Today, Friday, May 15: Last call for votes in NSF Video Showcase


Please help the MIT-Haiti Initiative make this video go viral for the greater good in Haiti. We need more than 8,000 to move up from 2nd position among more than 100 contestants. Contest ends this Friday, May 15, at 11:59PM. Please hurry and click on “Public Choice” for instructions on how to vote and get all your friends, friends’ friends, etc., to vote too. Repeated voting and sharing is allowed. Go to this site and look for “Public Choice”: The more “Shares,” the more votes! Plus we’re bringing unprecedented awareness to an education and human-rights issue that has hurt too many generations in Haiti, and more injustice is in store as dark selfish forces are planning to strengthen a system of education where some 95% of students are taught in a language that they do not speak, and where teachers teach with outdated note-taking and rote-memorization methods. Kreyòl + technology + active learning are necessary for excellence and creativity in STEM and other disciplines such as second languages, including French. Let’s make Haiti the Finland of the Caribbean.

Laurent Lamothe at MIT Sloan on MIT-Haiti Initiative

(Video is in English)

Laurent Lamothe (Former Prime Minister of Haiti, 2012-2014) at MIT Sloan on April 13, 2015, giving “Dean’s Innovative Leaders Series” lecture. This excerpt is from the question-&-answer period during which Laurent Lamothe discussed how the MIT-Haiti Initiative is opening up access to quality education in Haiti—thus, dismantling Haiti’s centuries-old linguistic apartheid. This video was produced by Jerry Lamour of EYM Productions (…) for the MIT-Haiti Initiative.

DeGraff accepts MIT Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award

Comments on My Acceptance of the MIT Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award

By: Michel DeGraff

I am from Haiti. In Haiti, when we enter a room and greet our audience, we say, in Haitian Creole, “Onè,” which means that we honor each and all of you in the audience. And the audience responds “Respè” as a show of respect. So let’s all give it a try: “Onè . . .
Respè . . . ”

(Professor DeGraff’s speech starts at 19m01s.)

Now I’d like to say “Mèsi anpil!” (i.e., Thank you very much!) to the organizers of this beautiful lunch. Thank you as well to MIT for this long tradition, which started long before we had a national MLK Jr. Day. In this tradition, we at MIT celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. with both words and actions. I would also like to thank the anonymous colleagues who nominated me and who wrote letters on my behalf. I also thank my MIT department, Linguistics and Philosophy, and the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences. And I especially want to thank my MIT-HAITI team. We are a pretty large group across all of MIT and in Haiti. At MIT the team includes allies in various units: from MIT Sloan to Linguistics to the School of Science, the School of Engineering, the Office of Digital Learning, the Teaching and Learning Lab, etc. In Haiti, we work in close collaboration with educators across a wide range of public and private universities and with leaders in the Haitian Government, especially the Ministry of National Education. Together we are developing, evaluating and disseminating state-of-the-art digital resources in Haitian Creole for active-learning methods in Haiti.

I’ll soon give you some historical background and more details on these efforts, which live up to the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy that we are celebrating today. But before that, I’d like to insist that without our MIT-Haiti team, I could not have gotten this award. This award is not mine, it’s OURS: it’s an award to our teamwork, teamwork with amazing colleagues at MIT and in Haiti who so strongly believe that together we can change the world as we confront a formidable global challenge.

“One dream can change the world.” This is the tagline of the inspiring movie Selma about Martin Luther King Jr., which I saw recently.

Toward the beginning of the film, there’s one haunting scene, from the early ’60s before the Voting Rights Act. That scene highlights Ms. Annie Lee Cooper, played by actress Oprah Winfrey. For many years, Ms. Cooper has been trying, in vain, to register to vote in Selma. On her fifth attempt, her application is again rejected. Why? Because of yet another totally artificial barrier: she’s being asked by a white clerk to recite the names of all the 67 county judges in Alabama! Obviously, she cannot. Who could?

In Haiti, such barriers to full citizenship are even more brutal, and have been entrenched through language and education throughout the history of the country, all the way back from the colonial period when much European wealth depended on the work of enslaved Africans. Back then, our African ancestors were treated as beasts of labor not as minds to be educated.

In Haiti today, most Haitians are excluded from access to quality education and from the means to create and transmit wealth. Indeed most laws and decrees, most written press, most textbooks, most official exams are written in ONE language (French), which the vast majority of Haitians do NOT speak. Yet most everyone in Haiti speaks one language in common: Haitian Creole (“Kreyòl”) the language in which we just said “Onè… Respè.”

This linguistic barrier has been so entrenched in the Haitian psyche that one can call French in Haiti, a linguistic “bluest eye” – to borrow a phrase from writer Toni Morrison. Too many Haitians, unlike Annie Lee Cooper in Alabama in the ’60s, have been socialized, from birth, to accept class-based injustice: they have learnt to accept that if they don’t speak French, it’s their own fault and, as such, they do not deserve anything better than second-class citizenship at the pit bottom of one of the worst levels of socio-economic inequity in the world. The Kreyòl phrase “Nou pa moun” is a frequently heard complaint from those who speak Kreyòl only: “We are not human beings.” Fortunately, there are many Haitians who have enough clairvoyance and dignity to deeply believe in this Haitian proverb: “Pale franse pa vle di lespri,” which means “That you can speak French doesn’t mean that you’re intelligent.” Another popular Kreyòl phrase is: “Sispann pale franse”(literally: “Stop speaking French”), which, tellingly, means “Stop obfuscating!”

As a linguist and educator, I know that in order to learn a language, ANY language, you have to get adequate input from that language – ideally, be IMMERSED in that language from a tender age. In Haiti, most Haitians, from birth onward, are immersed in ONE single language – Kreyòl. The de facto status of Kreyòl as Haiti’s sole national language and as a unifying factor across all social classes is a robust fact and a linguistic asset. As for French, only the upper social classes, some three to five percent, speak it at home on any regular basis. Given these facts, plus what we know about the role of the native language in education, Kreyòl stands at the ready to be used as a powerful tool for nation building and economic development. Yet, there’s a widespread entrenched belief that those who speak Kreyòl only are somewhat deficient, that Kreyòl is a lesser language, a language that CANNOT be used for science, for math, for the law, in written press, and so on. This linguistic apartheid has been encoded deep in the DNA of Haitian society, from the birth of the Haitian nation in 1804 – even as our enslaved ancestors were liberating themselves from French colonial chains. Today, still, Haitian minds are shackled in neo-colonial linguistic myths.

So, in effect, Haiti is still very far from Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream. But the MIT-Haiti Initiative IS dismantling these age-old barriers that have been implemented through language and education.

And the Haitian Government is playing its valiant part, collaborating with MIT in this historical struggle for social justice ( and we now have, since December 2014, an official Haitian Creole Academy to promote the use of the language in all sectors of society. We are at the point that we can now reasonably hope that these barriers are indeed crumbling.

In 2010, Dr. Vijay Kumar (Office of Digital Learning; and I launched the MIT-Haiti Initiative ( with support from the Foundation for Knowledge & Liberty, the Wade Foundation, the Open Society Foundation and the National Science Foundation ( and in collaboration with faculty and administrators in Haitian universities and Haiti’s Ministry of National Education ( This MIT-Haiti initiative has been opening up education in Haiti through educational technology and through Kreyòl. We’ve been producing and testing, for the very first time ever in history, high-quality (MIT-quality!) digital tools for active learning of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in Haitian Creole – with an initial focus on physics (, genetics, and biochemistry ( and differential equations, statistics, and probability ( As of now, we’ve worked with more than 200 university and high school STEM faculty and government officials in Haiti. We’re also showing that kids who learn to read and write in Kreyòl learn three times better than kids who learn in French – which is not surprising in light of what we linguists know about the language-immersion factors that we just sketched and about the role of the native language in education ( And in 2014 and at the request of the Haitian government, the MIT-Haiti Initiative in collaboration with MIT Sloan Executive Education organized for then-Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe and his cabinet (some 50 high-level officials) a workshop on leadership and teamwork – all of that in Haitian Creole ( So now, all the available evidence points to an irrefutable, if “unarmed,” truth which we must speak until it has the “final word”: Kreyòl is a full-fledged language which improves learning gains in Haiti – learning gains in reading, writing, math, science, etc. Given the data so far, learning IN Kreyòl should also improve Haitian children’s capacity to learn the humanities and second languages like French, English, and Spanish. Fluency in some of these international languages, ALONGSIDE the systematic use of Kreyòl at all levels, can help Haitians benefit from, and also contribute to, the creation and transmission of knowledge, both locally and globally, with self-respect and dignity . . . “Onè . . . Respè . . .”

There’s a lot more to do. But I think we’re already showing that language barriers and unequal access to quality education and to other socio-economic opportunities are among these daunting global challenges that we at MIT can help solve ( In effect, we’re showing that MIT’s expertise, teamwork, and resources, in partnership with Haitian educators and leaders, can transform Martin Luther King’s dream into reality, in Haiti as well. And I believe that this can serve as an inspiring example to other communities where language and education are used as barriers to social justice.

Of course, the work is only just starting. We’re going to need much more support and a much bigger team to totally dismantle these formidable barriers and to make our dream reality. But this is MIT after all. So I trust we can do it. With the right team, the right level of support and adequate political will, we can have another revolution in Haiti toward opportunity for all.

Yes… “One dream can change the world.”

Editor’s Note: Michel DeGraff is a founding member of Haiti’s newly created
Haitian Creole Academy (Akademi Kreyòl Ayisyen).

NSF Spotlight – Revolutionizing Education in Haiti

Revolutionizing Education in Haiti

    For the first time ever, Haitian faculty are using digital resources for active learning in their national language of Haitian Creole (aka “Kreyòl”) for high school and university-level education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Open digital resources created at MIT and elsewhere and translated into Kreyol, are providing portable virtual laboratories to Haitian universities and high schools, most of which do not have access to traditional physical laboratories. Teachers are becoming passionate about active learning and facilitating it in their classrooms for the first time. The Initiative has garnered the support of key stakeholders, including educators at public and private universities throughout the country, alongside the highest echelons of the Haitian government

    Read the full article…

MIT-Haiti Workshops on Technology-Enhanced and Open Education

MIT-Haiti Workshops on Technology-Enhanced and Open Education
Port-au-Prince, Haiti, January 15-17, 2015
Organizers: Haiti’s Ministry of National Education and Professional Training (MENFP) and MIT-Haiti Initiative
Coordinators: Michel DeGraff and Vijay Kumar (MIT) and Paul Mentor (MENFP/MIT-Haiti Bureau)

PDF Workshop Schedule

The MIT-Haiti Initiative and Haiti’s Ministry of National Education and Professional Training (MENFP) are hosting the fifth Technology-Enhanced and Open Education workshop, on January 15-17, 2015 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. This workshop is part of a 5-year project to introduce Haitian faculty (university and high-school professors) to the benefits of using active learning pedagogy, technology and Kreyòl in their classrooms.

The goal of this three-day Workshop is to explore the current views of learning and those pedagogies related to “active learning”. Actively engaging students with the material has been shown to increase students’ motivation and improve their learning outcomes. This introductory workshop will provide participants with a good pedagogical basis for creating lesson objectives that utilize active learning resources and Kreyol. This workshop will have three discipline tracks: mathematics, physics and biology. In addition, there will be a separate track for education administrators.

Specifically, by the end of the workshop, the participants will be able to:

  • Describe best practices for teaching and for student learning
  • Create student learning objectives for an active learning exercise
  • Plan an active learning exercise
  • Describe the formative assessment strategies you will use to measure your active learning exercise
  • Conduct a selected portion of your active learning exercise
  • Develop discipline-related communities of practice to support use of active learning in Kreyol in the classroom
  • Articulate sources of administrative support for use of active learning in Kreyol in the curriculum

Workshop Structure:
Day 1: An introduction to active learning pedagogy and panel discussions with Haitian colleagues around educational change and the support of active learning in Kreyol in the classroom.
Day 2: Participants will work in discipline-based groups (mathematics, physics and biology) to develop their learning objective and active learning exercise. There will be a separate track for educational administrators.
Day 3: Participants will present their active learning exercises to their groups. A closing session will discuss the importance of community building and planning.

Workshop instructors:

Pedagogy: Glenda Stump
Mathematics: Haynes Miller and Jeremy Orloff
Physics: Paul Belony
Biology: Lourdes Aleman and Ruthly François
For administrators: Michel DeGraff and Vijay Kumar

This workshop will have 3 discipline tracks: mathematics, physics and biology. Workshop participants must already have a University Degree in a related field. This is a key requirement since the workshops are design for the introduction and exploration of educational pedagogy, and not content. So it’s important that participants be already fluent with the corresponding disciplines.

Registration is closed:
The deadline for registration was Friday, December 31, 2015. All slots are now filled.

A Creole Solution for Haiti’s Woes

The New York Times – The Opinion Pages

By Michel DeGraff and Molly Ruggles

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — IN a classroom in Port-au-Prince, Chantou, 9, sits silently at her desk. Nervously watching the teacher, she hopes to be invisible. Like most of her 60 classmates, she understands little of the French from the lecture. But if her memorized lesson is not recited with perfect pronunciation and grammar, she may be ridiculed or punished by her teacher.

In a classroom on La Gonâve island, two 9-year-olds, Kelson and Dieuricame, hover over a computer, excitedly playing a math game. Chatting away in their native Haitian Creole (spelled Kreyòl in Haiti), they experiment together and solve problems. When the teacher announces the end of class, they ask, “May we come back later for more?”

The contrast between these two learning environments illustrates a fundamental challenge in Haitian education, one that implicates language and pedagogy, and has contributed to Haiti’s extreme poverty: The authoritarian French model, which makes children struggle to learn in a language they do not speak, still prevails over an alternative model, in which children build skills through active learning in their native Creole.

Creole evolved in the 17th century out of contact among varieties of French and West African languages. Most Creole words have their origins in French, but the languages have distinct grammatical structures and sound patterns; even when their words sound alike, they often have different meanings. Using French to teach Creole speakers, in short, is like using Latin to teach French speakers.

Under the 1987 Constitution, adopted after the overthrow of Jean-Claude Duvalier’s dictatorship, Creole and French have been the two official languages. But at least 95 percent of the population speaks only Creole. For the past two centuries, most communications in government, white-collar business, media and education have been in French. The preference for French has been internalized even by those who have no opportunity to learn the language. Such attitudes have started to change, but too slowly.

When children start school, they are forced to study in French, although there is no pedagogical support for this abrupt transition. As documented in a 2012 government report, most students resort to memorizing letters and sounds without understanding, and end up with low levels of literacy.

Happily, the government of President Michel Martelly, who ran on a platform of universal, free, compulsory education and took office in 2011, has increased access to primary education to 88 percent — up from 47 percent in 1993 and ahead of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. The next hurdle is language. Study after study highlights the importance of using native language to establish the foundations of literacy, numeracy and basic scientific knowledge, with which other academic domains, including the study of French, can be pursued.

A collaborative initiative between M.I.T. and Haiti has produced a collection of Creole resources for science and math. In teacher-training workshops, one teacher told us, “When we teach in Creole, the students ask more questions.” And from a student, “The advantage of learning in Creole is that it is more explicit; it allows us to see more clearly.” At a June 2014 workshop, Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, other officials and M.I.T. faculty members explored the challenges and opportunities facing Haiti with the sophistication and nuance that such a meeting demands: All of the materials were written in Creole.

Creole’s exile from Haitian education is tied to Haiti’s colonial past. Haiti won its independence from France in 1803 after a historic revolution, becoming the first republic governed by formerly enslaved people of African descent. Yet its European legacy is still valued more highly than the African and Creole ingredients of its culture. “What influence can Haiti ever have with its Creole?” the poet Carl Brouard once warned. “Parents, never speak Creole to your children.” The bias toward French keeps the elite’s interests well protected from the needs of the masses. Creole holds the potential to democratize knowledge, and thus liberate the masses from extreme poverty.

This proposed use of Creole in Haiti is akin to René Descartes’s elevation of French as a language for science in 17th-century France. Descartes switched from Latin to make science accessible to the French-speaking populace. French was considered vernacular and inferior, but he legitimized it as an academic language and thus cemented the establishment of the modern French nation. The “Francophonie” movement continues to be a mighty vehicle of French political and economic influence in the world.

A similar story happened in 17th-century Italy, where Galileo was among the first scientists to write in the vernacular instead of Latin. Creole in Haiti can similarly become an academic language, a tool for nation building and an instrument of political and economic progress.

Haiti’s government and civil society have started to come around, by supporting an expansion of the formal, written use of Creole in education and public administration and by legislating the creation of an academy for the promotion of Creole. They recognize that the language is a tool for economic empowerment.

Haitian elites need to catch up, and international aid agencies should support the process, so that Creole can acquire the cultural capital it needs to propel Haiti further along the path toward opportunity for all.

Michel DeGraff is a professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and directs its initiative to promote education in Creole in Haiti. Molly Ruggles is a senior educational technology consultant at M.I.T.

A version of this op-ed appeared online on August 1, 2014, at and in print on August 2, 2014, on page A17 of the New York edition.

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A New Leadership Model for a New Haiti

Prime minister and cabinet members attend leadership workshop with MIT professors.
MIT Sloan School of Management
August 4, 2014

Two MIT professors traveled to Haiti this summer to conduct an intensive leadership workshop with the country’s prime minister, Laurent Lamothe, and more than 50 Haitian government ministers and cabinet members.

MIT Sloan professor Deborah Ancona tailored her Transforming Your Leadership Strategy course from MIT Sloan Executive Education specifically to the needs of Haiti’s top government leaders. The workshop took place June 26-28 in Pétion-Ville, near Port-au-Prince.

“There was the goal of teaching a new language of leadership, the 4-CAP model, to the ministers,” Ancona said. “Another goal was to have people engage in exercises and become more comfortable working with each other. Participants also identified their own leadership signatures, learning their unique ways of leading. On the final day people shared their visions of an emerging Haiti and invented cross-ministry plans to make the visions a reality.”

Read the full article …

Leadership lessons in Haiti

In search of positive change: Deborah Ancona (left), Laurent Lamothe and Michel DeGraff
The poverty-stricken Caribbean country of Haiti faces intense challenges. A World Bank report in 2014 states that Haiti remains the poorest country in the Americas and one of the poorest in the world. Its problems were exacerbated by the devastating earthquake in 2010.

But the government appears to be making genuine efforts to bring about positive change and has even enlisted the help of a US business school. MIT Sloan has been working with the Haitian government and its educators as part of an initiative to tackle economic regeneration, poverty and the modernisation of education.

Deborah Ancona, professor of management at MIT Sloan and director of MIT’s leadership centre, recently ran a leadership workshop for more than 55 members of Haiti’s government, including Laurent Lamothe, the prime minister.

“I was extraordinarily impressed by the officials’ passion and dedication to Haiti,” says Prof Ancona, who ran the two-and-a-half day leadership training workshop in Port-au-Prince.

Read the full article …

MIT launching initiative to help Haiti

[NECN Business] It’s been four years since a devastating earthquake hit Haiti.

Now there’s an initiative at MIT to help the people of Haiti get their economy back on track and to create business and education opportunities.

Michel DeGraff and Deborah Ancona, professors at MIT, say they were inspired to help by helping the country develop a STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – curriculum.

“After the earthquake, the entire school system was destroyed, so we felt that MIT could help Haiti rebuild better by producing better curriculum in STEM,” DeGraff said about the initiative’s start in 2010.

So far, MIT’s initiative has hosted four workshops that have trained more than 100 teachers.

Ancona says there’s also a political leadership component the initiative recently launched.

Watch the video …

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