JOPOL 3(2020)

The Politics of Education in Post-Colonies: Kreyòl in Haiti as a Case Study of Language as Technology for Power and Liberation

In this contribution, I would like to share some key aspects of my theoretical and applied linguistic agenda in Haiti. This agenda promotes a social vision where linguistics is coupled with digital technology in Haitian Creole (“Kreyòl”) in order to improve research and education toward sustainable development and equal opportunity for all.  This agenda also aims at a model for other communities in the Global South where linguistic discrimination has disenfranchised large segments of the population most in need of socio-economic progress.

This article will highlight the MIT-Haiti Initiative, whose initial objectives were for improving Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) education in high schools and universities in Haiti. In collaboration with a broad range of academic institutions in Haiti and beyond, this Initiative has been exploring the strategic use of digital tools in Kreyòl to improve Haitian students’ active learning of STEM, across social classes and beyond any linguistic barrier. More recently, the Initiative has expanded its scope to cover all disciplines at all levels via crowdsourcing, co-creating, curating and sharing of educational materials in Kreyòl. The ultimate goal is to make high-quality education accessible to the greatest numbers of students throughout Haiti, while strengthening the foundations of Haiti’s linguistic and cultural identity and while promoting respect of the human rights of all Haitians.

I will consider two important implications of the MIT-Haiti Initiative: for linguistics and for policies related to education writ large, including education that can truly benefit all in Haiti, especially those who speak Kreyòl only (i.e., the vast majority of Haitians). Firstly, Kreyòl is comparable to so called “international” languages, such as English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, etc., in terms of its development, structures and expressive capacity. Indeed, the success of this Initiative to date doubles as proof of concept that Kreyòl is a full-fledged language with unlimited capacity to express any level of complex thought as in STEM. Secondly, Kreyòl is an essential tool for the education, socio-economic progress and human rights of Haitians, especially in these communities that have long been impoverished through exclusion and injustice. These processes of impoverishment, which started four centuries ago when Haiti was a French colony (then the “richest” colony in the Americas), have been unrelentless throughout Haiti’s history. Language and education are two main vectors for the entrenchment of these processes of exclusion and impoverishment in Haiti.

In my view, it is through the innovative, strategic and systematic use of Kreyòl, in conjunction with interactive pedagogy and modern technology, that Haitian students can optimally develop their capacity for acquiring and building additional knowledge in STEM, in the Humanities and Social Sciences, and in second languages such as French, English, Spanish, etc. More generally, it is through Kreyòl as language of instruction and as the language of discourse in every social context that all Haitians can realize their full potential toward joyful and dignified citizenship—and leave behind the trauma of linguistic apartheid that has characterized the history of Haiti since its creation in 1804.

Key words: Haiti, MIT-Haiti Initiative, Haitian Creole (“Kreyòl”), decolonization of education