BLOSSOMS module “Can Earthquakes be Predicted” by Zach Adam of Teachers Without Borders, translated by Yvon Lamour (Cambridge Public School District) and Michel DeGraff (MIT), and with Kreyòl voiceover by Yvon Lamour.
Jacky Lumarque points Symposium participants at this article as the starting point for his presentation.
Ten days after the earthquake, Quisqueya had organized a volunteer system. First the medical students set up in a tent on the parking lot. They were supervised initially by their teachers, then by a team of Slovak doctors who arrived with medicine and equipment looking for somewhere to work. Then the students set up a mobile clinic. After that came fresh water distribution points. The engineering and environmental students went out into the streets, helped people organize themselves into committees to manage the improvised camps as well as introducing work on zoning, sanitation and waste management. The university became a giant volunteering machine!
… I said to them: “The street is your university now”.
At the weekend students gathered with their teachers to formalize the non-formal education they had been getting during the week, or to put theory on the practice. We are working on a system to give them academic credits for this work. It changed the paradigm of education for them. They realised that further education doesn’t have to be one-way, that it doesn’t have to take place within four walls with an all-knowing teacher dispensing knowledge. With the volunteering initiative, knowledge is acquired in the street and the teacher accompanies the process. We are de-institutionalising knowledge.EduInfo. (2010). Jacky Lumarque: Haitian university rector, innovator and agitator. Retrieved October 18, 2010 from UNESCO Website: http://www.unesco.org/en/education/dynamic-content-single-view/news/jacky_lumarque_haitian_university_rector_innovator_and_agitator/back/9195/cHash/b31a5338b7/
“I believe the role of the university is to create opportunity, pure and simple. We create opportunity for young people, for cities, and nations … And people everywhere need opportunity. ”Charles M. Vest
Jean-Marie Théodat provides new perspectives on basic and higher education programs in Haiti.
One of the major challenges our generation is facing in Haiti is the lack of education and human resources in the rebuilding of a sustainable society. Traditionally Haiti has been counting on foreign countries for the definition of its higher education framework. During the 18th and 19th century, Haitian students who could afford it would usually go to France to study, then come back home with their diplomas. Since then we have not managed to create an efficient higher education system in the country.
Nowadays the situation is even worse. Much in our higher education system depends on foreign help. The same goes for primary and secondary schools: among the élites, many children leave the country with one or sometimes both parents in order to find better schooling in foreign lands. This situation makes it even more likely for them to stay abroad after their education and put their knowledge and competence at the service of the countries where they studied. In order to build a better future for the country, we must fight against this trend and provide Haitian students with a quality education at home. How can this goal be reached?
Obviously, there is a lack of pedagogical in both Creole and French—Haiti’s two official languages. Furthermore a recent survey shows that only 5% of Haitian teachers master French—the language that is most widely used in the Haitian education system.
There is a new Creole adjective, coined by Haitian scholar Enock Franklin, to convey the idea that we, Haitians, are « pokofòn », that is, « not yet speakers ». By and large, we master neither Creole or French: we speak but barely can write Creole, while we write but hardly speak French.
This is one of the most difficult challenges that our country must overcome in order to move forward and achieve sustainable development.
My proposal is to take advantage of the existence of a network called CLAC (Centre de Lecture et d’Action Culturelle) in order to promote both Creole and French by putting within the reach of a large public the very rich oral heritage of the former and current troubadours who are the shepherds of a long artistic tradition. The collective memory of our culture is in delicate balance on a scale where literature is given most prominence. “Oraliture” is the less prestigious, yet most sensitive, scale that keeps our culture in balance. Thus, let’s give Haitian oraliture the opportunity to enter the CLAC by translating in both languages the lyrics of the most popular Haitian songs that have been composed since the 17th century.
Besides, it’s time to translate other universal treasures that are still inaccessible to Haitian Creole speakers. Most Haitian authors have written in French. Let’s translate their texts into Creole so they can be read in both languages. As we do this, we shall find a way to enhance the level of education of the general population by involving civil society in the promotion of a global culture that would be based, not only on foreign tools and values, but also on local contents and know-hows.
A French and Creole encyclopedia should be constructed to provide the basic knowledge any student needs in order to help build a more responsible citizenry in Haiti. Mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, etc., must be made fully accessible to students. For now, most Haitian students are not properly taught any of this. Indeed, most teachers lack basic competence in the main tool that is imposed on them for their trade, namely the French language. There is, therefore, an urgent need for a new perspective on education in Haiti—one that we hope can be promoted by, among other means, technology-enhanced pedagogies.
As a proof-of-concept, OCW collaborated with Université Caraïbe, Mr. Menès Dejoie (Haitian Educators League for Progress), and Professors Alfred Noël (UMass-Boston) and Michel DeGraff (MIT) to produce a translated caption file for a lecture in MIT’s 18.01 Single Variable Calculus. We have embedded OCW’s site here–you can also view the full site.
We asked participants from Haiti to describe:
What projects would you like to help sustain or help initiate and develop through your participation in the symposium and through subsequent partnerships between MIT and Haitian academic institutions?
A number of the participants responded:
Lyonel Sanon describes the details of the joint creation of an e-learning platform for Haitian universities.
The Faculty of Applied Linguistics (FLA) would like to work with U.S. universities to create e-learning platforms.
Such platforms could be used for the following:
- Distance learning
- Online courses and course materials
- Workshops for the creation of educational technology applications and pedagogical materials in Kreyòl, etc.
For an optimal use of innovative information and communication technologies, the FLA would like:
- That each teacher has a personal email address from an institutional server. This would give every professor an Internet presence and would allow exchanges between specialists working in related fields in Haiti and abroad.
- That each student has personal access through an ID and password to a virtual
FOKAL’s library program aims at assisting partner community libraries all over Haiti with funding and training in order to make them as effective as possible for their respective communities. The training for those libraries aims at strengthening and improving the skills of the libraries’ clerks, technicians and directors. Since 2003, a training program was set by FOKAL. This training required that the participants come to FOKAL’s headquarter in Port-au-Prince to attend class. That raised problems of distance and availability for the students. Since 2008, in order to address these problems, the library program has put in place an LMS (Learning Management System) in order to offer a distance-learning program to the libraries. The LMS (Moodle 1.9 last stable version) is already online. We are working right now on the contents. We plan to start next year.
We are very interested in supporting projects related to the following axes:
a) distance-learning trainings and programs;
b) technical assistance and trainings in university administration;
c) labs: mostly for science, computers and languages (they could be in temporary shelters)
d) exchange programs between MIT and Haitian universities
MIT Prof. Michel DeGraff describes his hopes for MIT’s involvement in helping to rebuild the educational infrastructure in Haiti.
Most Haitians I know have a precise and often tragic story about what they were doing when the earthquake hit on Tuesday, January 12, 2010, at 4:53PM.
In my case the story is not so tragic, yet it seems relevant to the agenda of this symposium: I was in my office at MIT on a long-distance phone call with Haiti, talking with my dear friend and linguistics colleague Professor Yves Dejean (“Papa Iv”). Like many previous conversations with Papa Iv, our conversation that day was about various efforts to improve education in Haiti and break down the country’s language barrier whereby French, spoken by a small minority of Haitians, is used as an instrument for “élite closure” to the detriment of the vast majority of Haitians—those who speak Kreyòl only. Our conversation was abruptly interrupted. At that time I just thought it was a bad phone line or faulty signal. I tried to call back several times, then I gave up and went to pick up my son Nuriel at afterschool. When I came back home with Nuriel, I got a phone call from another Haitian friend, calling from New Jersey with dramatic news of the earthquake.
And it took me a couple of weeks to have a full account of the losses and damages incurred by my family, relatives, friends and colleagues in Haiti. At 82 years of age, Professor Dejean himself fared well–his life and the lives of his household members were spared and his home still stands. But their lucky fate stands in sharp contrast with that of so many in Haiti. And when it comes to education, most academic establishments in Port-au-Prince crumbled. As for Haiti’s main linguistics institution, the Faculté de Linguistique Appliquée (FLA), its building in Port-au-Prince totally pancaked in the earthquake, killing more than 200 affiliates, including the dean of the linguistics faculty, the vice-dean, alongside professors, students and staff. The FLA is the institution that has been hit the hardest among the academic units of Haiti’s State University, and this is an institution that myself as a linguist I had and still have many ties with.
Also lost in the rubble is most of the FLA’s library, its precious archives and documentation, its computer labs and so on. Our linguistics colleagues in Haiti are still grieving, but they are already on their courageous way toward building a better linguistics program on new grounds (literally and figuratively). It’s been an inspiration to witness how our FLA colleagues, along with other compatriots, are already working on curriculum reform, faculty development, new infrastructure and library resources, partnerships with universities abroad, etc. They dream, and are working hard toward, a linguistics program that will be better than the one that existed before the earthquake. The FLA linguists—professors and students alike—are hoping that the reconstruction of their institution will allow it to leapfrog into the 21st century. And similar hopes prevail throughout academic institutions in Haiti.
I am optimistic that the leapfrogging of Haitian schools and universities into the 21st century will have a major impact on the socio-economic landscape of the country as a whole. As for Haitian linguists, they have a key role to play in the future training of educators, teachers, language planners, etc. By and large, FLA linguists have a deep understanding of Haiti’s socio-linguistic situation and how language attitudes and language policies affect educational and economic opportunities. So they have much to contribute to efforts that enlist Haiti’s linguistic and cultural assets toward a level-playing field—one where Haiti’s national language of Kreyòl can become an effective instrument to promote socio-economic progress for the general population.
In a related vein, one constant theme across conversations with university colleagues at the FLA and at other academic institutions in Haiti is the need for technology-enabled tools for easier access to course materials, research documents, etc., and for collaboration with overseas partners. It’s ironic that Haitian Creole is among the best studied Creole languages, and Haitian Creole data have been used for some rather spectacular and momentous theoretical claims about the human mind’s capacity for Language. Yet many descriptions of Haitian Creole suffer from substantial empirical gaps and theoretical fallacies. This state of affairs can be improved with more active contribution from the Kreyòl linguistics experts at the FLA. These are the linguists who have most intimate and reliable knowledge of Kreyòl linguistics structures. Yet it is ironic that Haitian Creole still holds little academic respect in Haiti and that the FLA linguists themselves have had relatively little opportunity to contribute to the Kreyòl-related scientific debates in international research journals.
So here’s another silver lining to the current tragedy in post-earthquake Haiti: The use of innovative educational technology and open resources—partnerships of the sort that we will discuss at the MIT-Haiti symposium—will create productive partnerships between MIT faculty and Haitian universities. These partnerships will help bridge the gap between FLA linguists and the global linguistics research community. The latter has so much to benefit, in scientific terms, from the FLA linguists’s first-hand empirical and theoretical insights on Haitian Creole. In turn, these partnerships will help endow Kreyòl with much increased cultural and scientific capital—of the sort that may increase its value on Haiti’s linguistic market and help further undermine Haiti’s language barrier.
Such partnerships would thus constitute one beautiful example, among others, where working with Haitian universities through collaboration based on mutual respect holds great promise for the common social and scientific good—across the North-South divide.
For the last 2 years, Educatech has provided for its classrooms what we call a “numeric room” that includes interactive boards, projectors, a laptop for the teacher, and twenty-five to thirty Intel Classmate PCs for students. Most schools added a router and an internet connection–although the bandwidth was only 64kbps, but this is what they could afford. We encouraged them to use Skype for interaction with other schools throughout the country. But with Haiti’s slow internet connections this suggestion was not straightforward to implement.
However, we found that having technology in a school is not enough. We learned that adequate content is needed. Right from the start we searched the internet to find free software in French for education. But we found that there isn’t much that’s available. Furthermore, ninety-nine percent of schools in Haiti do not have a library—we have been trying our best to help schools understand the importance of having a library. We bought a volume license from Microsoft for the use of the Encarta encyclopedia since it could be used offline. We also encouraged the schools to use UNESCO’s online library that has more then 18,000 books. We created a CD with useful information concerning education, software for math, physics, English, etc. and we gave the CD to the schools for free, and included a reference guide with useful tips for the CD’s integration in the curriculum.
Educatech’s vision is to offer to the population digital learning materials whether in French or Creole. We’ve had many meetings with “Imprimerie Deschamps” [the main publisher of educational contents in Haiti] to convince them to create a website that will give access to all the educational books in their system from kindergarten to university. The idea will be that a student would pay a flat fee of US$25 for the year with a pin number that will allow them to use all the books for their school year from October to July. The Imprimerie Desschamps is studying the possibilities. We hope to eventually work with them to make it happen. Deschamps gets an annual subvention from the government, and we have encouraged them to apply those funds to the purchase of servers, to pay their authors, and to use the balance to encourage other writers to produce new contents in Creole. If we are unable to convince them to implement a program like this, Educatech will evaluate whether to develop our own contents and share it with the schools.
We are also planning the development of software in creole. This is very important: the penetration of the cellular phones is now at 40 percent, and apps for education could be used on the cell phones as well, which would be especially useful for the remote regions of Haiti.
Something else that we are looking into is how to create “Creole technology lexicon”. To do this we would need to set up a team of linguists, technicians and historians to create a database and share it with the entire Haitian community.
We believe that MIT could help Educatech achieve this vision, whether by sharing MIT’s previous educational initiatives in other countries, its expertise in developing digital learning materials or through access to MITs library and courses.