Building Sustainable Haitian Commerce Through Education

UA Researchers, Students Help Implement Unique Instructional System in Haiti

By David Miller

Dr. Kevin Richards leads a professional development session with Haitian teachers.                                                    Photo by Whitney Craven

In a small village outside of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Dr. K. Andrew R. Richards helped frame an elementary school lesson to translators, who then delivered the instructions in Haitian-Creole to sixth grade teachers.

For the Haitian elementary school teachers, the concepts were as foreign as the American researchers leading the professional development session: engage students through group activities, promote active learning and continual reinforcement of ethics.

“In the Haitian education system, teachers will write something, the students copy it, and then the teacher explains it,” Richards said. “It’s very teacher-driven and traditional, but it doesn’t engage students. Part of the reason is many of the teachers in these hillside communities didn’t go to teachers’ colleges.”

Richards, assistant professor of kinesiology at The University of Alabama, was there during the Spring 2017 semester with UA kinesiology instructor Alicia L. Richards, doctoral students Chavada Davis and Victoria N. Shiver and undergraduate business major Katherine Scudder to train Haitian teachers in a teaching model called “Teaching Physical Education and Social Responsibility” (TPSR), an instructional system that focuses on teamwork, leadership and respect.

TPSR has been implemented across the world, primarily through physical education classes. But UA’s team is setting a precedent for using TPSR to deliver curriculum in other content areas.

“I stepped back and thought ‘I bet this is the first time this model has ever been translated into Haitian Creole,’” Richards said.

The language barrier is significant, but secondary when considering the limited time frame and ambitious goals Richards and his team had when they arrived in Haiti during the spring semester. The team set out to teach the pillars of the model, along with an active learning component, to six Haitian teachers. They would also hold additional seminars with a total of 12 teachers.

The week would end successfully despite no quantifiable measures, Richards said.

“On that last day, I had no idea what to expect,” Richards said. “These teachers had seen us do this three times, and then we engaged them during those afternoon seminars. I didn’t really know how much it stuck, or if they agreed with it, but they got it. It wasn’t perfect, nor would I expect it to be, even if we did it with a professional development here in the states. But I could see and hear TPSR in the way they were teaching.”

Education is the base

There’s a larger and existing initiative of which UA was already a part in Haiti: economic development.

A Haitian teacher delivers a lesson.

Haiti has experienced an influx of cash and resources since an earthquake in January 2010 killed more than 100,000 people. UA accounting lecturer Lisa McKinney has been partnered with “But God Ministries,” an NGO in Haiti that has a missionary compound in the communities where Richards and his team worked, to help Haitians develop sustainable businesses and develop their own economy.

After observing classes during site visits to schools, McKinney and her staff determined the key to developing an economy is developing an education system.

“A solid elementary and secondary education is critical for young Haitians to develop critical-thinking and problem-solving skills,” McKinney said. “These are the skills that are needed to start, expand and run businesses. Skills learned in those early years set the foundation for motivated and capable entrepreneurs.”

Richards said the teachers were eager to learn the model and begin implementing it after their initial meeting with UA faculty and students.

“The project represented a cultural exchange between us and the teachers,” Richards said. “We taught them TPSR, and we learned a lot from the teachers about Haitian culture and Haitian schools.”

Many needs

While many rural teachers don’t have the benefit of pedagogy, the ones who do have the benefit of experiencing both traditional and more student-centered approaches.

TPSR goals translated from English to Haitian Creole.

Frantz Anna works as a translator for an NGO and helped implement TPSR for Haitian teachers. He completed three years of college in Haiti, where he studied to be a teacher. Working with Richards and watching teachers overhaul their strategies excited him.

“I remember when I was in primary school and secondary school, the teachers taught and gave us homework, then gave us the grades,” Anna said. “They don’t really let those who understand the lesson better work with those who don’t understand it. That system caused selfishness, and that competition to know more and have more stays with people.

“But with this active learning, we learn to let the students work together. The students can also learn through games that encourage helping one another, which they enjoyed very much.”

Anna remains in contact with the teachers who participated in the TPSR sessions and said the methods are used daily. Teachers set aside time to act out lessons outside and incorporate games into their lessons. Anna explained the methods can help compensate for lack of manipulatives and other teaching materials for science and geography.

“I went to one of the schools and saw the sixth grade teacher teaching the kids about multiplying fractions – advanced math,” Anna said. “I was watching him teaching, and there were some students that could do it very quickly. When one student was struggling with the exercise, he said ‘who can go to the board and help?’ A student raises their hand and goes to the board to help with it. He did not do that in the past before learning about TPSR methods.”

Extending the bridge

Frantz Anna, right, served as a translator and helped Richards implement TPSR to Haitian teachers.

Richards plans to return the team to Haiti in December to continue training more teachers.

He hopes to raise additional support to prolong the next visit and fund additional trips, some of which will likely include research components. The follow-up training is vital to infusing the pillars TPSR, rooted in physical education, into other content, and to bridge school-level goals into classroom instruction, he said.

“You’re taking something that’s a very extrinsically motivated reward or avoidance of ‘do your homework or there will be this consequence,’ and you internalize it so the kids think ‘I need to do this because it’s the right thing to do, because I’ll want the benefits of doing this,’” Richards said. “When you’re trying to do this kind of work, it’s great to go in and hope some of this sticks, but if you’re able to do it for a prolonged period of time, it’s much more meaningful.”

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.