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AAAS Caribbean Division Hosts Workshop on Building Haitian Science and Science Education Capacity

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico—Nearly two dozen scientists, science policy experts, and educators have convened here today to explore how collaborative efforts to build Haitian science capacity can help the nation recover from its devastating January earthquake and contribute to its long-term economic development.

The meeting, organized by the AAAS Caribbean Division, has brought together experts from Puerto Rico, the United States, and Haiti for two-and-a-half days of presentations and discussions about the state of science in Haiti and possible measures to build the country’s capacity in science and science education.

The workshop opened Saturday evening. Presentations began Sunday, with a full, final day of work scheduled for today.

Paul R. Latortue, who has served in Haitian government and education posts and now serves as dean of the School of Business Administration at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR)-Río Piedras, suggested that the workshop could play a critical role in building Haitian science education.

“Science education in Haiti needs to be reinvented,” said Latortue, who was born in Haiti. “Professors are insufficiently trained. Labs are almost non-existent. There is a great deal of work ahead to promote science education in Haiti. I feel privileged that UPR and the Caribbean chapter of AAAS are making that effort.”

“We believe that the advancement of Haitian science and science education, with international assistance and support, is a key element in the future sustainable development of Haiti and the well-being of its people,” said Jorge Colón, president of the AAAS Caribbean Division. Workshop participants, he added, are “preparing a set of policy and action recommendations for advancing Haitian science capacity, which would involve the Haitian government, the U.S. government, the scientific community—including AAAS members—and international development and aid organizations.”

The draft recommendations will be presented in a series of meetings with government officials in Haiti from 15-18 July. The recommendations also will be presented to AAAS leaders and U.S. government officials, Colón said.

Haiti, already one of the world’s most impoverished nations, was shattered by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake on 12 January. More than 300,000 Haitians died in the quake, according to some news reports, and an estimated 300,000 were injured; the Red Cross has estimated that 1.5 million people were left homeless.

On Sunday, Haitian scholars and policy experts made a series of presentations summarizing the nation’s science and science education before the earthquake, the impact of the quake, and the needs of Haitian science and education in the aftermath.

Working groups were then formed to focus on science policy and related actions to address Haiti’s needs; science education; and related government policy. Those discussions were to serve as the basis for the recommendations developed by the group.

The delegation to Haiti will be comprised of Colón, who is also a chemistry professor at UPR-Río Piedras; Gary Machlis, professor of conservation at the University of Idaho; and Jean McKendry, senior researcher at the Association of American Geographers.

Additional support for the workshop was provided by the AAAS International Office; UPR- Río Piedras; the University of Idaho College of Natural Resources; and the Association of American Geographers.

“The AAAS Caribbean Division is taking a leadership role in this matter since we believe that an important mission of our division is to strengthen our region’s science and technological capacity,” said Colón. “With this workshop and the ensuing meetings in Haiti, we will contribute to advancing capacity in Haitian science and science education and fulfill the AAAS mission of ‘advancing science, serving society.’”


Read a copy of this article in Spanish and French.

Learn more about the AAAS Caribbean Division and other AAAS regional divisions.