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Conference for Haiti's Future Focuses on Bolstering Catholic Education System as Key

Written by William Schmitt on Monday, 02 July 2012.

Leaders from the education, development, corporate, and church sectors came together at Notre Dame's campus on June 19-20 to consider bold plans to help build Haiti's future by investing in Catholic education, the largest cohesive network of educational services in Haiti.

Haiti's Catholic school system spans the impoverished nation with over 2,300 schools across 10 dioceses. Recognized for their superior quality, Catholic schools represent 15% of all Haitian schools and constitute "the most organized education system in the country," said Luke King, Haiti country representative for Catholic Relief Services (CRS).

Conference participants united behind the idea that Catholic education can play a leading role in revitalizing the educational system of Haiti. Rev. Timothy Scully, CSC, director of the Institute for Educational Initiatives at the University of Notre Dame expressed this conviction: "Catholic education is the most important vehicle for formation in the faith, formation of character, and formation of the intellect that is available to us in this country and abroad," he said. Fr. Scully also expressed Notre Dame's unwavering commitment to Catholic education in Haiti. Referring to the "talented Holy Cross community in Haiti," which runs about 20 schools in Haiti and is also the sponsoring religious order of Notre Dame, Fr. Scully said "we will be there as long as they will be there, which is forever."

CRS president Carolyn Woo also spoke at the two-day "Hope in Action" forum, hosted by the University of Notre Dame. CRS has 700 staff members across Haiti and was a key partner in developing an action plan—the Haitian Catholic Education Initiative—to help revitalize and transform Haiti through Catholic educational renewal. Other key partners in the project were Notre Dame's Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), under the leadership of its ACE Consulting unit, and the Episcopal Commission for Catholic Education (CEEC), which oversees all Catholic schools in Haiti. Together the partners surveyed all Catholic schools in Haiti and developed data-informed projects to meet the needs of over 600,000 Haitian children served by Catholic schools. "It's the right time to refocus on education," said Woo, former dean of the Mendoza College of Business at Notre Dame. "There is an incredible opportunity at this point." The creation of jobs and rebuilding of lives depends largely on creating a good environment in which children can learn. She noted that currently half the country's children are illiterate.

The conference included a diagnosis of the challenges and solutions from Haitian and international leaders involved in development and philanthropy. Discussions were facilitated by Karen Procter, founder and principal of the social innovation firm Harbour Workshop, and Steve Reifenberg, executive director of Notre Dame's Kellogg Institute for International Studies. The Kellogg Institute and Notre Dame's Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies were co-sponsors of the event along with the Institute for Educational Initiatives, ACE, and the CEEC.

As the forum's summary document pointed out, "Haitian and international leaders recognize that an excellent educational system is of primary importance to building a vital, just, and free society," and all children "must have access to a high-quality education" in order to fulfill their potential. The report went on, "Catholic educational leaders have the opportunity to chart a positive course for all Haitian schools by exemplifying strong leadership, academic quality, and a commitment to forming moral citizens."

With extensive input from ACE Consulting's on-site assessment of Haitian Catholic schools, of the result of nearly a year of research, the forum partners presented plans for a six-point Haitian Catholic Education Initiative. The action plan seeks to advance the following ambitious projects over the next three to five years.

The six projects include:

• Primary school teacher training. Because "research shows that teacher quality is one of the top factors affecting student achievement and Haitian leaders consistently name teacher training as the priority for Catholic schools in Haiti," the initiative recommends forming regional cadres of expert educators to train an estimated 2,400 teachers over three years.

• Secondary school teacher training. This project aims to provide training to up to 400 secondary school teachers in Haiti's Catholic schools over three years, utilizing technology and digital learning to strengthen the capacity of a teacher institute under the auspices of the Congregation of Holy Cross. This model would be replicable for secondary school teacher certification more broadly throughout Haiti.

• Planning at the (arch)diocesan level. The CEEC plans to assist the education offices in (arch)dioceses across Haiti with strategic planning and implementation support, with tools and training to utilize data better, and with financial management and budgeting.

• Community engagement and local ownership of Catholic schools. New governance structures at the diocesan, parish, and school levels will be developed in all ten (arch)dioceses in order to maximize student and community participation in Catholic education.

• Sustainable leadership through social ventures. In collaboration with Haiti's leading microfinance institution, the project will develop strategies for the (arch)dioceses to generate income that will provide sustainable support for Catholic education.

• Technology strategy. Only about 20% of Haiti's Catholic schools have computers, and only 7% have Internet. A task force will lead strategies to increase the use of technology in classrooms and throughout the Catholic school system.

Participants in the two-day event agreed to continue and expand their collaborations and networking, taking back with them a variety of ideas for next steps, including increased interaction with the Haitian government and with the entirety of the Haitian education system

Among the comments voiced during the two-day meeting were words of hope from a Haitian Catholic school student. As ACE Consulting's director of planning and operations Sister Kathleen Carr, C.S.J., put it, "It is, after all, for the children that we are doing this work, and we believe the results of our labors will benefit them and the nation."

The student, Rootchaire Jerome, who attends St. Louis High School in Jeremie, Haiti, called education "the most effective and sure way toward progress" for her country's future development. Jerome, who aspires to be a doctor serving the poorest residents of her city, asked the attendees to consider ways to make the quality found in her own Catholic school more accessible to all—"so that all young Haitians receive the best education possible. I would like this education to be an intellectual, spiritual, social, and moral education."

More details of the assessment and action plan, Hope in Action: Transforming Haiti Through Catholic Education, are available at the ACE in Haiti website, from ACE Consulting and the Institute for Educational Initiatives at the University of Notre Dame.

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