The Haitian population is facing a critical need for literacy education. Forty-nine percent of Haitian students have no reading capabilities when they enter the third grade, and almost 50 percent of the adult population is illiterate. Lacking the ability to read, the majority of Haitian students fail to complete elementary school. Only 5 percent of students advance to secondary school, and only 1 percent go on to college.
In order to address the need, the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) Haiti initiative recently launched its “Read to Learn” project, an innovative literacy program in 52 Haitian Catholic schools. Working in partnership with the Haitian Episcopal Commission for Catholic Education (CEEC) and Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the project began in the summer and is supported by a $1 million grant from an anonymous foundation, as well as additional funding and staff support from CRS and ACE.
According to ACE Haiti Associate Director Kate Schuenke-Lucien, who coordinates the project, illiteracy impedes educational attainment, job readiness and ultimately the health of Haiti’s economy. The roots of Haiti’s difficulty in teaching children how to read can be traced back to its poorly educated corps of teachers and the lack of an effective literacy curriculum in Creole, the language most Haitians speak.
“Literacy is the critical lever for improving the quality of education in Haiti,” Schuenke-Lucien said. “It is the foundation of all other learning. Students must ‘learn to read’ in their native language before they can ‘read to learn’ for the rest of their lives.”
The Read to Learn project will seek to replicate an earlier literacy pilot project in which Haitian Catholic educational leaders provided support and training to 300 Haitian schools. Building upon the method and lessons learned from that project, Read to Learn will focus on Creole rather than French, as Creole is the native language of 95 percent of Haitians and research has consistently supported the benefits of students learning to read in their mother tongue.
The literacy model uses supportive lesson plans for teachers and students, provides extensive teacher coaching and includes a rigorous randomized control trial evaluation conducted in partnership with Notre Dame’s Initiative for Global Development. This approach to improving literacy has proven successful in other developing countries and has produced significant gains in reading fluency and comprehension for students.
“We believe that this early grade literacy program is the single most effective, scalable intervention to improve educational quality in the Haitian context at this time,” ACE Haiti Associate Director T.J. D’Agostino said. “We hope eventually to scale the program in all of Haiti’s 2,400 Catholic schools, which constitute the largest educational provider in the country. Advancing literacy will have a profound impact for generations of Haitian children.”
Contact: Kate Schuenke-Lucien, 574-252-9652