Learning Through Participation, Cabois

I’d like to share a few impressions of the school known as Ecole Communautaire Jean-Jacques Dessalines de Cabois, or ECJJDC.

The cost of teacher salaries in order to run this school is about $500 US per month.

This school, in a poor area of rural Haiti, helps create peace and stability in the area by teaching students to participate in their education and in the life of their community, and to learn the skills required to create joyful, vibrant communities – even in a country with little economic means and an unsteady government.

Here’s a snapshot of a day of classes which I observed during the first week of June, 2009. The first year students (roughly equivalent to first grade in the USA) were learning to write letters. Each of them had a notebook with letters repeated many times on one page. I went to the second year students’ class, and watched them multiplying two digit numbers by four digit numbers (problems such as 21 * 1748 ). I was surprised to see such difficult work in this class! Some of the students needed help to solve these problems, while others were able to do it right without teacher assistance. Several students were working on problems on the chalkboard at the same time.

The oldest class of students, fifth grade, was working on evaluating “less than” or “greater than” expressions with six digit numbers. For example, the students were given numbers like 369258, 369185, and 359225, and asked to put them in order from largest to smallest. During this exercise, the teacher asked one student to try to provide the correct answer, and then asked the class to decide together whether they thought the answer was correct.

At the same time, the third-and-fourth-grade class was working on reading in French. It’s our hope that the school will soon be able to teach reading and writing in the students’ native language, Haitian Creole, rather than in French. But for this school year, the school wasn’t ready with books and teaching materials for Creole instruction.

What I saw was a demonstration of the teaching philosophy of the ECJJDC school – students sit in a circle rather than in rows, and participate together in learning rather than rote memorization and repetition of what’s told to them by a teacher (which is the norm in Haitian schools). Students helped each other understand their work, doing a little bit of “learning by teaching”, and took a role of active participation in learning rather than a role of “we do what we are told”. When asked, this was essentially how the students described the way the school works, too – that by sitting in a circle they are “able to hear each other”, and feel like they are “really learning”.