Go, Haiti, Go!

This post is also available in: Kreyòl

Credit: MIT-Haiti Initiative, Creative Commons By-NC-SA

This is a video album of the visit at MIT on April 17, 2013, of Haiti’s Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe and his delegation for the signing of an agreement between the MIT-Haiti Initiative (http://haiti.mit.edu) and Haiti’s Ministry of National Education and Professional Development (MENFP). The main purpose of this agreement is for the development of a plan whereby Kreyòl-based and technology-enhanced tools and methods can be integrated into the MENFP’s strategies for curriculum and faculty development. Since 2010, the MIT-Haiti Initiative is bolstering the capacity-building efforts of Haitian higher education through the creation, evaluation and dissemination of high-quality active-learning resources in Kreyòl for the teaching of science and math at universities and secondary schools. This is a collaborative effort among MIT and various institutions in Haiti, currently including: Université Caraïbe, Faculté des Sciences and École Normale Supérieure of the Université d’État d’Haiti, École Supérieure d’Infotronique d’Haiti, Université Quisqueya, NATCOM, MENFP, etc. The Initiative so far has received funding and support from the U.S. National Science Foundation (http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=1248066) as well as the Foundation for Knowledge & Liberty (“FOKAL,” in Haiti) and Open Society Foundation, the Wade Fund and MIT (in the U.S.).


  1. l'Enfant Progigue says:

    During my very happy childhood years at Cacique Henrie, in Port-au-Prince, I rote-learned the lessons in French, spoke Créole at home, and watched TV—only on Friday evenings—in French. Two lasting benefits of that training today are my eidetic memory and insatiable love of languages. (Although I am steeped in the classical music tradition, to this day, Michel Sardou remains one of my favorite singers.) As a boy in church, in Haiti, the Bible was read in French—to a congregation that was largely tone-deaf to what was read—and the sermon was exposited in Créole. This caste system grew out of and was sustained by a virulent form of elitism that built societal walls rather than bridges, precipices rather than ladders. Today, it is rightly condemned as an obstacle to progress; though the solution sought may be inversely proportionate to the desired result.
    I understand well the motive behind this “reform”; and agree that the envisaged uniformity of language will make it easier for students who live in non-French-speaking homes. However, it will not do much more. In fact, it represents a step backward for Haiti’s education system. Here are my reasons:
    (a) There is simply no credible and reasonable argument to be made for mono-lingualism in today’s global community. If it is true that in Haiti “97% speak Creole and 3% speak French” then clearly the push should be to increase the proportion of French speakers. The challenge is clear: make sure more people speak French. Creole-speaking will never be an endangered custom in Haiti, and therefore does not need this unnecessary retrofitting. French-speak, however, clearly is; and therefore requires much more elbow grease.
    (b) Haiti will never prosper philosophically, legally, artistically, scientifically, develop a STEM education platform, attract STEM jobs, and be a notable competitor in the world if it eliminates the language of Descartes, Molière, Calvin, Proust, Voltaire, and Rousseau from its textbooks and from the national conversation.
    (c) Homes where children could not speak French were also home where parents could not read Créole—homes where they were illiterate. Illiteracy and not ambi-lingualism is the real problem and what should be targeted.
    (d) In every society and in every realm of human activity—from mathematics, to logic, to musical notations, to computer programming—language advancement always precedes and accompanies functional advancement. It was when I learned Greek and German I understood why those nations had given so much intellectual wealth to western civilization. Simple: language imbued them with the ability to plunder all the contours of the depth, width, length, and height of human cognition. What Haiti is attempting now is not to lift the education system, but to debase those who have manufactured linguistic wings to soar. It is true that throughout our history our flight has seemed mostly Icarian in result, but our vaunted and undaunted ideals have always transcended our limitations and fed our optimism in a better future. This is exactly the wrong time to stop aiming high.
    (e) If we are serious about lifting up the national educational consciousness, we should, of course, cultivate and nurture indigenous literati in Haiti. But we should do more. We should also make all Haitians read Jean Calvin in the original, with comprehension; make them get scholarships to elite universities in Canada, Switzerland, and France based on merit.
    (f) In short, as constituted, this project will have little impact on creating a nation of thinkers suited for the challenges—both global and national—in the emerging world. It is an exertion worthy of a better cause.

  2. I respectively disagree with l’enfant. Haiti should break with its racist legacy and accept reality. French is not and had never been the language of the people . For many Haitians, French is seen as a medium of cruel enslavement and a means of brutal oppression, not unlike what many Blacks in South Africa view Afrikaans. French has been used to come the people down and keep the elite in.
    Moreover, if access to world knowledge is so important, and it is, Haitians should also be taught English… Through Krèyol. Thus, for true liberation and equality in Haiti, these steps need to be taken :
    1. French should be relegated to second place. All government business should be conducted exclusively in Krèyol. All street signs should be exclusively in Krèyol.
    2. Language planning should be a priority in which the lexicon of the language could be built up in a great many areas ranging from legal language to nomenclature for fauna and flora, science, computers, etc.
    3. The best of the world’s literature should be competently translated into Krèyol as well as books of seminal general knowledge . Excellent and comprehensive dictionaries should be compiled including bilingual dictionaries (English-Krèyol, French-Krèyol, Spanish/ Krèyol. An authoritative monolingual dictionary of Krèyol could be as important as Johnson’s dictionary was for English.
    4. Local talent should be sought after and valued in order to produce local literature and art.
    5. Krèyol should be renamed Haitian to attest to the fact that it is THE language of Haiti.
    6. English should become the main non-Haitian language, I.e. Neither French nor Spanish. English is the language of world commerce and science. With Haitian and English, future generations of Haitians can face the world not unlike other small nations such as Scandinavian ones which encourage their local languages whilst encouraging knowledge of English. The problem is money and the willpower. The alternative is the prolongation of the historical mess. There is a huge Haitian diaspora in the US so it would not be a pipe dream. Let us bury French with the past. It could remain official like Gaelic in Ireland but not much more .

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