Center for Innovative Continuing Education
An Integrated Approach to Teacher Training in Haiti
By Sara Wolf and Demeter Russafov
Misterline, age 8, sits in her classroom with her head down, shoulders hunched over and tears in the corners of her eyes. As Darline, a trainer and coach, approaches the girl and sits down beside her on the wooden bench, she notices that Misterline’s tattered notebook page has scant writing. A discouraging red line covers the page with the words “Pa bon” [Not good] scribbled on top. Viola, the 3rd grade teacher, looks over toward Darline, shaking her head in dismay, disapprovingly, that Misterline yet again did not complete her lesson.
Viola, having taught 9 years in three different primary schools, complains at the first training, “My students just don’t want to study; they don’t do their lessons at home.” Sitting in the circle with 23 teachers, the negative sentiment is pervasive and other teachers chime in that they already know how to teach. She sits back down in the circle, pouting and throwing her hands up that she really does not have time to take training.
After 12 months of intensive training and coaching, Viola pleads with the trainers to be selected as one of the speakers at the Graduation Ceremony. A highlight from her speech: “After one year of training, I have learned more than I could imagine. I thought it would be like all other trainings… very short, not practical and boring. But after we finished the first module, I saw that this was going to be very different. We worked together as teaching partners, sang together, shared ideas and questions together. At times I was skeptical about the new methods, but slowly over time I gained confidence and now I am ready for much more.”
Haiti ranks 168th out of 187 countries worldwide in the United Nations 2014 Human Development Index. Educational statistics reveal an alarming reason for the socio-economic stagnation of the country – just below half of Haitians are illiterate, and an estimated 70% of current primary school teachers have no formal teacher training. Less than 35% of students reach 6th grade, only 20% of eligible-age children go to high school, and 12 in every 1,000 go on to university.
The staggering “quality crisis” of Haiti’s educational system is a perennial challenge that has been receiving a growing attention, yet most efforts to tackle the numerous challenges at hand have failed to initiate a much needed transformation. Many efforts have been criticized for their scattered and ineffective coordination rather than focused and systemic change.
Immediately following the earthquake in January 2010, AMURT/NHE-Haiti conducted a 2-year long emergency program for 3,000 children living in some of Port-au-Prince’s most densely populated camps. The program focused on restoring a sense of normalcy in children’s lives by improving their overall wellbeing through informal educational and psychosocial activities infused with art, theater, music, yoga, dance and sports. The program evaluation revealed that a surprisingly high percentage of participating children reached the top of their classes when they enrolled in school the following year, and staff reported that they finally felt that they were truly educating children in a way that felt meaningful for the first time in their careers. These informative evaluations of this successful humanitarian education initiative gave birth to the idea of seeking to develop an innovative training program for educators grounded firmly in culturally relevant pedagogy.
Focus on Partnerships
In 2013, AMURT/NHE-Haiti began searching for sustainable strategies to professionally develop educators so that more teachers and students could experience transformational educational opportunities. After many long meetings and debates among staff and the larger community both in Haiti and abroad, we decided that rather than creating a training program from scratch we would instead seek to build the capacity of an established and recognized Haitian institution sharing a parallel strategy. The partnership with Université Quisqueya (UniQ), Haiti’s leading non-profit private university, developed naturally and over a period of several years, greatly boosting our efforts by providing legitimacy and access to a growing network of local and international partners. By partnering with UniQ, the scope of our original vision greatly expanded.
The numerous consultations with Haitian educational leaders gave birth to the vision of a national center for continuing professional studies for educators. The idea of the Center for Innovative Continuing Education (CICE) was conceived as a close partnership between a private University, a non-traditional NGO, and the Ministry of Education. Recognizing the strength of this collaboration and the systemic and innovative approach of its vision, funders such as the W.K.Kellogg Foundation and the German Foreign Aid Ministry agreed to commit much needed resources, allowing us to raise so far more than 2 Million USD for its infrastructure and operational plan. Construction of the 18,000 square foot facility has been ongoing for the past 18 months, and its inauguration is scheduled for August 2015. The building’s multi-purpose training spaces, apartments, conference hall and a rooftop restaurant have already begun hosting students and sessions, and will become the physical nucleus of the CICE.
Taking AMURT/NHE’s lessons from the field over the last 8 years managing teacher training programs for hundreds of teachers and dozens of schools in the capital and the Northwest of the country into careful consideration, CICE’s vision developed a national hub-and-spoke model encouraging replication of student-centered training modules. Several components have become crucial pillars for this model, such as the development of an appropriate and progressive pedagogical methodology, a systematic approach of training trainers and spreading the scope nationally. The onsite modeling and demonstration will be carried out through a network of community learning centers serving as mini-hubs, nurturing networks of progressive learning.
Professional Development Modules
Over the last 5 years, AMURT/NHE’s curriculum development team has worked to create a culturally-relevant and innovative pedagogical approach specifically designed for Haiti. Our goal is to champion a new holistic model of teaching and learning adapted to the challenges of a fast-changing world by connecting the dynamism of Haitian culture with the timeless and broad Neohumanist principles. The series of professional development modules is called Edikasyon Vivan (translated into English as The Vibrant Education), an integrated approach that uses dynamic, learner-centered methodologies. The 12 Vivan modules created so far have focused on inclusive education, positive discipline, collaborative learning, problem-solving and project-based curriculum. Constructivist in its approach, Edikasyon Vivan combines key aspects of progressive education, building on the theories of innovators such as Friedrich Fröebel’s Play-based Learning, Jacques Delors’ Learning by Doing, Paolo Freire’s Popular Education, Oscar Mogollón’s Rural Education and, of course most importantly, Shrii P.R. Sarkar’s Neohumanism.
Lekol Vivan (Vibrant School) Networks
Our strategy has been to work closely with various networks of schools on the community level, continuously building the capacities of teachers and developing and adapting the training modules. AMURT/NHE’s fruitful partnership with Sean Penn’s JP/HRO organization has resulted in a 3-year program of training 220 teachers and directors and 30 schools in one of the capital’s toughest and poorest urban areas. This experience provided valuable lessons in terms of how to best train teachers who have various levels of experience, education and motivation. Challenges are compounded when the majority of teachers rarely receive their paltry salaries on time, students may not have eaten all day, and classrooms are crowded, dark and in disrepair. Regardless of the numerous constraints, our trainers have managed to create a close rapport with the participating teachers, seeking to create a sense of professional partnership. Even if teachers are not highly regarded in the larger society, one of the goals of the program is to provide continual support, space and stimulation to prevent burnout and despair.
At the same time as working on the grassroots level, the strategy for CICE is to also work with actors on a national level, specifically directors in the MoE, regional deputies, school inspectors, staff at teacher colleges and university faculty. CICE has begun identifying branch campuses in the various Haitian provinces to provide professional development modules for educators. By using a train-the-trainer operational model, CICE’s 5-year strategy beginning at the end of 2015 will first target 5,000 PreK-6th grade teachers in four provinces and then expand to subsequent provinces and additional grade levels each year. By 2025, the goal is to train a total of 14,000 educators in the Edikasyon Vivan approach.
Model Learning Labs
An integral part and parcel of CICE’s hub-and-spoke model relates to the need of educators to see and experience tangible examples of innovative learner-centered education process in action. One example of such a model of educational experimentation is La Felicite Learning Center, which AMURT/NHE founded immediately after the earthquake in one of Port-au-Prince’s most densely populated camps. Evolving from a temporary Child-Friendly Space into a recognized national model learning laboratory, the school infrastructure was destroyed last year by a private developer and is currently in the midst of preparation for construction of a new 8,000 square foot campus in a central area of the capital. This Lekol Vivan seeks to showcase innovative Neohumanist approaches adapted to the challenges of the Haitian reality. Its students learn from each other as much as from the teachers, visiting project stations, working in the environmental outdoor lab, and connecting to a common theme each month through games, projects, art activities, yoga, dance and theatre. As the MoE inspector for the area commented, “La Felicite is a rare oasis, creating integrated young leaders for a new Haiti”. Rather than remaining an isolated oasis, however, this community center is poised to become CICE’s first but not last mini-hub, connecting to multiple spokes reaching far and wide in the surrounding community, and drawing educators coming for training, observation and internships.
The lessons from the last few years since the devastating earthquake hit Haiti in 2010 have clearly shown that no obstacles are too great and no idea is too small once we open ourselves to working in diverse teams with partners who bring on board different strengths and perspectives. The process of continuously adapting and improving our educational approach to match the incredible challenges in the field has increased the resilience of our strategies and their potential scope for expansion. It has also prepared us to model and spread Neohumanist values and ideas more efficiently through a systematic approach that seeks to draw participation and replication. We will work hard to ensure that the Center of Innovative Continuing Education ushers in a new wind of change helping turn dark classrooms into bright and cheerful labs of discovery, infused with the joy of learning.
The Center for Innovative Continuing Education and La Felicite Learning Lab are currently inviting interested educators to apply for one of our volunteer positions. For more information, please contact email@example.com.