MIT-Haiti Initiative Uses Haitian Creole to Make Learning Truly Active, Constructive, and Interactive

Chrisla Fleurant (left) and Dieuricarme Rivière (4th graders) enjoying technology-enhanced interactive learning of math in Kreyòl at Lekòl Kominotè Matènwa in La Gonave, Haiti. Credit: Michel DeGraff


Chrisla Fleurant (left) and Dieuricarme Rivière (4th graders) enjoying technology-enhanced interactive learning of math in Kreyòl at Lekòl Kominotè Matènwa in La Gonave, Haiti. Credit: Michel DeGraff



An MIT-Haiti Initiative to modernize and democratize education in Haiti.

Until today, quality education in Haiti has been available only to very few. This is due to brutal socio-economic impediments, including a well-entrenched language barrier: French, the primary language of instruction, is spoken by a tiny élite (no more than 10% and perhaps as low as 3%) whereas Haitian Creole aka “Kreyòl” is the one language spoken by all. In this article, I’d like to share a Haiti story to inspire current efforts to open access to quality education on a global scale.

Once upon a time, in 2010 actually, with the help of colleagues in Haiti and at MIT, we began an MIT-Haiti Initiative to modernize and democratize education in Haiti. Since then, we have been working on the creation, evaluation and dissemination of high-quality digital technologies that use Kreyòl as an indispensable tool for active learning—active learning that is both constructive and interactive. This is the first time that online resources in Kreyòl are being created for science and math at universities and high schools, and we are thankful to MIT, the Wade Fund, the Foundation for Knowledge and Liberty (“FOKAL”) in Port-au-Prince, the Open Society Foundations and the National Science Foundation for their support of this project.

Read the full article …

Go, Haiti, Go!

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.).

Physics resources (PhET) now available in Kreyòl

PhET provides fun, interactive, research-based simulations of physical phenomena for free. To help students visually comprehend concepts, PhET simulations animate what is invisible to the eye through the use of graphics and intuitive controls such as click-and-drag manipulation, sliders and radio buttons. In order to further encourage quantitative exploration, the simulations also offer measurement instruments including rulers, stop-watches, voltmeters and thermometers. As the user manipulates these interactive tools, responses are immediately animated thus effectively illustrating cause-and-effect relationships as well as multiple linked representations (motion of the objects, graphs, number readouts, etc.).

During the January 2013 workshop, the MIT team worked with Haitian faculty to translate a set of PhETs into Haitian Kreyòl. Translated PhETs can be run and downloaded from University of Colorado PhET website.

Ayiti Pare (Haiti is ready)

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

Video by George Zaidan on the MIT-Haiti Initiative which aims to develop, evaluate and disseminate Open Educational Resources in Kreyòl in order to enhance the capacity for Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (“STEM”) teaching and learning in Haiti. This 6-minute video sketches the rationale, methods and aspirations of the Initiative, a project funded mainly by the U.S. National Science Foundation: INSPIRE: Kreyol-based Cyberlearning for a New Perspective on the Teaching of STEM in local Languages and also by MIT, the Wade Fund, the Open Society Foundations, and the Foundation for Knowledge and Liberty (FOKAL) in Haiti.

MIT and Haiti sign agreement to promote Kreyòl-language STEM education

Peter Dizikes, MIT News
April 17, 2013

MIT and Haiti signed a new joint initiative today to promote Kreyòl-language education in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines, part of an effort to help Haitians learn in the language most of them speak at home.

“This government will make every effort to make this initiative a big success,” Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe said at the signing ceremony in MIT’s Vannevar Bush Room. “Haiti is moving forward.”

The project is taking MIT-developed and technologically based open education resources, translating those materials into Kreyòl, disseminating them in Haiti, and evaluating the materials’ effectiveness. The work is being done in conjunction with professors and educators from a variety of institutions in Haiti, including the State University of Haiti, Université Caraïbe, École Supérieure d’Infotronique d’Haïti, Université Quisqueya, NATCOM and the Foundation for Knowledge and Liberty.

“MIT folks are very collaborative,” MIT Provost Chris Kaiser said at the event. The initiative, he added, represented MIT’s “desire to do good in the world.”

The idea that more Haitian education should occur in Kreyòl is a longtime belief of MIT linguistics professor Michel DeGraff, a native of Haiti, who has contended that Kreyòl has been improperly marginalized in the Haitian classroom. DeGraff’s extensive research on public perceptions of Kreyòl, and on the language itself, has led him to assert that its perception as a kind of exceptionally simplified hybrid tongue, in comparison to English or French, unfairly diminishes the language.

The initiative is meant not to replace French, DeGraff added, but to help Kreyòl-speaking students “build a solid foundation in their own language.”

The technology-based open education resources, he noted, are meant to promote “active learning,” as opposed to drill-based rote learning techniques.

The initiative is being funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation and by MIT.

Alongside DeGraff, the project has been developed with the guidance of Vijay Kumar, a principal investigator of the MIT-Haiti Initiative for Kreyòl-based and technology-enhanced STEM education and director of the MIT Office of Educational Innovation and Technology, and Thomas Kochan, the George Maverick Bunker Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management and co-director of MIT’s Initiatives in Haiti, coordinating such efforts across the Institute.

New educational resources are badly needed in Haiti, especially after the January 2010 earthquake that devastated the country, Lamothe noted. Rebuilding with Kreyòl-language educational tools will help provide “access to quality education for all,” given that 97 percent of Haitians speak Kreyòl. About 50 percent of Haitians have an income of less than $1 per day.

Lamothe added: “The most productive partnership for Haiti [is] about empowering Haitians to fly with their own wings.”

Reprinted with permission of MIT News. Photos Courtesy of Dominick Reuter.

From left to right: Director of MIT's Office of Educational Innovation and Technology Vijay Kumar, MIT Provost Chris Kaiser, Haiti Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, MIT Linguistics Professor Michel DeGraff and Haiti Minister of National Education and Vocational Training Vanneur Pierre at the signing of a joint commitment to an initiative for digital learning in Kreyòl.

From left to right: Director of MIT’s Office of Educational Innovation and Technology Vijay Kumar, MIT Provost Chris Kaiser, Haiti Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, MIT Linguistics Professor Michel DeGraff and Haiti Minister of National Education and Vocational Training Vanneur Pierre at the signing of a joint commitment to an initiative for digital learning in Kreyòl.

Photos Courtesy of Dominick Reuter

January 2013 Workshops

MIT hosted workshops on technology-enhanced and open education from January 16–19, 2013 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

This is the second of a 5-year series of workshops whose main goal is to implement and evaluate faculty- and curriculum-development activities based on Kreyòl-based Open Education Resources for science and math courses in Haitian schools and universities. How can these resources be most constructively used to improve science and math courses in Haiti? How can similar resources be designed in situ by educators in Haiti and become fully functional and sustainable?

These workshops are based on specific samples of courses and resources from MIT. This time around, the sample will consist of workshops in math (differential equations), physics (electro-magnetism, electric circuits and Newtonian mechanics) and biology (biochemistry and genetics). To help achieve full mastery of the materials, we will organize hands-on exercises based on them. We will also use this opportunity to develop a long-term evaluation plan in collaboration with our colleagues in Haiti.

An MIT–Haiti Initiative Toward Active Learning for All

MIT Professor of Linguistics Michel DeGraff and Dr. M.S. Vijay Kumar of the Office of Educational Innovation and Technology presented on the MIT-Haiti Initiative at the Globally Engaged MIT Symposium on September 20, 2012. The symposium focused on how “MIT’s history of changing the world through community and global engagement has led to new collaborations, educational programs, research, scholarship, and service opportunities across all disciplines and departments.”

Q&A with Michel DeGraff

Workshop with Haitian professors of physics and biology

Photo Courtesy of Michel DeGraff

Workshop with Haitian professors of physics and biology

Kathryn O’Neill of the MIT School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences writes:

Recipient of $1m NSF grant for linguistics research, and development
of active-learning resources for science and math in Kreyòl

Ki fèk reservwa $1 milyon nan men NSF pou rechèch lengwistik epi pou
kreyasyon zouti pou aprantisaj aktif syans ak matematik an kreyòl

MIT Associate Professor of Linguistics Michel DeGraff recently received a one million-dollar grant from the National Science Foundation for his linguistics research in Haiti, which includes developing classroom tools to teach science and math in Haitian Creole (Kreyòl) for the first time. We spoke with him about his vision for the research, about the Kreyòl language, and the future of education in Haiti.

Read the full article…

Also appears in MIT News, Q&A: Michel DeGraff on teaching STEM in Kreyòl: A model for reaching science-hungry students around the world who speak local languages.

MIT-Haiti team receives funding for Kreyòl-based STEM Cyberlearning

Michel DeGraff

Credit: Brandon Muramatsu

Michel DeGraff

Michel Degraff, Associate Professor of Linguistics, is pleased to announce that the team from MIT has been successful in winning a significant five-year grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation to, ‘help those whose mother tongue is a language that does not include scientific and technological terminology to nonetheless learn STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] content and practices well.’

The grant will enable faculty and researchers from MIT to create ‘a set of Haitian Creole-based, technology-enabled active-learning resources for STEM higher education in Haiti.’

Prof. Degraff says:

“This NSF grant is a fantastic opportunity. It’s going to help transform higher education in Haiti through Open Education Resources in Haitian Creole. Thanks to groundbreaking teamwork among faculty and education leaders at MIT and Haiti, the Office of Educational Technology & Innovation and the Teaching & Learning Lab, we are introducing and evaluating Haitian Creole-based content in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (“STEM”). We are doing this with new active-learning pedagogies through educational technologies developed at MIT, such as STAR for Biology, TEAL for Physics, Mathlets for Math and Educational Games. By using online Open Resources, we’re making these materials available to the largest possible audience in Haiti. These resources match the needs identified by our partners and colleagues in Haiti. And we are introducing these resources with an essential ingredient: Haitian Creole—the one language that all Haitians are fluent in. As far as I know, this is the first initiative ever to introduce online Kreyòl materials for advanced STEM in higher education in Haiti.”

In addition, ‘a variety of fundamental research questions are being addressed, pertaining to (i) the effects, impacts, and challenges of creating opportunities to learn in one’s mother tongue, especially when it does not already contain relevant vocabulary (ii) the creation and diffusion of scientific and technical vocabulary in languages without technical words, called ‘language engineering’, (iii) technical and socio-technical issues in adapting and incorporating learning technologies into the learning environments of underserved populations.’

And there are larger potential rewards. Prof. Degraff continues:

“There are millions of other students worldwide who speak local languages, like Haitian Creole, and who are thirsty for science, as in Haiti. Our project will thus serve as a model beyond Haiti. Furthermore our project illustrates the potential for scientists, engineers and humanists to collaborate and bring out our best in addressing enduring problems of the world.”

MIT Visit in Le Nouvelliste

The recent workshop hosted by MIT was written about in one of the main Haitian newspapers Le Nouvelliste:

Une équipe de sept professeurs du Massachussetts Institute of Technology a organisé deux journées de formation pour de 54 professeurs de biologie et de physique les 29 et 30 mars 2012. Cette initiative vise à rendre l’éducation plus pratique et plus moderne, selon le professeur de linguistique Michel DeGraff.

Read more … Pour une éducation pratique et moderne

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