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Haiti's Future: Commitment to Catholic Schools

By Robyn Fieser

From the outside, Coeur Immacule de Marie, a small parish school, could be seen as a model of how the international community has helped build the education system in Haiti. A brightly painted sign hangs in the cafeteria listing the many contributors that built the school—which is in northeastern Haiti, near the border with the Dominican Republic—and help keep it running: The bathrooms by UNICEF; food by the World Food Program; the cafeteria, a project of the Regina High School in Canada.

Teacher training introduced by a coalition of Catholic groups working with Haiti twinning parishes helped Davilmar Eucenciense

Teacher training provided through partnerships with U.S. dioceses and parishes help Davilmar Eucenciense manage her class of 49 second graders. Photo by CRS staff

But a look beyond the cafeteria reveals a grimmer picture. The walls are cracked. The roofs leak. The well, dug as part of yet another project, has long since dried out.

Half of the school's 300 or so students can't afford to pay the annual tuition when it's due at the beginning of the year. Jean Fernand, the school's director, makes due with less money—he doesn't turn away the students who can't pay—but teachers' salaries are dismal and haven't increased in years. Meanwhile, only half of the school's six teachers are certified. Many of them never finished high school themselves. With little specialized training, they often struggle to teach the subjects, manage their overcrowded classrooms and inspire creative learning in their students.

Coeur Immacule de Marie may just be one small, rural school. But its condition says a lot about the state of the country's more than 2,300 Catholic schools. A Catholic Relief Services study found that only 35% of Catholic schools in Haiti are fully licensed, compared to 8% of all non-public schools, in large part because teachers are not certified. In many primary schools, teachers have only a secondary education, with very limited teacher training.

Much of the progress seen in Haiti schools derives from decades of partnerships with U.S. dioceses and parishes in which they've done everything from pay students' tuitions and teachers' salaries to building much-needed classrooms.

But until now, there has been no overarching strategy for channeling that investment to improve the Catholic education system in Haiti, the largest education provider in the country.

System-Wide Planning and Training

"There is extraordinary involvement in Haiti on the part of the Catholic Church in the United States, which is dominated by nearly 500 parish partnerships. Nearly all of them support education in some way," says Kim Lamberty, manager of the Haiti Partnership Unit. "After the earthquake, we realized that we could accomplish more in Haiti by working together."

To that end, CRS, the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and the Episcopal Commission for Catholic Education (CEEC), are starting to work with the twinning movement to improve the quality of education in Haiti by concentrating on system-wide teacher training and the formation of student governments and parent teacher associations.

The plan comes on the heels of the most extensive survey and mapping of Haiti's Catholic education system ever conducted.

How Catholics Are Improving Education in Haiti

In Haiti, where a quarter of the school-aged children are not in school, CRS and the University of Notre Dame's Alliance for Catholic Education have formed a unique partnership to build a vibrant and strong Catholic school system. Learn more.

Equipped with GPS-enabled iPod touches, data collectors visited nearly all of the Catholic schools in the country during the 2011-2012 school year. The CEEC and the diocesan education offices are using the data to design programs to improve education, monitor schools' progress, and advocate for more support from the Haitian Ministry of Education and other stakeholders.

During the next 2 years, the CEEC, in partnership with CRS, will train 1,000 teachers while educating students about the importance of civic participation.

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee is supporting the program with an important donation, as CRS continues to work with other dioceses in the United States to find ways to expand the program.

Creating a Sense of Value

"This teacher training and community involvement in the schools is crucial for strengthening the capacity of the Catholic Church in Haiti to provide quality education for today's and tomorrow's children, laying the foundation for Haiti's future with a higher-skilled population," said Delille Antoine, Executive Director of the CEEC.

Three of the six teachers at Coeur Immacule de Marie are enrolled in the teacher training, which is designed to strengthen their grasp of Creole and French, their understanding of social sciences, experimental sciences and mathematics, as well as their classroom organizational skills.

The training has taught Davilmar Eucenciense, a teacher at the school, how to better manage 49 restless second graders. Davilmar, who dropped out of high school to get married and have children, was handpicked by the parish priest to become a teacher. With no specialized training, she says, she has a hard time developing sound lessons plans and controlling her classroom. The training is improving her pedagogical skills. Her French grammar is improving too. But for the 34-year-old mother of two, it is much more than that.

"For me, earning the credential that comes at the end of the training will make me feel, finally, like I am valuable."

Robyn Fieser is CRS' regional information officer for Latin America and the Caribbean based in the Dominican Republic.

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