Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Haiti has one of the youngest populations in the world, but the traditional education system has failed to prepare youth to take active part in addressing the problems that they will inevitably inherit as adults. Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, with 78% living below the poverty line and 40% suffering from food insecurity. It has also experienced cross-generational political insecurity, and it is prone to natural disasters. These same challenges exacerbate the difficulty of establishing programs that will empower youth to lead change.
The traditional education system suffers from lack of access, infrastructure problems, and outdated or ineffective pedagogical methods. Poverty and marginalization keep many children and youth from rightfully accessing education. 38% of (primarily rural) children between the ages of 7 to 18 have never attended school. Only 15% of primary school teachers possess basic teaching certification, and 25% never attended high school. The majority of schools are in a state of serious deterioration and lack necessities, like drinking water and electricity. In addition, the traditional education system does not prepare students to take on the problems that exist within their society. Instead, the current system forces students to learn set answers by memorizing and reciting material from uni-directional lectures designed by teachers. Lessons do not imbue an appreciation for the wider societal context and do not encourage student input, innovative thinking, creativity, or teamwork. Given some of the unparalleled challenges facing Haiti, the mere memorization of solutions will not lead to innovative solutions to Haiti’s challenges.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Etienne has developed a model that departs from the traditional, conservative education system in Haiti that is founded upon rote memorization and passive participation in the classroom. In stark contrast, Etienne's mission is to champion development in innovative thinking, creativity, and teamwork for students of all levels from primary to high school. His curriculum combines classroom learning with experience-based learning so that his students have opportunities to apply their learning to real community problems. Every year in the second semester students must use their lessons to address community needs. Students practice self-reflection, gain self-confidence, and develop their creativity, all of which stimulates their growth as agents of change.
To raise community awareness of his model, Ettienne strategically displays the students’ projects at l’ExpoSciences, a science exposition at the end of each academic year; thousands attend every year. Several projects have attracted national recognition including the work of a team of students who built the first traffic light in Haiti after 20 years without service and inspired the Haiti President to put traffic lights throughout the capital. Other teams have sought to design robot technologies to clean up streets. During the embargo when the oil supply got cut in Haiti, one team designed a pentacycle, a non-motorized vehicle, allowing students to go to school.
Etienne sees collaboration as a critical element of his curriculum. The ability to work in teams is a fundamental skill that enables youth to develop other essential skills and attitudes, such as task delegation, identity formation, self-expression, self-confidence, idea communication, tolerance, and creative compromise. Teamwork is so important that Etienne has made team projects account for 40% of the students’ grades. The physical setup of classrooms is even organized in a way that encourages teamwork; students work at modular desks which can be easily configured to allow for a greater exchange of ideas.
In order to further support students' development as agents of change, Etienne introduced a compulsory entrepreneurship course in the school's curriculum. In this course students learn theoretical and fundamental entrepreneurial concepts and get to interact regularly with established entrepreneurs. As a testament to the impact of Etienne's model, teams from his school swept the top three prizes awarded at the Yunus Social Business competition, 2013, which focused on identifying solutions capable of eradicating poverty.
Etienne is a recognized leader in education. In 2011, Etienne was elected “Entrepreneur of the Year” by Digicel; he is now a jury member for the competition, determined to include a new award category for social entrepreneurship. He is also a regular guest on Haitian economist and thought leader Kesner Pharel’s weekly radio show, which broadcasts nationally. Etienne has also been invited to become Minister of Education five times but has maintained that impact would be best achieved as director of Catts Pressoir. He is however working with the Ministry of Education to replicate his teaching model on a national level, starting with 25 public schools and 10 public servants from the Ministry of Education.