Posted by: universallearningcentreblog | September 15, 2011

Teach without material??!!

When our team traveled to Pilate, Haiti last summer, one of the feats they accomplished was to survey a group of educators representing the local schools about topics from the condition of their facilities to the training of their teachers.  The information is very helpful to us as we are building our new facilities and plan our library and resource center to suit the needs of the community.  The majority of the information that comes out of the teacher surveys will be used to that end.

A classroom in Pilate, this class is particularly lucky to have desks and chairs instead of hard wooden benches and long tables made of wooden planks. Many classrooms don't have chalkboards and most are unfinished cinderblock rooms, if they're even completely constructed.

As I poured over the data from the surveys, it of course did not surprise me that there were vast differences between the schools in Pilate and the schools here in the U.S.  For example, teachers indicated that their students walk anywhere from 2km (1.24 miles) to 8km (4.97 miles) to school (one way), no busing available.  My son’s elementary school is about 1/2 mile from our home and there is a bus provided.  Of the schools polled, not one of them provides a midday meal everyday (one reported that they occasionally receive provisions which they use to make a meal for the kids but not regularly).  At my son’s elementary school, they offer four choices: a hot entree, a salad, a “yogurt pack” (with fruit, cheese, milk or juice, and a pack of cookies), and a “peanut butter and jelly pack” (PB&J “Uncrustable” with fruit, a cheese stick, milk or juice, and a pack of cookies).  They also offer about a dozen choices for breakfast for kids who don’t have time to eat at home.  Of the schools polled, only one has a nurse available.  As far as I know, most American schools either have a nurse on campus or have access to one, and have a whole host of first aid supplies.  Where I taught, our wonderful nurse provided us with a first aid kit each year for our class and had each one stocked with a big supply of bandaids, latex gloves, gauze, alcohol wipes, and more.

A school "kitchen" used when they are occasionally blessed with food for the students. On such a day, the students would most likely be served rice and beans, perhaps plantains or a root vegetable such as taro or yucca, or if they're especially lucky, meat in a red sauce with onions and other vegetables.

Those are some of the differences that would not surprise anyone.  Haiti is a “developing country,” the poorest in our hemisphere where going without medical care and meals is not uncommon.  Of course they don’t have buses, meals and nurses at their schools.  None of the rest of the information is what I would call shocking, but it certainly is horrifying.  Here are some numbers, based on the survey in Pilate:

  • only 20% of the schools reported having enough curriculum and materials to teach
  • only 20% reported having maps or other visual aids for their classrooms
  • not one single school reported having textbooks for their students
  • not one single school reported having science materials
  • only 50% of the schools reported having math materials
  • only one of the schools had a computer on campus
  • not one single school reported having Internet access

The computers in ULC-Pilate, which will help provide teachers access to the Internet and its unending wealth of resources. Donated by Davie Van Vactor and Harvard University.

I am a teacher by trade, although I do not currently teach.  The thought of not having curriculum or materials in my classroom is unfathomable in this day and age where textbook publishers actually customize their books to meet each state’s standards.  Yes, for those of you who are not in education.  That means that New York textbooks are geared toward New York’s standards as determined by their department of education, whereas Florida’s textbooks are written for their own standards.  Which brings me to another line of thought.  Haiti does actually have national standards that are spelled out in print (this surprised me).  Reportedly, the teachers in Pilate base their lessons on the goals determined by the government (according to the Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies, Haiti’s standards are well below international standards).  But again, with no curriculum or materials, teachers are teaching the “old fashioned” way and creating each and every lesson from scratch, and since only one of those schools has a computer and none of them have Internet access, they cannot Google ideas for teaching specific concepts.  Here, when I was planning lessons, if I knew my students needed something to supplement the curriculum, I Googled it.  I can almost guarantee there’s a lesson plan somewhere on the Internet to fulfill whatever needs a teacher could have.  If only they had Internet.  And a computer.  The teachers in Pilate have neither, nor do they have math or science curriculum or materials.

ULC Founder, Jacques Jean (in the foreground with his back to the camera), delivering boxes of ULC's books to local schools to borrow. None of these schools have any type of library, nor do they have books for their students.

When asked if changes in the materials and methods for teaching would improve their programs, the resounding answer was, “yes.”  When asked about what training opportunities teachers would be most satisfied with, the common theme was that teachers need help with methodology as well as other areas for continuing education.  These are teachers who desperately want to teach.  When asked what their goals were for the students, invariably, they each said in one form or another, “to help students become productive citizens who will achieve personal success and help better their country.”  What better mission for a school, in any country?

The 1st day of school is a VERY big deal, not to be taken lightly! These boys were just exiting the morning blessing at the Catholic Church before heading off to their first day.

On a closing note, just a word about the students themselves.  These students want to learn, as much or more than the teachers want desperately to teach them.  I’ve said it before in this blog.  Haitians put extreme value on education, despite the low level of education in the country.  It is not that they choose not to be educated, not that they don’t want to learn.  It is a combination of issues including that the resources are not available for students to pay the private tuition, the available education is extremely lacking, and the need to go to work at an early age is too great.  But Haitian students mean business.  Out of the schools polled, not one reported discipline as being a problem, which would be unheard of here in the U.S. as discipline tends to be at the top of the list of problems in schools.  Classroom management in Haiti is not an issue.  Students are serious about their studies or they are not welcome.



  1. The Philippines is a 3rd world country, The situation you are experiencing is the same as ours. Our country is composed of group of islands where it is difficult to travel from one island to another island because it needs funding. There are elementary students who need to walk about 50 kilometers a day to attend classes. There are students who need to swim about 6 kilometers every day just to attend their classes. School facilities are not suitable for students and needs repair. These untiring efforts by the students in search for education cannot be encountered by students of rich nations.

    • Thank you for your comments! It is truly amazing what students will do for an education. We are very spoiled here in the U.S. It takes going outside of our country to really appreciate how fortunate we are. If you have pictures of any schools in the Phillippines, we would love to see them. You can email

      Do you have public libraries in the Phillippines?

      Thanks again for reading our blog! We hope you’ll continue to follow along. Maybe someday ULC will come to the Phillippines!

  2. Public libraries are located only in the cities and only students living in the cities can have access to the same. Public libraries are not available in the remote areas , i.e. those schools located on the mountains. Imagine students are walking without shoes, nor slippers. Thanks and God bless. Hope to see you someday.

    • Thank you again for responding. I will have to start reading up about the Phillippines. Would love to travel there someday. Best wishes to you!

  3. I taught in Haiti for just a few weeks in April 2010. The students were afraid to enter the building which had previously been used as a school, so we began by playing games in the small area outside. Some of our team constructed outrdoor classrooms and gradually we brought the students back to learning. Our classes were of mixed age and ability. We had a chalk board and some basic materials that volunteers had brought with them.
    It was amazing to see just how much leaning was taking place.

    I keep in touch with the school and would love to go back.

    • Thanks for your comments, Chris! I too am always amazed at the desire to learn and how much kids learn despite their conditions. We’re working on developing additional materials and some teacher training workshops to host at our libraries. We hope you’ll follow our progress and when we get to the point of needing volunteers to go down and help, that you’ll consider joining us. We are aiming to travel to Haiti at least twice in 2012. Thanks for reading the blog!

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