“Education Needs Punishment” – The need for a new paradigm in Haiti

 In Collaborative Leadership Program, Quality Schools Program

More than 20 years ago, soon after moving into a mountain community overlooking Port-au-Prince, I sat with seven-year-old twins Djeff and Ricardo and their father, Joel. In my limited Creole I asked Djeff and Ricardo to be my language teachers. With a grin Joel grabbed a tree branch and started stripping off the leaves, turning it into a whip. He pointed it at me then giggled as he handed it to his sons, proclaiming, “If there’s going to be education, there has to be punishment.”

Haiti is stuck. The education system is stuck. Moments like this one, with Joel and his sons, and countless others over the years have taught me that for progress to happen, there first must be a fundamental shift in how Haitians view education, leadership, and authority.

It’s not just about helping children learn to read and write, to memorize and recite. Traditional education in Haiti fails to inspire. We need education that creates joy and innovation, that helps children to develop strong values like empathy, integrity, and respect for one another. An education that will help students to discover their full potential. We need schools that engage parents and community members in lifelong learning.

But schools like this aren’t built overnight, and in Haiti, a country whose identity has been forged through the brutality and exploitation of colonization and slavery, there is no such thing as a quick fix. Haiti’s history continues to plague almost every facet of life — from education, to governance, to interpersonal relationships. The lineage must be broken and change must happen, but it will happen slowly.

After many years of having thousands of teachers and leaders go through our seminars to learn a more collaborative approach to education and leadership, it became clear that while the impact was very positive, we needed a different strategy to get even more traction. Six years ago my co-workers and I determined we had to narrow our focus. We had to get granular and establish our own school. We felt led to create a model that can inspire others not just around the country, but around the world.

We hope what we’ve begun at Children’s Academy is part of that change, we hope it can inspire others, and we hope you will be inspired by the stories of the students at Children’s Academy. We hope you’ll stay with us toward realizing this dream of a school that equips children to be changemakers, a school that transforms a community and inspires other schools in Haiti and maybe even around the world.

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