The U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has just returned from a three-day visit to Haiti where he unveiled a multi-million dollar grant that will help strengthen the country's education system.
A recent report by the United States Institute of Peace
described Haiti's education system as "dysfunctional" and said reforms and financial assistance were badly needed.
During his brief stay, Duncan met with Haitian President Michel Martelly, the Minister of Education Vanneur Pierre, and toured several schools.
"The challenges there are obviously very real," noted Duncan, in an interview with VOA's Creole Service. "Huge challenges of poverty, nothing is easy there - but what I was most struck by, was how passionately commited children were to getting an education and how hard adults were working to give them the education they need to build a better life for themselves."
Duncan said he was impressed by one school he visited for street children. He said many of the kids had lost parents in the January 2010 earthquake.
"To hear their stories about why they were working so hard, and why they want to get off the streets - I'll never forget it," the secretary said, adding that the students are fed one meal during the school day which, in most cases, is their only meal of the day
Duncan said USAID has made a multi-million dollar, multi-year committment to help expand access to education in Haiti. In addition, he said, Haiti's Senate is considering legislation that would bring "significant new revenue" towards education "on an ongoing basis".
The secretary said passage of the law "would be huge."
According to Duncan, Haiti's Education Minister, visited Washington earlier this year to discuss his country's education needs.
In addition to the USAID grant, Duncan said the U.S. has also agreed to provide technical assistance to Haiti's Education Ministry. He said Haiti would be sending a team of education ministry officials to Washington in December as part of the bilateral cooperation. Their discussions will include teacher training, he said.
"For education to succeed in Haiti, we need a strong Ministry of Education," Duncan said.
Ronald Cesar and Jean-Pierre Leroy from VOA's Creole Service contributed to this report