Strong Beginnings Haiti
A Flagship Program
The University of Notre Dame (UND) has partnered for over a decade with the Haitian Catholic Church and supporting actors to improve learning outcomes for 100,000+ students in 340 schools (Read more about UND’s partnership with Haiti here). UND’s “Read Haiti” combines a robust teacher training and coaching program with a high-quality, scripted curriculum for first and second grades. Despite the measured success of this program, incoming students are woefully underprepared to receive the intervention, with limited oral language skills, understanding of phonemes, and vocabulary knowledge. Parish pre-schools, where available, are poorly run and costly.
In response to these challenges, the GC-DWC is integrating a package of early child development (ECD) interventions for children 0-5 called Strong Beginnings, to ensure that children 0-5 grow up in safe, stimulating home environments and receive a strong foundation in language development, early literacy, and math before they enter formal school. Integrated into Haitian communities through its most central networks - the family, school, and church - this intervention is a sustainable pathway to lasting change.
Implementation of positive parenting and school readiness activities at key access points in the parish and wider community
Extensive training of parish pre-school staff, restructuring of classroom routines, and introduction of ECD kits
A rapid-learning model to build systematic learning into the early stages of project implementation
Increased ECD knowledge for caregivers, clergy, and community members
Enhanced positive parenting by caregivers in the household
Achievement of pre-primary child development and school readiness measures for children by age 5.
The goal of Strong Beginnings is to improve socio-emotional learning and literacy outcomes for 25,000 children in 340 "Read Haiti" schools from 2020-2021. To achieve this, we embed positive parenting and school readiness activities at key access points in the parish and wider community: the church; faith-based counseling programs (i.e., pre-marital & baptism); school-based parent groups; and home-visitation programs. The program involves extensive training and asset development of parish leaders, teachers, and parents, utilizing printed, app-based, and play materials. These resources are in Haitian Creole and address a variety of topics ranging from healthy brain development simulations, creating safe and stimulating home environments, and school readiness. Sustainability will be enhanced by integrating this initiative in routine activities of the family-school-parish network.
Simultaneously, extensive training of parish pre-school staff, restructuring of classroom routines, and introduction of ECD kits will be undertaken to better achieve child development and learning objectives. The introduction of play and early routines will promote intellectual curiosity and help children connect words to action, express their feelings, and cooperate with others. While formal pre-schools are beyond the reach of most Haitian families, once improved, they can become experiential learning grounds for parents, teachers, and lay-persons participating in the wider school-readiness initiative.
Innovation requires rapid learning. Therefore, we promote a rapid-learning model to build systematic learning into the early stages of project implementation. This requires early data generation and rapid feedback loops in order to identify promising practices, accelerate decision-making, and improve prospects for long-term success. Through this process, programmatic learning is generated to share with partners working in similar content areas in low-resource contexts, in contrast to traditional M&E systems, which are often considered tools for accountability, with learning occurring too late in the program cycle to influence change.
Goals, Progress, and Impact
Though Strong Beginnings directly targets the development and school readiness of children ages 0-5, its whole-child, whole-community approach promises to have a significant ripple effect. On a smaller scale, the caregivers, clergy, and community members who receive training through the initiative will continue to implement the skills they learn and model them for others in their lives. Considered more broadly, research shows that investment in ECD services and policies accelerates progress towards 17 key sustainable development goals in low-income countries and fragile states, as school-ready children are more likely to complete school, get jobs, boost the economy, educate their own children, and ultimately break the cycle of poverty. The approaches evaluated through this initiative as well as its outcomes are therefore relevant to strategic efforts in Haiti focused on the country’s overall stability, particularly through the reduction of inequality and promotion of positive, sustainable growth for its future.
Not only will the GC-DWC’s work in Haiti align with and support national efforts around education and community-building, but it will also inform the implementation and refinement of ECD programs in other fragile states around the world. Rapid assessment will allow for the testing of multiple types of interventions to see what works well and what can be adapted for other circumstances, therefore benefiting the wider global community.
- Addressing Local Realities: Transforming local tools
Strong Beginnings Radio Programming: Recognizing radio as the most democratic and effective means of disseminating learning materials in Haiti during COVID-19, the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) Haiti and the Global Center for the Development of the Whole Child at the University of Notre Dame, in collaboration with Catholic Relief Services Haiti (CRS) and the Episcopal Commission for Catholic Education (CEEC), created three radio programs - a literacy program supplemented with a reading hour program, and a pre-K social and emotional learning (SEL) and parent engagement program - as part of a comprehensive approach to distance learning in a low-tech environment.