Appeal for Grassroots Haiti Teacher Training Workshop (April 22, 2012)
The following appeal I'm posting here deals with the issue of professional educational development for Haitian grassroots organizations and supporting their efforts to grow popular education. I am happy to report that the Haiti Union Solidarity Fund has generously pledged a $1000 towards this pilot project.
This July, The Sawatzky Family Foundation is hoping to involve a handful of SOPUDEP's teachers in a workshop taking place in the Dominican Republic that could prove to be an innovative approach to improved teacher and administrative training for Haiti's grassroots community education projects. The workshop will focus on teaching skills, the needs of respective communities and integration and preservation of cultural identity into the standardized curriculum through cooperative and communal learning.
This workshop is being led by the Canadian organization Teacher Mentors Abroad (TMA). Organization president Nancy Loraine is a Dominican Republic native and this is where the bulk of their work has been done thus far. Teacher Mentors Abroad provides a sustainable model of professional teacher and administrative development, building dynamic learning partnerships with teachers in under-resourced communities. Their methods include the practice of communal or cooperative learning and has shown to improve student participation, engagement and learning in more impoverished schools lacking basic resources.
The Sawatzky Family Foundation was created in 2008 specifically for the support and advocacy of SOPUDEP, a Haitian founded and run grassroots organization that's primary focus is in providing free and accessible education. Over the past four years we have been SOPUDEP's main source of funding and recently have expanded our support for an additional two grassroots schools in Port-au-Prince, MOJUB in Peguy-Ville and Les Petits Amis de SOPUDEP in the neighborhood of Boucan la Pluie.
SOPUDEP (Society of Providence United for the Economic Development of Pétion-Ville) is a Haitian founded and run social organization located in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. It provides accessible education to adults and children and supports women's rights and economic empowerment for the poor. SOPUDEP is determined to improve the life of the poorest members of their community via education, thereby also creating pride and hope.
SOPUDEP's most ambitious project is its K-12 school. It is a comprehensive private school serving the poorest members of the community, those who cannot afford either the public school system or other private schools. Founded in 2002, the school now has more than 650 students, including a street kids education and vocational training program.
While SOPUDEP’s school is well supported compared to most grassroots schools, it still lacks many of the essentials. This makes traditional forms of teaching and student participation difficult. The methodology taught at the TMA workshop aims to bring a new way of facilitating learning—communal learning and critical thinking instead of dictation and memorization.
We are hoping to raise $3000 US to send seven of SOPUDEP's staff to this workshop. Costs include visas, bus travel, food and accommodation. The following appendix is an in-depth look at the implications of strengthening the already existing accessible grassroots education programs that exist around Haiti. Many of these programs need additional funding to be fully accessible. New approaches to teaching methodology may be a way to ease their burden and raise their own standards, thereby increasing their potential of finding some kind of financial support from government.
Ryan Sawatzky, President
The Sawatzky Family Foundation
PO Box 626, Station Main
Orillia, ON, Canada
In early 2011, I was contacted by Nancy Loraine, President of Teacher Mentors Abroad. I met with her not knowing exactly what TMA was, but after 10 minutes of talking, I expected to soon be working together on a large-scale project designed to bring Haitian grassroots education projects into the spotlight.
Teacher Mentors Abroad is a Canadian organization that provides a sustainable model of professional teacher and administrative development, building dynamic learning partnerships with teachers in under-resourced communities. Nancy is originally from the Dominican Republic and this is where the bulk of TMA’s work has been done since its inception in 2005. Their program first identifies instructional leaders in partner communities who are committed to building their own professional skills. TMA then collaborates with these teachers to determine their specific needs, training them in proper instructional practices for engaging students in their classrooms. Finally, TMA helps facilitate training sessions where leading teachers share their newly acquired skills with their colleagues. From there on, a cycle is set in motion whereby newly trained professionals pass on their skills to other communities, who in turn do the same.
Because teacher training occurs in more impoverished schools where teachers often have no more than a piece of chalk with which to teach their students, TMA utilizes methods of communal learning based on Tribes learning methods where students learn in groups, thereby being engaged and encouraged by each other. The Tribes method is not curriculum, but a process that teaches critical thinking, collaborative social skills, community values, academics, and the acceptance of other cultures and social classes. The teacher becomes a facilitator instead of instructor who disseminates facts and expects students to memorize them. Even with some of these schools lacking traditional learning tools such as textbooks, student participation and capacity to learn have improved dramatically.
In 2010, members of the Dominican Ministry of Education were invited to observe a series of workshops. Members were thoroughly impressed and have made moves to integrate this system of teaching and learning into their own schools.
During our first meeting, Nancy expressed that TMA wanted to begin providing training for grassroots schools in Haiti over the next few years. She wanted to know if SOPUDEP would be interested in being involved in the project.
The following is one scenario based on TMA's current project in the Dominican using this form of teacher / administration training that might be effective in helping strengthen popular education in Haiti utilizing the grassroots community.
In the summer of 2012, we will send Rea Dol and a small group of her best teachers to the DR to participate in a weekend workshop led by TMA. Workshops are conducted in Spanish, so a translator will be present. We are also hoping to have key training points translated into either French or Kreyol for participants to be able to take home with them. Those who participated in the workshops will then train the other SOPUDEP teachers and have them make use of their new skills in the 2012 school year. At this point, it may be beneficial to invite officials of the Haitian Ministry of Education out to observe.
If successful, the Ministry may at this point consider providing staff funding and supplies to a number of grassroots schools that would participate in an initial study using this method of teaching. In theory, using schools already embedded in the community and providing accessible education to their poorest children would ease the initial burden on the Ministry in two ways: an infrastructure already exists, and the schools are already respected institutions in the community, largely due to the dedication their teachers.
If a control group is showing signs of improvement using this new form of communal style learning, a larger project could then be envisioned and international governments approached as sources of funding. Cuba and Venezuela have already made pledges in this area.
This idea would be highly cost-effective for the Ministry of Education and would bring to Haiti a new teaching and learning model which is quickly gaining popularity in other countries, one that not only doesn't strain resources, but that also offers a creative and evolving style of learning that can be adapted from one community to the next. What’s more, newly trained grassroots teachers and administrators could form coalitions and support networks and propose new curriculum in Haiti. Many of these grassroots organizations not only teach the ABC's, but also actively educate in Haiti's Afro-based culture and language of Kreyol that falls outside of traditional curriculum.
It would be of no objection here, that the strength of a country comes from its citizens’ ability to organize with the view of building a society that provides for the needs of its people. In order for accessible education in Haiti to become a reality, Haitians, and more importantly, each community must be in control of the process. Unfortunately, foreign interventions, occupations and exploitation in Haiti have made this a virtual impossibility thus far. This has especially been the case since 1915, when the US dissolved Haiti's national assembly in order to rewrite the constitution in favor of foreign land ownership. In tow with a propped up dictatorship and foreign businesses came a flood of international NGO's and privatizations that have drained the government of resources, weakening its ability to fund social programs.
While the Haitian government should in principle assume its responsibilities in education, the same forces in the past that have kept it weak and in many cases corrupt, are still in place. At the same time, the government and Haiti's citizens' are in the process of building new political alliances and attempting to build a democratic society. Haiti's involvement in CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) could put new social policy changes on the hot seat.
Given this situation, the beacon of public education may be years away but not out of reach. While it is disparaging to acknowledge that only 54% of Haitian children go to school, this figure also tells us that there is a great opportunity for progressive and innovative work to be done for popular education. A possible place to start is with those groups already trying to provide accessible education at the grassroots level. To build a ground-up model to fill the void of accessible education for those who cannot afford it.
I post this not only as a request for funds to send SOPUDEP's staff to this summer workshop, but to open a discussion about these and any other ideas to better facilitate the growth of popular education in Haiti.