Public Discussion

  • Icon for: Neil Plotnick

    Neil Plotnick

    Facilitator
    May 11, 2015 | 09:00 a.m.

    As a teacher who works with many students from Haiti, I wonder how to translate resources into Haitian Creole for some of the materials that I introduce in classes. How did you get the software translation done?

  • Icon for: Michel DeGraff

    Michel DeGraff

    Presenter
    May 11, 2015 | 11:13 p.m.

    Thank you for your question. Of course, this is a key question, and a fascinating one from a linguistics perspective, as this project is enriching the Haitian Creole lexicon with new terms for STEM. And in so doing, we’re deepening our understanding of scientific concepts—on both our part here at MIT and on the part of our colleagues in Haiti. This is another win-win aspect of this Initiative. In our experience through the MIT-Haiti Initiative, the best translation happens in collaboration and with several passes at revisions, including revisions during workshops based on feedback from Haitian STEM faculty. Some of the technical terms have to be invented and tried out, since this is the first time that the language is used for the production of materials in advanced STEM disciplines. Our translation team includes professional translators, professional linguists and STEM faculty who are native Kreyòl speakers—both in the U.S. and in Haiti, and a couple of them are members of the newly created Haitian Creole Academy. Two of the translation companies that we’ve used are http://creoletrans.com/ and http://www.stemtranslation.com/

  • Icon for: Jessica Hunt

    Jessica Hunt

    Facilitator
    May 11, 2015 | 01:27 p.m.

    I noticed in your presentation that you reference two challenges to education in Haiti (i.e., Language barrier and Outdated pedagogy). I am wondering if you can say more about how these educational challenges have impacted the work you are doing in your project specifically along with processes you have found helpful in addressing the challenges. I also wonder about the different affordances of the interactive visuals and simulations used in your project in terms of meeting the broader educational challenges you discuss.

  • Icon for: Michel DeGraff

    Michel DeGraff

    Presenter
    May 12, 2015 | 12:26 a.m.

    Thank you for these penetrating questions. The concerns about language barrier and outdated technology are, indeed, at the core of our project.

    THE FIRST CHALLENGE, LANGUAGETHIS IS A BIG ONE:

    In some quarters in Haiti, we still face age-old prejudices against Kreyòl—for example, the erroneous, but well entrenched, beliefs that Kreyòl is “broken French” and cannot express complex thoughts, and that it will isolate Haiti from the rest of the world. Many of these beliefs are consequences of Haiti’s colonial history and of the use of language and education for “elite closure” instead of national development. With such history and social dynamics in mind, what we’ve found most helpful is the enthusiastic participation of a strong cohort of well-respected teachers. Our Initiative has now interacted with some 200 Haitian faculty and government officials, and within that group we’ve found very strong agreement with the proposition that using Kreyòl as the language of education is critically important for improving access and quality in STEM education, and also as a tool for learning international languages such as French, English, etc. To a certain extent our participants are a self-selected group, but faculty commitment to addressing this challenge does not seem to be lacking. A longer-term problem is the relative dearth of textbooks in Kreyòl, especially at the more advanced levels of STEM disciplines. Another issue is a current lack of general agreement on the Kreyòl equivalents for technical terminology. We have been working on those challenges, in collaboration with Haitian faculty and with our linguists and translators. The recent inauguration of the Haitian Creole Academy is going to help with the creation and standardization of new Kreyòl terminology for STEM. There’s also the important contribution of the Haitian government, especially the Ministry of Education, which is committed to increasing the use of Kreyòl in the schools.

    THE SECOND, OUTDATED PEDAGOGY AND TEXTBOOKS:

    In collaboration with our colleagues in Haiti, we have been developing material whose intent is to disrupt the traditional authoritarian teacher model. Our material puts student-centered experience in front. You can see some of it in use in the showcase video. Technology helps in this. There are still lots of obstacles, including expectations of parents and administrators, and of course habits of faculty. Like here at MIT, faculty in Haiti too are often set in their ways. But we’re fortunate that many of our colleagues in Haiti are true pioneers and are willing to make the best of this opportunity.

    There’s another challenge as well: rigid and outdated syllabus. This is maybe the hardest one of all. It’s embedded in the textbooks. Just translating them into Kreyòl would be a disservice. There are many reasons why stakeholders may favor syllabus which is inaccessible or meaningless to students, not only because of language barriers but also because of motivational barriers. One of us (Michel DeGraff) is a member of a governmental commission charged with reviewing educational strategies in Haiti (the National Commission for Curricular Reform), and we are hoping to contribute to the process of bringing the syllabus closer to the needs and profiles of the students.

    LASTLY, THE AFFORDANCES OF THE INTERACTIVE MATERIALS:

    The technological infrastructure varies greatly from institution to institution. But there’s a trend for technology to be more fully integrated in the Haitian school system and the entire country. When I was growing up in Haiti in the 1970s, only a few better-off families had phones (landline phones). Today, cellphones are ubiquitous. Most of the younger faculty have access to laptops. Here too, the Ministry of National Education and the major telecommunications companies have been quite supportive: the new public high-schools being built are being provided with computer labs, and the more established universities have Internet access and computer labs. So our hope is that the technology won’t be any roadblock, and that Haiti will indeed be able to leapfrog into 21st century, like we did with cellphones.

  • Icon for: Jessica Hunt

    Jessica Hunt

    Facilitator
    May 12, 2015 | 01:00 p.m.

    Thanks so much for this illumination! It really speaks to the promise and transformative nature of your work.

  • Icon for: Joseph (Joe) Gardella

    Joseph (Joe) Gardella

    Facilitator
    May 11, 2015 | 04:37 p.m.

    I would also be interested in the ability to translate middle and high school curricula, lesson plans and other materials for immigrant/refugee students from Haiti.

  • Icon for: Michel DeGraff

    Michel DeGraff

    Presenter
    May 12, 2015 | 12:27 a.m.

    Thank you for your question. Two of the translation companies that we use, alongside professional linguists and Kreyòl-speaking teachers of STEM discipines, are: http://creoletrans.com/ and http://www.stemtranslation.com/ See my answer above (to Neil Plotnick) for more details on our methodology for translation.

  • Icon for: Neil Plotnick

    Neil Plotnick

    Facilitator
    May 13, 2015 | 07:32 p.m.

    My college roommate at SUNY-Binghamton (around 1981) was born in Haiti. Josh came to the US when he was in High School. He told me that his education was in French, not Kreyol. Today we provide bi-lingual dictionaries for students from Haitian backgrounds. Some homes report French and others Kreyol. As you wrote, “In some quarters in Haiti, we still face age-old prejudices against Kreyòl—for example, the erroneous, but well entrenched, beliefs that Kreyòl is “broken French” and cannot express complex thoughts, and that it will isolate Haiti from the rest of the world. Many of these beliefs are consequences of Haiti’s colonial history and of the use of language and education for “elite closure” instead of national development.” I remember learning that there was a debate when Israel was founded to make Hebrew the official language. Most of those living there did not speak Hebrew except for prayer. Yet, it developed into a modern language with contemporary literature, music and all other cultural expression. I will be sharing this with my peers and students.

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    Isabelle Barriere

    Guest
    May 15, 2015 | 07:31 a.m.

    Good morning Mr. Plotnick, I just wanted to correct an inaccuracy in your statement that has become a wide psread belief and contributed to the myth of the “quick (re) emergence” of Hebrew as an everyday language. Actually the decision to make Hebrew the official language of Israel was made before Israel was founded. One of the key event at which the issue was debated was the International Yiddish Conference held in Czernowic is 1908 (Joshua Fishman who passed away a short while ago has written much about this) and in the years that followed many Jewish schools across Europe (including those run by l’Alliance Israelite) replaced the teaching of other Jewish languages with the teaching of Hebrew (e.g. Judeo-Spanish stopped being taught in Jewish schools in Thessaloniki- see the relatively recent Jewish Museum and its website for documentation) so by the time Israel was founded, much of what was needed for Education, the development of a literature etc was already in place, made possible by schools and funding that supported them. I am making this point point not for the sake of it but because it is important not to underestimate the work and resources (financial, human etc) involved in turning a liturgical language into a modern language used as a vernacular and in education etc (as in the case of Hebrew) or a vernacular language still marginalized in Education etc into an all purpose modern language (as in the case of Haitian Creole)

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    Gerald Desrivieres

    Guest
    May 11, 2015 | 09:54 p.m.

    It is real good initiative and I also hope that they keep as a legacy.

  • Icon for: Michel DeGraff

    Michel DeGraff

    Presenter
    May 12, 2015 | 12:28 a.m.

    Thank you for your encouragement. We too hope that this Initiative will bear long-term fruit for current and future generations of Haitian students.

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    Jean Celiscar

    Guest
    May 11, 2015 | 11:21 p.m.

    As someone who gets my education in Haiti. It was really hard for me to understand everything especially when your teachers don’t really speaks the language they are teaching on. I personally think that it’s a crime against Haitians. Haitians speak Creole. Haitians should learn in Creole. I don’t have any problem with French but I think it should be just a class instead of the language of teaching. I stand with the initiative.

  • Icon for: Michel DeGraff

    Michel DeGraff

    Presenter
    May 14, 2015 | 02:32 p.m.

    Thank you for sharing your traumatic experience. Sadly, your trauma, and even worst, has been experienced by most Haitian children.

    I still remember some of my classmates who were unable to speak in class because they were terrified of making mistakes in their French. Some of these mistakes (“bouch sirèt”, i.e., pronouncing certain French words with a Kreyòl accent) would trigger ridicule and shame. How can a child learn and become creative amidst such psychological abuse through language?

    My own personal experience and fieldwork in Haiti suggest that most Haitian children are traumatized by their school experience, especially by their encounter of French texts that they must memorize by rote, in a language that they barely speak, if at all. Then, there’s the (implicit or explicit) disdain expressed in the schools toward the one language (Kreyòl) that is spoken by the students’ families, communities, etc.—the language at the core of their identity. And after 13 years of classes in French, the lucky ones who enter universities are offered … “remedial French” classes at university!

    Really, this is a nightmare from a modern pedagogical and mental-health perspective, with students academically dysfunctional adequately in either language (Kreyòl and French).

    To make a long and sad story short, your suggestion is exactly right: the best approach, for the majority of Haitian students (those who speak Kreyòl only), is to teach French as a second language, with the right methods and materials. There’s great value in teaching French language and French literature—both of which are important parts of Haiti’s cultural heritage. Yet, the schools (and the State) must practice and instill a psychologically and sociologically healthy and constructive set of attitudes toward the country’s TWO official languages, with Kreyòl viewed, not as “broken French,” but as a valid national language that can duly serve as the main language of instruction, especially for the vast majority of Haitian children whose everyday communal language is Kreyòl.

    This video showcase is an opportunity to raise awareness around this issue. So let’s make the best of it. Please let all your friends and your friends’ friends, etc., know about it.
    Mèsi anpil!

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    Isabelle Barriere

    Guest
    May 15, 2015 | 08:03 a.m.

    Good morning, I have two questions:
    1. In the context of a course I teach on Bilingual/Multicultural assessment to a class that includes Haitian Creole speaking students (who pass the NYC Haitian Creole exam so they are able to read and write HC- at least at an intermediate level), I would like them to read about pedagogy, learning etc in HC: do you have a publication that reflects the content of the slide presentation ’http://web.mit.edu/linguistics/people/faculty/d...
    2. We motivate the participants of our study on the acquisition of HC and their parents by giving them books in HC, for free (thanks to the support for NSF). Many parents ignore that such books exist. By doing this we have been supporting local Brooklyn and other US-based authors who write in HC. You mention places that publish books for children in HC in Haiti in your presentation: we would be happy to broaden the scope of the books we give away and support these efforts but I am not sure how I can order them. Thanks in advance

  • Icon for: Michel DeGraff

    Michel DeGraff

    Presenter
    May 15, 2015 | 11:12 p.m.

    Two good questions. Thank you!

    1. There’s one paper I wrote, in Kreyòl, that covers related issues. That paper is in the proceedings of the conference organized toward the establishment of the Akademi Kreyòl Ayisyen (Haitian Creole Academy) and there’s an online version on my MIT website:

    http://web.mit.edu/linguistics/people/faculty/d...

    2. Here are some websites where you can order books online:

    http://www.educavision.com

    http://lactionsociale.com/catalogue.php

    http://www.editionsuniversitecaraibe.com/

    http://www.cidihca.com/publications_vente.php

    http://www.librerimapou.com

    http://www.editionskonbit.com/

    I hope this helps.

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    Marie Degraff

    Guest
    May 12, 2015 | 03:31 a.m.

    Good initiative! Congratulations….

  • Icon for: Michel DeGraff

    Michel DeGraff

    Presenter
    May 12, 2015 | 06:40 a.m.

    Mèsi anpil! Thank you so much. The MIT-Haiti team so appreciates the support—near and far. Men anpil, chay pa lou = The teamwork makes the load lighter—and so much fun too as we’re breaking new grounds for the future of Haiti and creating a new model for local language for global impact. N ap vanse.

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    Jocelyne Mayas

    Guest
    May 12, 2015 | 09:49 a.m.

    Congratulations! I waited long enough for such miracle Amen!!! I do the best I can with resources that I do not have. Mèsi pwofesè Degraff pou inisyativ sa a. Mwen kontan anpil, m ap lapryè pou ou e m ap lapryè tou pou mwen kapab la pou m wè mèvèy sa a. Konpliman e kouraj frè m.

  • Icon for: Michel DeGraff

    Michel DeGraff

    Presenter
    May 13, 2015 | 04:50 p.m.

    Mèsi anpil. M apresye bèl ankourajman sa a. Mwen konnen jan ou menm tou ap kontribye pou mèvèy sa a tounen yon reyalite nan peyi nou

    =

    Thank you so much! I do appreciate this wonderful encouragement. And I know of your own efforts to make this dream a reality in Haiti.

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    Salikoko Mufwene

    Guest
    May 12, 2015 | 10:02 a.m.

    You are really doing a great job in pioneering, in Kreol, this modern technology-aided teaching style. Congratulations! I am impressed that the approach is comprehensive, also concerned with the actual contents of the syllabus. I hope you will receive continuous funding to carry it through and the government of Haiti will invest in this venture. It is for the good of Haitian citizens.

  • Icon for: Michel DeGraff

    Michel DeGraff

    Presenter
    May 13, 2015 | 05:13 p.m.

    Thank you!!! You’ve put your finger on one of the key ingredients for long-term success: continuous investment and support from the Haitian government.

    So far we’ve been lucky on that front, as documented by a formal agreement in 2013 with Haiti’s Prime Minister and the Minister of Education and by ongoing support by the Ministry, some of which you can hear about in the video—from Minister Nesmy Manigat.

    But, as you know, negative attitudes against Kreyòl are deeply rooted in a long history of colonial and neo-colonialism which still militates against Kreyòl and in favor of French, even though a systematic use of Kreyòl is a necessary condition for mastery of French and every other subject in most Haitian schools—whose students are typically immersed in Kreyòl-speaking communities. Because of this long history of anti-Kreyòl prejudices, a strong and clear political will is so much needed, along with long-term commitments for funding by the government itself. This is not always easy to find, especially not in an election year like the one we currently have in Haiti. Meanwhile, the MIT-Haiti Initiative is making the best of all the support we have—from NSF and also from the Ministry of Education.

    On the political front: Haiti will have a new president in 2016, and France is still pushing hard, VERY hard, for French to remain the main language of instruction in Haiti. This is a disservice to a young and impoverished, but knowledge-thirsty, Haitian population that mostly doesn’t speak French. But France is pushing its own interests on Haiti with lots of political and financial might, as could be heard from a speech by President François Hollande, just yesterday (May 12). So who knows where the political winds around will blow next year. But our reading of civil society, especially of the teachers, is that the support is strong for an increased use of modern pedagogy that does enlist the use of the national language of Kreyòl for greater access to quality education. So there’s reason to be hopeful.

    Thank you for raising such an important, if sobering, issue.

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    Dorla White-Simpson

    Guest
    May 12, 2015 | 10:11 a.m.

    Great information.

  • Icon for: Michel DeGraff

    Michel DeGraff

    Presenter
    May 15, 2015 | 11:13 p.m.

    So happy you find this helpful! :-)

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    Jean-Claude Sanon

    Guest
    May 12, 2015 | 01:44 p.m.

    It was language confusion at the Tower of Babble that brought our world to what it is today? A confusing and disconnect world with language barriers surrounded. In Haiti, language confusion and barriers have also led our country to the same tale. If every Haitian allows the Haitian Creole to take its place in our society, maybe the next generation could turn our chaos situation into a successful one! Kudos to you and MIT for going ahead with such a promising adventure!

  • Icon for: Michel DeGraff

    Michel DeGraff

    Presenter
    May 13, 2015 | 05:27 p.m.

    Thank you for your comment and your encouragement. Your comment about the Tower of Babel makes me smile with hope for one simple demographic reason that makes Haiti a very lucky country, though this luck too often goes unrecognized. In Haiti, everyone speaks Haitian Creole. So the country does not have a Tower of Babel, except the artificial one that is imposed in the schools where kids who speak Kreyòl only are made to learn in French which they don’t speak. So my hope is tinged with some sadness. With Haitian Creole (like with Finnish in Finland, say), educators in Haiti can afford one powerful tool to educate everyone in the country and give them the basis to become proficient in STEM, second languages, etc. Yes, let’s hope that Haitian Creole will take its due place in Haitian society so we can move away from the academic chaos and failure that has plagued the country for the past two centuries. This NSF-funded project is helping turn this dream into reality.

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    Cilla Benjamin

    Guest
    May 12, 2015 | 06:24 p.m.

    I want to find out more about this – especially the apps. I am an English speaking educator who teaches in Haiti in the summer. I can’t seem to find the type of resources I need.

  • Icon for: Michel DeGraff

    Michel DeGraff

    Presenter
    May 13, 2015 | 05:30 p.m.

    Thank you for your interest. All of the resources we’ve developed are available on our website: http://haiti.mit.edu/ . Click on “Resources”

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    Daniella Bien-Aime

    Guest
    May 12, 2015 | 08:08 p.m.

    Thank you, Dr. DeGraff! I will be an ambassador for this initiative. As a Haitian adult educator, I understand the importance of addressing the “why” in learning. Your initiative is questioning the “why” in education and that’s fantastic. You can count me as a supporter to push this message forward. And thank you for the Kreyol translation resources.

  • Icon for: Michel DeGraff

    Michel DeGraff

    Presenter
    May 13, 2015 | 05:41 p.m.

    Bonswa Madam Daniella Bien-Aimé, Onè!

    We so need “ambassadors” in this project. The pedagogy, the linguistics, the technology and the science at the roots of this project are all very robust, otherwise MIT and NSF would not get involved. But the ideology and the politics against it, especially against the promotion of Kreyòl as language of instruction, seem as robust—in Haiti and beyond—for reasons that have little to do with STEM and quality education. You probably already know this since you follow Haiti news very closely. So we need communicators and ambassadors like you who can speak to stakeholders—especially students, parents, educators, administrators, policy makers and funders (well, that’s almost everyone isn’t it?)—and help them demystify the dark forces for whom science, education for all, and social justice do not seem to count as much as class interests and economic and political power. As you know, some of these dark forces go back to the history of Haiti as a French colony, with a financial, intellectual and emotional debt that we’re still paying today, as can be witnessed from current news about Haiti’s education system and otherwise. This is a long, and sometimes depressing, story to be analyzed by historians and political scientists. As for us, let’s keep plowing with the belief that science and education, like the beautiful moral arc of justice, will eventually prevail….

    Madam Ambassador, you’ve got work to do…

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    Samson M.Ed.

    Guest
    May 12, 2015 | 08:14 p.m.

    I am very encouraged by this initiative. As an educator, I share the strong belief, that only through the native language, can you truly deliver a quality education across the board. i am grateful to all those who are engaged in this project, for the benefit of the Haitian society, Kudos!

  • Icon for: Michel DeGraff

    Michel DeGraff

    Presenter
    May 13, 2015 | 06:11 p.m.

    Yes, thank you! Indeed, the rationale for using the native language for quality education is scientifically impeccable. This much has been established for quite a while—starting with the UNESCO monograph of 1953: “The use of vernacular languages in education.” Already in 17th-century France in his famous “Discours sur la méthode," René Descartes made a similar argument for his compatriots about the importance of the French vernacular (back then, a “vulgar” language) as language of instruction (instead of the prestigious Latin). The fact that today some of our most eminent, “enlightened” and powerful intellectuals and leaders in Haiti, France, the U.S., etc., including some of Descartes’ admirers, do not accept the use of the native language as best practice in education—or refuse to accept this practice for Haiti while accepting it for other countries—is, again, a sign that ideological and political forces of darkness are at play… See my answer to Daniella Bien-Aimé above.

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    GARRY GILBERT

    Guest
    May 13, 2015 | 07:32 p.m.

    Mwen kontan anpil pou travay sa a. Mwen aprann li ak ekri kreyol depi m te nan klas segonde. Se te yon le menm yon kasav ak manba ou pat ka achte an kreyol nan lakou lekol la. Se te nan mitan granmoun ONAAK mwen te al chita. Sa esplike entere mwen gen pou kreole depi lontan. As a Haitian literacy teacher in Boston, I am so proud of this work or program. I am very interested and looking to keep in touch with you. Thanks a lot to MIT and your team.

  • Icon for: Michel DeGraff

    Michel DeGraff

    Presenter
    May 14, 2015 | 04:29 p.m.

    Konpatriyòt, Onè!

    Chapo ba pou jefò w ap fè pou ekri kreyòl la kòm sa dwa! Ayibobo pou ou ak pou tout konpatriyòt ki respekte lang nou ak idantite nou.

    Congratulations for your efforts at writing Kreyòl and honoring Kreyòl speakers, deservedly so.

    Yes, please, let’s keep in touch. We can reach out to each other via Facebook. My page is at:

    https://www.facebook.com/michel.degraff

  • Icon for: Stephanie Teasley

    Stephanie Teasley

    Facilitator
    May 13, 2015 | 09:34 p.m.

    Lovely project at all levels. Curious tho, that you used Kreyòl subtitles for the English speakers, but English subtitles for the French speakers. I understand why, of course, but I loved the idea of honoring the native language by making sure the video was accessible to the Kreyòl-speaking participants as well as the English speakers.

  • Icon for: Michel DeGraff

    Michel DeGraff

    Presenter
    May 14, 2015 | 04:25 p.m.

    Bonjou Madam Stephanie,

    On behalf of our MIT-Haiti team here in the U.S. and in Haiti, I first say, with immense pleasure, that we are so very heartened by your kind words of encouragement—and those coming from all over, especially in Haiti where our project constitutes a deep paradigm shift with potential to make for a better future for millions and millions of children and may even become a model for speakers of local languages all over the world.

    Re your comment about French audio being translated into English in the video: I am happy, on at least two counts, to say that you’re mistaken, and that both counts are important to help us appreciate the video and the lessons therein:

    Firstly, there’s no French at all in any of the audio. It’s only English and Kreyòl. And on behalf of my MIT-Haiti team, I am happy to say that the video , too, does honor the Kreyòl language and its speakers. Indeed anyone in Haiti can understand the video, alongside the English-speaking viewers in the U.S. and elsewhere.

    Secondly, and this is the most insightful and intricate part: Why might you have mistaken Kreyòl as French?

    From a linguistics perspective, this is actually not surprising, and your comment brings in a wonderful teaching moment. It’s as if the linguist in me had coached you for a planted question. Indeed your mistake points to a key linguistic reason why it’s important to teach IN Kreyòl to Haitian children who are monolingual Kreyòl speakers (the majority in Haiti) before teaching them French as a SECOND language while making sure they understand that both Kreyòl and French are considered as two distinct AND valid languages to be honored. Indeed, most Kreyòl words and many structures in the grammar of Kreyòl historically come from French even when Kreyòl words, including some of the most common short words. Consider for example:

    pa = “not” (in some, but not all, contexts), from French pas (“not”)

    ni = “and” or “neither”, from French ni (“neither”)

    nou = “we/us/our” or “you” in the plural, from French nous (“we/us”)

    pye = “foot” or “leg”, from French pied (“foot”)

    etc., etc.

    All of these Kreyòl words have distinct syntax and semantics from their French cognates, sometimes in very subtle ways like and other times in drastic ways. This superficial, and often deceiving, similarity has to be dealth with very carefully—not in math or science classes, but in language classes, once Kreyòl-speaking kids have strong foundations in their native language for literacy, numeracy, etc.

    Take Kreyòl pa, a small and pervasive little word of great importance or a “functional/grammatical” word in linguistic terminology: In certain contexts, it, unlike French pas, does NOT express negation, but is used to reinforce the negative meaning of another negative word such as anyen “nothing” as in Anyen pa mache which means “Nothing works” with the negative force of the sentence coming from Anyen and pa together. I once wrote an article about pa with the title “pa pa pas, Papa” (i.e., Kreyòl pa is not the same as French pas, Papa!). Now consider Kreyòl ni : It can mean either “and” (with emphasis) or “neither” whereas French ni typically means “neither” (and not “and”).

    The important point here is that Kreyòl, often, can SOUND as if it’s French, yet the meaning of Kreyòl utterances can be totally different (and sometimes the OPPOSITE) of the superficially similar French utterance. For a child who’s not told explicitly (and with love and patience) that Kreyòl and French are different languages with distinct grammars, this can lead to wild confusion in their understanding of French texts, exams, etc. Worse yet, the child who’s told—from kindergarten onward and with apparent disdain for what Kreyòl represents—that his native Kreyòl is “broken French” and that they need to “correct” their pronunciation, goes through overwhelming, and often unspoken, emotional distress. Basically these children are being told from a most ender age that their maternal language—the one single language spoken among their families and their communities—is worthless and need to be “corrected” at all cost.

    Now I think you can better imagine the mental-health hazards that Haiti’s francophile school systems inflict on Haitian children from day one…

    As it turns out, just this past Tuesday (May 12) French President Hollande was in Haiti and made matters even worse. In the last minute of his 22-minute speech, he ended his speech by saying that he wants Kreyòl, like all languages, to be “protected, preserved and spoken.” Yet most of his speech was about how France was going to repay its great debt to Haiti by making sure that Haiti stays “a great francophone country” with a “Marshall Plan” for Haitian education whereby France will send French teachers to promote French (this “world language”, this “language of linguistic diversity”—his words) in all sectors of Haitian education. Inherent in this promise is Hollande’s belief, as he himself recently said, that French is “what makes Haiti’s identity.” Imagine the implication for the identity of those 9 million+ Haitians who speak Kreyòl only and who are still thirsty for education and have invested so much in their education—or mis-education, as it too often turns out… Imagine how France (and other European countries) would have reacted to a Marshall plan for post-war Europe where English would be imposed as the language of instruction throughout Europe as a great “world language” and “language of linguistic diversity.”

    Well… your questions have taken me into much larger linguistic, ideological and geo-political issues. But as Haiti’s Former Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe recently told MIT in a speech at the MIT Sloan Deans’ Innovative Leaders Series, the paradigm shift that the MIT-Haiti Initiative is ushering represents a “greater fight than [we at MIT] are engaged in without realizing…” You can see that part of his speech on my Facebook page at:

    https://www.facebook.com/michel.degraff/posts/1...

    You can also “Friend” me there, please! ☺ , and you’ll see some interesting discussion there about language as well.

    The entire speech by P.M. Lamothe, a very instructive one, is available on the MIT website at:

    http://techtv.mit.edu/videos/31765-dils-prime-m...

    You could also listen to President Hollande himself and his vision of Haiti’s “identity,” a vision that feeds right into the “roots of the rotten structure” (to quote Frantz Fanon):

    http://www.boursorama.com/actualites/france-hai...

  • Icon for: Deborah Kariuki

    Deborah Kariuki

    Computer Science Teacher
    May 14, 2015 | 06:51 a.m.

    Interesting approach to educating the educator, I found it inspiriting that there many people collaborating in ensure that education does not continue to be a barrier to many in Haiti

  • Icon for: Michel DeGraff

    Michel DeGraff

    Presenter
    May 14, 2015 | 04:46 p.m.

    We’ve found this collaboration inspiring too. Indeed this is a massively collaborative project with team members in many parts in Haiti, in the U.S. and in Europe, in diverse sectors of society. A beautiful illustration of the Kreyòl saying: Men anpil, chay pa lou (= “Many hands make the load lighter”).

    As the exchange above with Garry Gilbert hints at, this NSF Video Showcase may even help us broaden the team. The barriers against education for all in Haiti can seem overwhelming. The forces of exclusion are so powerful there, as we heard just two days in a proposed “Marshall Plan” for education in Haiti that would reinforce exclusion through language—with President Hollande proposing to put French (a language spoken by no more than 5% of the population) front and center at all levels of education in Haiti. He considers French the language that “makes the identity of Haiti” (!).

    From this Goliath-David perspective with age-old colonial roots, the collaborative aspect of this work is even more important, especially collaboration with teachers, parents, activists, policy makers, university administrators, Ministry of Education, etc. And we’re fortunate to count the Ministry as an important supporter.

    Such collaboration at all levels of the private and public sectors and of civil society is the only way that the Haitian people will liberate itself from the colonial chains that still shackle too many Haitian minds.

    We at MIT feel extremely privileged to participate in this NSF Video Showcase that is helping us raise awareness around this ground-breaking work—and helping us build an even stronger team.

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    Nestor Saturne

    Guest
    May 14, 2015 | 06:26 p.m.

    My son is 23 years old. He graduated 2 years ago with a bachelor in Mathematics and a minor in Statistics here in the US. He speaks kreol fluently. How can he participate in this program?

  • Icon for: Michel DeGraff

    Michel DeGraff

    Presenter
    May 15, 2015 | 11:58 p.m.

    That’s excellent! I look forward to hearing from your son. Please ask him to contact me via my Facebook page at:

    https://www.facebook.com/michel.degraff

    And congratulations to you as a father and to your family and community (yes, it does take a village!) for having kept your son’s Kreyòl fluent. I’ll share your news with my son as well who is probably not as fluent as your son, but we’re working on it.

    Now, since this is the last question that I’ll answer in this online forum, let me please digress a bit in ways that bear on some of the rationale and prospects of this Initiative:

    As I compare my son Nuriel’s fluency levels in the languages that he speaks, I take him as a telling example of the direct effect of the degree of language immersion on levels of fluency in the respective languages that he has been immersed in. Of course, this is not surprising given all we know about how children acquire language. What’s surprising is that some of our most educated compatriots and colleagues in Haiti and elsewhere expect Haitian children to speak French fluently (and take and succeed in classes and exams in French) even though these children have, in effect, no immersion in any French-speaking community.

    Once a dear relative of mine who, unlike most in Haiti, grew up in a well-off family in a rich neighborhood of Pétion-Ville where French is spoken as a native language by most in that neighborhood asks of me as a linguist: “But what’s wrong with those Haitian children in Matènwa, La Gonâve [where I do some of my work with elementary school children] that they cannot learn French like I did, like you did? Are they mentally deficient in any way?”

    Of course, they’re not! There I’ve met some of the brightest kids I’ve ever met anywhere. One key difference between my relative’s well-off family in Pétion-Ville and the kids in La Gonâve is, in addition to social class, one of degree of immersion in the French language.

    So the issue there is one of lack of transcendence, like Former Prime Minister Michèle Pierre-Louis once described. We need for Haitians in the dominant social classes and those in power to go beyond their self-interest and beyond the psychological comfort and class privileges that are associated, not with any superior intelligence or other virtues, but simply with accidents of birth.

    There’s a Haitian saying that goes: “Wòch nan dlo pa konn mizè wòch nan solèy” (= “The rock cooling off in the river cannot understand the rock burning in the sun”).

    The fact that the MIT-Haiti Initiative has received such support thus far both in the U.S., especially from MIT and from NSF and from so many sectors of Haitian society, including the Haitian government, as shown in the video, does give me hope that transcendence can happen in Haiti as well, and that it has its rewards, locally and globally. We in the MIT-Haiti Initiative are especially moved by the support of teachers and by some of the leaders in the universities and in civil society and in the Haitian government. I see this support as part of a larger set of programs in Haiti that can make us hope that Haitians, like all human beings, are not rocks…

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    Jean jeudy

    Guest
    May 15, 2015 | 11:46 p.m.

    I vote

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    Katrina Mallebranche

    Guest
    May 15, 2015 | 11:47 p.m.

    Hello Professor DeGraff and all others who are involved in this project. I agree with what you said about the deeper issues regarding how Kreyol is seen by some in Haiti, even to this day, and the importance of incorporating Kreyol into the Haitian education system. Keep up the great work! Also, are there any plans in terms of how other teachers or volunteers get involved in this project?

  • Further posting is closed as the showcase has ended.

Opening up education in Haiti: Local language for global impact in cyberlearning and development (Principal Investigator: Michel DeGraff, MIT Linguistics; Co-PI: Vijay Kumar, MIT Digital Learning; Producers: Michel DeGraff & Kendy Vérilus)
NSF Award #: 1248066

This video illustrates the MIT-Haiti Initiative’s efforts at broadening the scope of Cyberlearning. When coupled with local languages such as Haitian Creole (“Kreyòl”), educational technology benefits populations that, heretofore, have been underserved by Cyberlearning. In many developing nations, one barrier to quality education is the fact that the community language is not used in formal education while the primary language of instruction is a formerly colonial language that few speak fluently. In Haiti, everyone speaks Kreyòl, but the language of instruction is French which is spoken by no more than 5% of the population. This language barrier is: (i) a root cause of academic failure and emotional distress among students; (ii) a chronic violation of human rights; and (iii) a roadblock to socio-economic development. In order to improve and open up education in Haiti, we are developing digital tools in Kreyòl for active learning of STEM, and we are evaluating and disseminating these tools among Haitian faculty through a workshop series that started in March 2012. As documented in our project, the teachers’ pedagogy is improving through their use of digital active-learning resources made available in Kreyòl for the first time in the history of Haiti. The combination of technology, active learning and local languages enhances education, human rights and socio-economic development. We hope that the MIT-Haiti Initiative will serve as an example to researchers, practitioners and policy makers, as we document how relatively small choices can have global transformative impact through the multipliers of language and technology.