amount of CO2 emission is an important indicator to account environmental issues. Like many other indicators analyzed above, this has also detrimentally increased from time to time (Figure 12). As can be seen, the CO2 emission was 1.38 metric ton in 2000 and has doubled in 2015. Thus, the situation is worsening as CO2 is a greenhouse gas responsible for climate change.

Key factors underlying Haiti’s low level of development?
Haiti’s low level of development can be assessed through some basic needs of the people which are not met, then impacting the entire system. As shown in the analysis above, the literacy rate is low, and undernourishment prevalent. With those basics not met, no development can be expected. In fact, the people have too many unfreedoms, thus unable to be productive for the society. As a result, it compromises economic growth, and their capacity to deal with environmental issues, and political strategies. As can be seen in Haiti, aberrantly many senators don’t have a background in politics or laws, and they are elected to vote laws. That’s why the basics needs mentioned above should be met before expecting to break the status quo in Haiti.

Key Factors Underlying Failure in Haiti
Even though there is slight economic growth in Haiti, the indicators presented are generally quite conclusive about Haiti’s failure. Economic growth is insignificant when in average 33% of the people still live below the international poverty line with less than $1.90 US dollars per day. This percentage is lowering but is still 25% in 2015. Consequently, the people can’t get out of the poverty trap which is a major cause of economic stagnation (Sachs, the end of poverty p. 56). They can’t afford the very basic needs they have such as, minimum education, minimum healthcare, and adequate nourishment. This is coherent to the fact that undernourishment is generally prevalent by 54%.

Key Factors Underlying Success in Haiti
The data analyzed is hardly conclusive in underlining success of Haiti toward the SDGs. However, slight improvements have been observed in access to electricity and education, but still does not reach an acceptable level. From 1995 to 2015 the literacy rate has increased from 45% to 60.7%, and the access to electricity rises from 33% to 37%. Those percentages are still too low to consider them as a success toward the SDGs, but if the trends maintain the same pace in the next decades it will hopefully have a meaningful impact on Haiti’s development. In fact, electricity and education are among the basic needs to be met to be free and very capable to achieve our goal in this modernized world.

Recommendations to Haiti’s Leaders
For Haiti, there is a sort of stagnation which should be addressed by the government through education investment. Like Sen’s approach to development, resources are not enough to reach a satisfactory level of development. There should also be a conversion factor to enable people to be capable of using their resources, thereafter they will have the freedom to choose by which mean they can achieve their goals. This conversion factor can be education (literacy, more schools and university enrollment). The government should thus invest more money in this area to empower the citizens and more likely make Haiti a developing country in the coming decades.


 

Appendix

Figure 1–  SDGs and Indicators

Goal Indicators Progress
1 No poverty Proportion of the population below the international poverty line, earning less than 1.9 dollars per day. No progress
2 Zero Hunger Prevalence of Undernourishment No progress
Prevalence of malnutrition
3 Good Health and Well-Being Neonatal mortality rate No progress
Maternal mortality ratio, per 100000 births.
4 Quality Education Literacy rate Progress
5 Gender Equality Proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments and local governments Stable
6 Clean Water and Sanitation Proportion of population using safely managed sanitation services, including a hand-washing facility with soap and water Regress
7 Affordable and Clean Energy Proportion of population with access to electricity Slight progress
8 Decent Work and Economic Growth Annual Growth Rate of Real GDP per Capita Very slight progress
Annual Growth Rate of Real GDP per employed person
13 Climate Action CO2 Emission Regress
15 Life on Land Forest Cover Regress

 

Figure 2–  Haiti’s Poverty(unstats.un.org)

Figure 3– Undernourishment in Haiti

Figure 4– Malnutrition in Haiti(unstats.un.org)

 

 

 

Figure 5– Neonatal Mortality in Haiti(unstats.un.org)

 

Figure 6–  Women in Haiti’s Government(unstats.un.org)

 

 Figure 7–  Haiti’s Literacy rate (indexmundi.com)

 

Figure 8–  Access to Electricity in Haiti(unstats.un.org)

 

Figure 9–  Sanitation in Haiti(unstats.un.org)

 Figure 10–  Forest cover in Haiti (World Bank)

 

Figure 11–  Haiti’s economic growth Government(unstats.un.org)

 

Figure 12–  Haiti’s CO2 emission(unstats.un.org)

 

 

Works Cited

Human Development Report 2000. “Chapter 1- Human rights and Development”. Courseweb

“Indexmundi.com”, Haiti, Demographic-Literacy

Sachs, Jeffrey. “Chapter 3- Why Some Countries Fail to Thrive.” The End of Poverty. Courseweb. 2005.

Sen A. “Chapter 1-  Development as Freedom” Courseweb. 1999.

UN Statistics Division. “SDG Indicators Global Database.” United Nations. Web. Nov. 2017.