A project that’s been occupying much of my time lately… The Institute for Educational Initiatives Supporting Recovery of Schooling in Haiti.

The University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Educational Initiatives (IEI) and Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) are making major contributions to support Haiti’s recovery from the earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010. One initiative to rebuild educational infrastructure is placing shovels in the ground this week.

That work is underway at the Basil Moreau School, a distinguished primary and secondary school complex in Port-au-Prince that was hit hard by the earthquake. At the school, administered by the Congregation of Holy Cross and serving an impoverished community, the secondary education section was destroyed and the primary school suffered major structural damage.

In another relief project in that country, a partnership including Notre Dame and ACE is establishing a Teacher Institute that will educate the next generation of Haitian schoolteachers. With help from Catholic Relief Services, the international humanitarian agency, a network of partners has been coming together to develop administrative structures and consider sites that would enable an innovative, ambitious approach to teacher education.

Many of the country’s primary and secondary schoolteachers today have little or no formal training. The priests and brothers of the Congregation of Holy Cross, the same order that founded Notre Dame in Indiana, have earned a reputation of educational excellence while serving in Haiti since 1944. They plan to lead the new program of teacher education with help from ACE, which is recognized as a major force in the United States forming tomorrow’s Catholic school leaders. Other partners in the project include Haiti’s Ministry of Education and universities in Quebec, Canada.

“Quality education is the sine qua non for rebuilding a better Haiti,” Father Scully said. “That is why ACE and the IEI are committed to supporting educational rebuilding and renewal in Haiti with our partners in the Congregation of Holy Cross. We believe that, together, through efforts like rebuilding Basil Moreau School and supporting the development of a new Teacher Institute, we can offer a brighter future for the children of Haiti.

It’s worth noting that Catholic schools represent over 40% of the schools in Haiti and most of the quality educational establishments.  With 80% private education, the vast majority of which is faith-based, Haiti must build upon the existing strengths of the private education system while reducing school fees to make schools more accessible for all children.  For this reason Haiti’s national education rebuilding plan is essentially a large voucher plan.  Perhaps the U.S. could learn a thing or two from Haiti no this one!!!

Given the size of the private school sector, this will be an incredible experiment for the power of choice in education.  Haiti has a lot of work to do to realize its plans… rebuilding thousands of schools, training tens of thousands of teachers, improving the curriculum, standards and assessment systems, raising the proportion of government spending for education, improving taxation, and effectively managing a complex financial system for school funding with appropriate accountability and performance incentives… all amidst political uncertainty, cholera, mountains of rubble and crippling poverty.

May God bless Haiti’s rebuilding efforts and give her children hope for a new day.

From Port-au-Prince, signing off…