Development in Haiti-Language policy

Research Purpose :

Haiti faces challenges to economic, political, and social development and is considered the poorest country in the Americas and in the world (World Bank-context). There is a large class gap between elites and the impoverished majority population, which explains the heavily stratified and unequal society. One contributing factor to the widespread systemic inequalities is the strict linguistic imperial language education policies between Haitian Creole ,the language of the urban and rural masses (Gibson, 19), and French, the minority language to the elite in the country. Haiti is an essentially monolingual nation in that only 5% of the population speaks French, while the remaining 95% of the population speaks the native language of Haitian Creole (Valdman 1984: 78; Dejean 2006). Ultimately this paper will argue for a Haitian Creole-dominant education system  because of the improvements it would bring to Haiti’s societal development.

Togolese boy in classroom
Global Partnership for Education from The Borgen Magazine

I. Role of Education

The role of education provides a society with a foundation for stability, life-long learning, economic success and much more. Education is an integral part to achieving social change, that takes place at both the level of the individual and at the structural level. From a development perspective, the key to education is sustainable development (United Nations 2016) and moving from poverty to prosperity (Center for Global Development: Independent research and practical ideas for global prosperity, 2002). However, universal [quality] education in many countries around the world, specifically third world countries, is not always the reality, and even if it is, the quality and accessibility are not developed enough to support the developing society.

Universal education in Haiti still remains a challenge the country continues to face today, especially considering the setback of significant damages from the 2010 earthquake in the capital of Port-au-Prince that ruined over 50% of schools in Haiti’s total population, and 90% of schools in the capital (Wikipedia 2016). Despite the constitution’s assurance of free education for all, the modern-day Haitian education system suggests otherwise(Classbase, 2012). Accessibility to education, let alone quality education, is unavailable to many, or at least not without a high cost, especially in rural areas, which is where the impoverished population masses often reside. Laurence Wolff notes that the number of privately funded schools sits at 80% in Haiti, many of which are for-profit schools supported by entrepreneurs and others funded by religious organizations (Wolff, 5). With the persistent low levels of economic growth and high levels of corruption, privates schools became what the vast majority of the population turned to. The only affordable type of schools that remain are “community schools”, but these are severely underfunded. Additionally, corruption and lack of adequate education funding to public schools and for sufficient teacher training programs demonstrate the stagnation of the education sector in Haiti (Luzincourt & Gulbrandson, 2010).

Chart of percent of out-of-school children (ages 6-11)
Chart of percent of out-of-school children (ages 6-11)
This Table V shows that in Haiti, private schools count for 80% of enrollment among Haitian students
This Table V shows that in Haiti, private schools count for 80% of enrollment among Haitian students






II. Language and education

The inherent inequalities within the Haitian education system can also be attributed to the language policy debate over which language, French or Haitian Creole, should be used as the language of instruction in Haitian schools. While Haitian Creole was derived from the French language spoken by the colonials, the differences between the two are vast, to the extent where they are not interchangeable. Differences in grammar structure and even vocab, including roots from languages from Africa, are what distinguishes Haitian Creole from French (Doug, 2015). Haitian Creole did not become recognized as an official language of Haiti until the 1987 Constitution, which also regarded Haitian Creole as the “sole language that unites all Haitians (Hebblethwaite 263). However, even still, as mentioned earlier, statistics reveal that 2-3% of the population, often wealthy elites, speak French, thus the existing intersectionality between language, education, and class reflects the importance of ones literacy to their place in society (Fontaine 33). However, when less than 5% of the total population actually speaks French, this  lack of fluency in French is still normally associated with illiteracy, low socioeconomic level, and backwardness” (Fontaine 31). linguistic division does not foster improvements in literacy rates or drop out rates in part because a student goes from speaking their mother tongue language of Haitian Creole at home to being expected to memorize French at school (Hebblethwaite 257). This inconsistency in languages, languages that are very different from each other, inhibits students from learning to their fullest and then consequently increases dropout rates(Fontaine 35). Hebblethwaite describes the severity of drop out rates “Haiti’s drop-out rates confirm the difficulty of second language acquisition” (272),which then contribute to both to the high illiteracy rates and high(46.2 %) unemployment rate. Lastly, insufficient and underfunded teacher training programs and unproductive teaching techniques pose even further barriers for student learning and educational success. For instance, many teachers came into their educator roles without complete Haitian Creole literacy and “in 2000, 53% of public sector teachers and 92% of private sector teachers were unqualified on the basis of not graduating from a teacher training institute and not holding a teaching diploma (Hadjadj 2000: 35). The teaching regulations in Haiti, especially for private schools, are extremely fluid and not enforced by the national education sector, illustrating the corruption within the formal sectors of society. Teaching instruction methods used within Haitian schools need to be adapted in order to improve the student learning and comprehension, with foreign language (French) in particular (Lindholm-Leary 2007: 12). Thus, the role of language and education are crucial to development within the Haitian education system.  

To hear a discussion about the difference  between Haitian Creole and French, see the this video (from youtube page: Prepare to Serve!)


III. Historical context

A prime example of when language and thus ones social status impacts ones access to education was the colonial French influence in Haiti dating back to 1625-1803 when the French controlled the island society, including the French dominated education system that continues to exist today. The French aimed to gain wealth and power from the plantation-driven economy. 774,000 African slaves came to the Caribbean as a result of the Atlantic Slave Trade (Haitianbeatz Makak 28:40). They performed intensive labor centered on agricultural development and the slaves labor helped make Haiti one of the richest colonies in the New WorldHowever, because slaves were needed to enhance agriculture and were prohibited to read or learn by the French, slaves did not receive an education (Tardieu 1990). The role of French and the Catholic church shared strong ties in Haiti and used written transcriptions to document events, unlike the native Haitians who passed on their history and cultural values through oral intensive practices, including  Voudou religious traditions (Tardieu 1990: 100). Thus, the roots of colonial French influence in Haiti have gradually denounced the Haitian Creole language and language and traces of this historical tension can still be found today, particularly in the disagreement over language policy in the Haitian education system.  

Check out a section from the documentary “Black in Latin America (Episode 1) Haiti and The Dominican Republic-The Roots of Division”  to further understand the historical role of the origins of Haitian Creole.

YouTube / Haitianbeatz Makak – via Iframely

IV. Education and Societal Development

A nation’s education system significantly influences the levels of development within that society.  In the case of Haiti, the consequences of a struggling education system are reflected in the struggling societal development that has faced the nation for many years. As Fontaine mentions in an article, the” language barrier [within the education system] interferes with development” (36). Without education participation, it is very difficult for one to seek any social mobility within a society, and this not only provides a setback for the individual but overtime this trend also prevents development from occurring within society, whether that be economic or societal. The following quote makes the connection between education and development:Education participation has a significant influence on economic development, so in a nation, like Haiti, where education participation rates are some of the lowest in the hemisphere, economic development suffers” (De Regt 1984: 121).  

For more on the role of language, education and development visit here. 

To learn more about the language debate in Haiti, visit this page.