Issue 48 - Article 7

The work of the Education Cluster in Haiti

August 31, 2010
Charlotte Lattimer and Andrea Berther
A student practices penmenship with her teacher in Jacmel, Haiti

The massive earthquake that hit Haiti on 12 January 2010 had a devastating impact on the education sector. Eighty percent of schools – almost 4,000 – were damaged, and an estimated 1.26 million children and youth were affected; large numbers of teachers and other education personnel were killed and injured.[1] In relation to more obvious lifesaving sectors such as food, shelter and health, education typically struggles to achieve visibility and funding within an emergency response operation. In the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, however, education was accorded a surprisingly high priority. Given the scale of the disaster and the size and complexity of the humanitarian response that followed, the Global Education Cluster conducted a lessons learned exercise to reflect on and learn from the experience in Haiti during the first three months after the earthquake. This article summarises the main points, with a particular emphasis on coordination. 



The Education Cluster was set up at global level in December 2006 as part of the wider humanitarian reform process to improve the effectiveness of humanitarian response. The Global Education Cluster is co-led by UNICEF and Save the Children, with differing leadership at country level. Its vision is to enable all children and young people to have immediate access or ensured continuity to a good-quality education in a safe environment, in order to protect, develop and facilitate a return to normality and stability. To date, Education Clusters have been set up in 38 countries in response to natural disasters and conflict situations.

Within days of the earthquake in Haiti, clusters were established to support national authorities to coordinate the humanitarian effort. An Education Cluster was established alongside other clusters and is co-led by UNICEF and Save the Children.


Education as a priority in Haiti

The education sector in Haiti was weak even prior to the earthquake. Over 90% of schools were privately run, and families had to pay up to 25% of their income to send their children to school. Estimates vary, but some reports put the proportion of children out of school prior to the earthquake at 50%.[2] Teachers are vastly under-qualified, with 80% failing to meet selection criteria for professional training. Recurrent natural disasters compound the problem by disrupting normal education patterns and exacerbating the political, socio-economic and environmental problems that have greatly constrained Haitians’ access to education.


The Education Cluster in Haiti

The initial meetings of the Education Cluster in Haiti were convened by UNESCO in the first week after the earthquake. By week two the Cluster was fully established and functioning under the leadership of UNICEF and Save the Children. In the initial weeks and months after the earthquake, the Education Cluster was responsible for coordinating the work of approximately 175 members from more than 100 organisations. Some 40–50 individuals were regularly present at weekly coordination meetings in Port-au-Prince. Sub-national Education Clusters were set up in Leogane, Petit and Grand Goave and Jacmel, where regular meetings also took place. Working groups were created to focus on specific thematic areas: capacity development/teacher training, psychosocial support (linked to the inter-cluster Psychosocial Task Force), the curriculum, early childhood development (linked to a Task Force bringing together other relevant clusters) and infrastructure/reconstruction. Disaster risk reduction was initially integrated into the work of different groups and later established as a sub-group in its own right. The Education Cluster in Haiti works alongside the pre-existing Education Sector Working Group, led by UNESCO, which focuses on longer-term education support in the development context.

Initial activities included a rapid joint needs assessment carried out by 40 data collectors visiting nearly 240 sites and meeting over 2,000 community members. The Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) Minimum Standards for Education in Emergencies were adapted for use in Haiti, and a detailed strategy for all education actors involved in response and recovery was drawn up for an initial six-month period, in alignment with the strategic priorities of the Ministry of Education. Information management and sharing were facilitated via a common website and tools and services such as a ‘who does what, where and when’ matrix.

Education was included within the Flash Appeal issued just after the earthquake. Within the revised Humanitarian Appeal, which requests a total of $1.5 billion across all sectors, education requirements amount to just over $87.5m. At the time of writing, $82m had been received, 94% of total requirements.


Achievements of the Education Cluster

The Education Cluster in Haiti has achieved a great deal in extremely challenging circumstances. It is a strong Cluster with broad and inclusive membership, operating entirely in French. Sub-national Clusters support coordination at local level. As a result of Education Cluster programmes, nearly 200,000 children have benefited from temporary learning spaces, over 88,000 children under the age of six have enrolled in early childhood development classes and over 500,000 children have received basic learning materials.[3] The Education Cluster is working closely with the relevant humanitarian and civil–military coordination bodies, and has succeeded in clearing debris from approximately 70% of destroyed and heavily damaged schools on the priority list for 2010. Work is under way with the government to provide grants to non-public schools, giving essential support to ensure that they reopen. An adapted curriculum is being developed with the government to allow children in directly affected areas to accelerate their learning and complete the rest of the school year in 90 days or less. Training for teachers on psychosocial recovery continues, with the target of reaching every school-going child in affected areas.[4]


Lessons learned

Capacity and staffing of the Education Cluster

The magnitude of the disaster and the complexity and scale of the response called for a massive coordination effort, with unprecedented numbers of staff performing a wide variety of functions. The Education Cluster, like many of the other Clusters, struggled to deploy adequate numbers of skilled and experienced personnel for at least the first month after the earthquake. The fact that the Education Cluster functioned exclusively in French meant that sourcing the right staff was even more problematic than it might have been. Only short-term staff were available, resulting in high turnover and a loss of institutional knowledge with each rotation. Because of the pressure on agencies to deliver and the shortage of deployable personnel, staff deployed to support coordination struggled to balance dual programming and coordination responsibilities.

Lessons learned from the experience point to the need for:


  • Renewed efforts to improve surge capacity for the Education Cluster by agreeing on triggers for rapid response, making better use of existing rosters and exploring new sources of additional deployable capacity through Cluster partners. Options to explore include rapid response teams, internal temporary re-deployment, rosters and stand-by partners.
  • A move away from deploying individual Cluster Coordinators to deploying teams of staff for large-scale emergencies, with a range of different functions and skills.

Role of the Education Cluster

Different actors approached the Education Cluster with different needs and expectations. Those who were new to Haiti and/or education in emergency response looked to the Cluster for orientation and training. More experienced players expected the Cluster to drive decision-making and improve the quality of the education response. However, in the early weeks of the response the large numbers participating in Cluster meetings made it difficult to go beyond basic information-sharing. The main focus of the response was at sub-national level, yet staffing and resourcing of the sub-national Education Clusters was not prioritised early enough. Similarly, the thematic groups within the Cluster, focusing on areas such as teacher training or psychosocial support, were not adequately resourced. Much of the time of Cluster coordination staff was dominated by reacting to operational issues, leaving little space for strategic or proactive and creative thinking, or for ensuring stronger links between the Cluster’s immediate plans and government/Sector Working Group mid- to longer-term planning.

The Haiti experience resulted in several key recommendations in this area:

  • Take a more decentralised approach to Cluster coordination, focusing on and adequately resourcing sub-national coordination.
  • Develop benchmarks for Cluster progress, with milestones for what should be done by when.
  • Prioritise capacity development within Education Clusters, using the INEE Minimum Standards, and adapting existing training packages for Frontline Responders, Ministry of Education officials and Education Cluster Coordinators.


Operational issues

There were high expectations within the Education Cluster when it came to areas such as information management, needs assessment, planning and monitoring, advocacy and resource mobilisation. Education Cluster members appreciated the high level of information-sharing that the Cluster facilitated. However, information management within the education sector had been weak prior to the earthquake, with very little reliable data available on schools, students and teachers. The assessments conducted by the Ministry of Education and the Education Cluster provided a snapshot of the situation after the earthquake, but failed to fill this larger information gap. Large amounts of money were mobilised for the humanitarian response in Haiti, but some Cluster members thought that the Education Cluster could have done more to mobilise additional resources earlier, capitalising on donor generosity in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake.


Lessons learned from Haiti point to the need for:

  • Stronger information management stand-by capacity within the Education Cluster, including deployable experts, agreed tools and templates and databases/systems for adaptation and use in ‘information poor’ environments.
  • More resources for comprehensive education-related needs assessment to accompany the forthcoming rollout of the Joint Education Needs Assessment Toolkit by the Education Cluster.
  • Continued efforts to review the inclusion of education in inter-agency appeal processes and guidance for Cluster Coordinators on how to participate in the development of appeals.



Government capacity to lead and coordinate education was weak even before the earthquake, and what little capacity existed was devastated by the disaster. There was confusion, including within the government, about the role of the Education Cluster in relation to the pre-existing Education Sector Working Group and other groups. There were good links between the Education Cluster and other clusters relevant to education, such as the Child Protection Sub-Cluster, though duplication of effort was still reported in some areas.


Following experiences in Haiti, the Global Education Cluster recommends:

  • Emphasising the importance of early Education Cluster support to boost government capacity for coordination and leadership, including possible secondments into Ministry of Education offices.
  • Developing guidance for Education Clusters on agreeing roles, responsibilities and accountabilities with existing sector working groups and with other clusters on potential areas of overlap.



The widespread destruction of schools and vast numbers of children and youth affected, combined with an extremely weak, non-state education system prior to the disaster, put extreme pressure on the humanitarian community to respond in a coordinated manner. There needs to be some caution in terms of learning lessons from the Haiti experience, given many of its characteristics are not necessarily transferable to other situations. Having said that, the Education Cluster has been able to extract several useful lessons from its response in Haiti. These lessons will be turned into concrete recommendations and actions that the Education Cluster can implement in the months and years to come, to improve its response to future disasters.


Charlotte Lattimer works with Save the Children as Knowledge Management Advisor for the Global Education Cluster Unit in Geneva. Andrea Berther was Education Cluster Coordinator in Haiti between January and April 2010. She is currently Regional Education Specialist, Emergencies, UNICEF West and Central Africa Regional Office.


[1] Education Cluster, March 2010.

[2] Advocacy brief, Education Cluster, March 2010.

[3] Mid-Year Review of the 2010 Haiti Humanitarian Appeal, June 2010.

[4] Mid-Year Review of the 2010 Haiti Humanitarian Appeal, June 2010.


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