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Friday, January 6, 2012

H.E.R.O. Orphans Outperform Their Peers

The system of education in Haiti truly boggles my mind.  I will try my best, in a biased way I must admit, to explain the method of operation of the system here.  The true purpose of this blog, however, is to celebrate the academic achievement of the children in the H.E.R.O. House.  After completing their first trimester exams and receiving the results, all I can say is that I am truly proud of their accomplishments!  After all of their effort, they surely reaped the rewards.

For this conversation I am going to specifically discuss grades 1-6.  At the end of grade 6 all students in Haiti are required to take the 6th grade government exam.  Students are not promoted to the next grade unless they pass this exam.  They do have the opportunity to repeat 6th grade as many times as they want to, but most often if students do not pass the 6th grade exam after 2 attempts, then their schooling ends.  As a result of the earthquake and political instability the school year has been shortened from 4 quarters to 3 trimesters.  The school year this year started one month late, in October, instead of September and will end in June.

For the majority of the schools in Haiti, the method of instruction is through rote memorization.  The teacher stands at the front of a class filled with rows of students sitting on wooden benches, and provides information about a given topic.  The students either then copy the information into their notebooks, recite the information, or complete a simple task related to the information on the board.  At the end of each the day students are given Homework and Lessons.  Homework is exactly as we know it in the U.S., but then students are also required to memorize daily Lessons ranging in a variety of topics.  The passages range from a few sentences to a few paragraphs in length, and the students must be able to recite the passage perfectly the following day.

Each day the students arrive in class, the majority of teachers ask them to recite the lessons from the previous day.  Homework is often not checked.  Each student has a standardized lesson book where they are provided with a grade out of 10.  For example, 8/10, 4/10.  The length of the passage or the subject matter has no relevance to the base number of 10.  Even for homework, if there are 12 questions, it is out of 10, if there are 14 questions, it is out of 10, if there are 5 problems, is out of 10.  Don’t ask me to explain it, it just is.

All of the homework and lessons have no actual bearing on a student’s final grade for each trimester (or quarter).  At the end of each trimester each class is provided with an exam for each subject.  In order for a student to take the exam they must pay a fee, usually about $2.50, that goes towards making copies of the tests for each student.  If you don’t pay the fee, you don’t take the exam, you don’t get a trimester grade, and this limits your ability to pass to the next grade.  I was saddened to talk to many parents during December that could not afford this fee for their children to take the exams.  It is a truly unfortunate situation.

Each class takes approximately 6-10 exams during a one-week period, and each exam is scored either out of 10 or out of 20, again, with no relation to how many questions might actually be on the exam.  All of the scores are added together, divided by the number of exams, and what results is a grade between 0-10, out of 10.  In elementary school, 6 is considered passing, and 7 or above is considered to be a quality academic performance.  I don’t agree with this, 8-9 sounds much better to me, but alas, it is the system here.  Finally, the score is then compared with all of the others in the class and each child is given a ranking based upon their results.

And while we might not agree with the ranking system, our kids did fantastic!  Robenson earned the second highest grades in his class with a score of 7.69 and Valencia earned 3rd place with 7.05 out of 10.  They are both in third grade and have about 20-25 students in their class.  Dayanna earned a score of 8.09/10 on her exams and placed 2nd in her class while Franky impressively received 7.05/10 and placed 4th. Franky and Dayanna are both in second grade, and they have about 20 students in their class.  We are all so proud of their academic performance!

The unfortunate reality, however, is that even being at the top of your class in a private school in Haiti doesn’t quite equate to having true academic knowledge when compared to curriculums across the world.  We know that we have more work to do, and that being able to read and recite information is not the highest level of human intelligence.  At H.E.R.O. we will continue to provide our children with a variety of educational opportunities apart from the traditional schooling they receive here in Haiti.  As a result, we hope that they are able to reach a level of academic knowledge that will serve them well in this ever changing world.  They have proven they are fully capable of learning; it’s now time to provide them with the content.  Let’s do this!


Steven M. Kirby, Ed.D

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