To Teach Science and Engineering in Haiti, MIT Project Embraces the Kreyòl Language


Photo1In Haiti, French is almost universally used as the language of instruction in schools. However, French is only spoken by approximately 5% of the population, while Kreyòl is spoken extensively across the country. Students are forced to learn in a second language that they can barely speak, and as a consequence, they resort to memorizing lessons without any true understanding. In many cases, the teachers themselves also do not speak French fluently. The continued practice of using French in schools contributes to low levels of literacy and poor school performance. Very few students ever finish high school, and language barriers that have persisted for decades are undoubtedly a key factor in the underdevelopment of Haiti’s education sector.

In 2012, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) won a five-year grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation to produce Kreyòl language education resources for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Called the MIT-Haiti Initiative, the project will take open education resources previously developed by MIT, translate them into Haiti’s native language of Kreyòl, make them available to higher education institutions in Haiti, and evaluate their effectiveness. MIT will also couple this with introducing new technologies, in the form of online resources, to help students learn in a more interactive way.

Photo2Led by MIT linguistics professor Michel DeGraff, the project is collaborating with several university institutions in Haiti to create Kreyòl language versions of technology-based STEM education resources currently in use at MIT. DeGraff and other project leaders recognize that these new materials and methods are unfamiliar to educators in Haiti, and efforts must be made to ensure that they become comfortable with them. To address this challenge, workshops are being held in Port-au-Prince to help Haitian faculty become fluent in teaching new STEM learning methods in Kreyòl at universities and high schools. This work is, for the first time ever, creating high-quality materials for STEM disciplines in Haiti’s native language of Kreyòl, and making them available for free.

The MIT-Haiti Initiative aims to change the educational system in Haiti to make learning more active and more collaborative for Haitian students. It aims to support Haitian educators in enhancing teaching and learning in Haiti, and to introduce new digital technologies to improve STEM education. In 2013, the MIT-Haiti Initiative signed an agreement with Haiti’s Ministry of Education to explore how to incorporate these Kreyòl language tools into the Ministry’s curriculum development. The ultimate goal is to create a network of resources that are available to educators throughout the country.

Photo3MichelDeGraffNumerous studies have proven the importance of using native language to help students become proficient in literacy, numeracy, and science. Teaching in the native language of Kreyòl may be an important first step in creating more opportunities for better education in Haiti. With access to better education, Haitian students could gain the skills and confidence that will allow them to take ownership and become leaders of their country’s development. Outside of Haiti, there are millions of students all over the world who speak local languages and experience the same barriers to higher education as native Kreyòl speakers. This project has the potential to be replicated and improve learning in other countries as well.

Click here for more information and to watch a video about the project from MIT.


Valerie Busch

Valerie Busch

Valerie is a development professional based in Toronto, Ontario.

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