Science for Haiti: A necessity moving forward

Ilio DurandisIlio DurandisThe American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) recently published Science for Haiti: A Report on Advancing Haitian Science and Science Education capacity, which sets the stage for Haitian policy makers to incorporate science in their strategies of the reconstruction of Haiti. The theme of the report centers on two key components: advancing Haitian science and science education.

Science, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary is defined as the state of knowing. Its etymology is from the Latin word: Scientia, which literally means knowledge. If science is the state of knowing, why more often than not the subject matters bring in a fear of knowing? To fully appreciate the set of goals and recommendations presented in the Science for Haiti paper, we must try to explain the state of science in Haiti and how it is perceived by most Haitians.

Very little practical science is taught at any level of the educational system in Haiti. Most schools are unregulated and have very meager budgets from which to operate. Science in the classroom in Haiti is often an afterthought. For many students, subjects such as biology, chemistry, botany, and physics remain as abstract learning -- and therefore a cause for anxiety to them. To make matters worse, most of the teachers teaching science subjects are ill-equipped and unqualified. Many have no certification whatsoever. In brief, for science to really become one of the main keys in the recovery of Haiti, we must analyze this report with the Haitian reality in context.

In the report, the proposal for advancing science in Haiti argues that scientific capacity is needed to promote Haitian technological innovation and economic opportunities, improving medicine, healthcare, disaster preparedness and sustainable development in agriculture among other benefits. After a round of workshops in Haiti and Puerto Rico with Haitian scientists, educators, government officials and foreign scientists, the group came up with seven strategic goals for advancing science and science education in Haiti.Some of the key goals in the report include:

  • Advance Haiti’s scientific capacity to link Haitian scientific expertise to Haiti’s development objectives.
  • Invest in science education, research and technological innovation to generate sustainable development and prosperity for Haiti.
  • Educate Haiti’s leaders in government, business, religion and culture so they can value the role of science in Haiti’s progress and development.

A report like this should not repose in a few people’s drawers and be forgotten as time goes by. It should be taken with great consideration by those in leadership positions -- and help forge a national debate not simply on the role of science -- but also on the importance of educational reform in Haiti.

It is not possible to invest in science Boston education without taking a holistic approach to education in that country. The system is badly broken, and applying a scientific method to fixing it might prove to be beneficial in more ways than one.

There have been all sorts of reports done on best ways to help Haiti build back better, but none is more important
than this one. Though it lacks details on how much such an initiative would cost, Haiti is ripe to benefit from an increase in scientific capacity and education.

It is true that there are far more immediate issues to be addressed in Haiti, such as the plight of the internally displaced people, lack of basic public services and political infighting to cite just a few. But incorporating basic science in all of these could assure the sustainability of any resolution that we may develop.

Another important aspect of this report is its Haitian-led mantra. The researchers elaborated a great deal that for this to work, it must be Haitian-led, and executed by Haitians. And the suggestions are not to incorporate science for the sake of science, but to find ways to implement the scientific findings into concrete policies that could help improve Haitian lives.

As a Haitian scientist, I fully support the strategic goals on this report. The paper made reference to Rwanda’s inclusion of a scientific approach to its reconstruction after years of civil unrest. Although I don’t believe Haiti is in the same position as Rwanda or some of the other African countries, it can definitely open its doors for more collaboration with the international scientific community and position itself to receive some of the grants available for scientific work and science education.

Science for Haiti has developed a roadmap of the Haiti’s future, so now it is up to each and every Haitian in a position of influence to promote and execute the strategic goals, which came from Haitians of different backgrounds. We should not be afraid of knowledge, for this is one of few ways to take control of our destiny. Science for Haiti is not only key; rather it is the key for a sustainable and prosperous nation.

Ilio Durandis is the Founder of Haiti 2015 and columnist for the Haitian Times. He holds a Masters of Science from Central Connecticut State University in Molecular Biology and has many years of experience in the biotechnology industry.