Development and language

One could argue that the French-dominated language system in Haiti is halting the countries societal development due to the vast inequalities that persist throughout a society, that illustrate globalization, or what some scholars consider new colonialism. 61 percent of the population over the age of ten is illiterate and to break that down further the illiteracy rates in rural areas sits at 80.5% versus 47.1% in urban areas (Institut Haïtien de Statistique et d’Informatique, http://www. These high levels of under-development in Haiti can be seen as a consequence of the stratified formal French-dominant education system in Haiti. In addition to the language barrier, demographic factors, such as illiteracy rates (low student success), and widespread poverty in both rural and urban areas also contribute to the slow progress of economic development.

In addition to the high illiteracy and poverty rates in Haiti, the persistence of low levels of economic development has also hindered the growth of the society, and the development data that exists under the French-dominated education system does demonstrate changes to the stagnant underdevelopment trends. The economic inequality in the socially stratified society can be traced to its origins with French colonization. During colonialism, French implemented a plantation system that relied on slave labor for economic success (I.e. capital), thus through exploitation of the ‘other’ for profit, African slaves and native Haitians were economically disadvantaged from the start (Gibson 17). As of 2015, five years following the large earthquake and the immense damage it created, including to many of the schools in the capital, the GDP growth was 2.5% (CIA World Factbook, 2016). As an agriculturally-dependent island country heavily reliant on imports from the United States, Haiti’s poor economic sustainability can be attributed to “poverty, [political] corruption, susceptibility to natural disasters, and low levels of education for the monolingual impoverished masses” (CIA World Factbook). Both the formal economy and the Haitian education system follow French-dominant structures. Yet, over two-thirds of the labor force face unemployment and 58.5% (2012 est.) of the population live beneath the poverty line (CIA World Factbook). These hindering social and economic development factors demonstrate the inefficiency of Haiti’s French-dominant education system, particularly the drop out rates, illiteracy rates, and unemployment rates. Gibson explains the short term and long term improvements that would be seen if the education system were to be taught in the native language of the masses, Haitian Creole: “higher literacy rates…[and] access to information and knowledge, [thus, fostering] greater level[s] of bilingualism in in all areas of the languages” (23). Further, while literacy rates would improve with Haitian-creole dominant education system , Haiti would seen vast improvements to “economic development for the nation” (23). 

Haiti GDP growth rates from 1965-2014
Haiti GDP growth rates from 1965-2014
This table demonstrates financial indicators for Haitian education and shows the distribution of % of GDP to private vs. public schools.
This table demonstrates financial indicators for Haitian education and shows the distribution of % of GDP to private vs. public schools.

The Caribbean development bank includes the following statistical data centered on levels of development in Haiti.

Education training chart CDB 12

Education training chart CBD 13

A Haitian-Creole dominant education system would help enhance societal development in Haiti and would allow Haiti to make the universal education, promised in the constitution, a reality for a nation that will otherwise continue to live in a significantly socially stratified society with widespread linguistic division. A well-known policy called the Bernard Reform (1979-80) attempted to make Haitian-Creole a medium for education instruction with the hope of improvements to Haiti’s societal development. However, resentment from the Haitian government and lack of monitoring delivery of this reform, particularly among private schools, the Bernard Reform did not produce as widespread change as it intended. Lack of sufficient funding for teacher training and school resources, such as text books and other support services for learning, also hindered educational attainment for students. Scholars in favor of a continuation of French-dominant education system argue the use of French, a “language of international prestige” (Gibson 22) and bilingualism, would help Haiti’s development through establishing strong relations with the international community. Even though French is one of the only ways to achieve social mobility, social stratification is so embedded within Haiti’s underdeveloped society, that traditional bilingualism is the best option to Haiti to improve education participation and in turn would improve development (Youssef 2002:182-83). Traditional bilingualism calls for acquisition of French from a Creole-based educational system. This paper has demonstrated numerous pieces of data that show education is “stronger when instruction uses students’ native-language as opposed to the non-native language” (Hebblethwaite 274). Further, development is negatively influenced when there are low levels of education participation, thus traditional bilingualism with a strong Haitian-Creole dominance, especially in the early years, would provide Haiti with the highest potential for improved societal development.

In order for literacy rates, education participation, and societal development to improve structural improvements from within need to take place, starting with the switch to a Hatian-Creole dominant education system. With elimination of  political corruption, improvements to social and economic equalities, and  increased government funding for Haiti’s public schools and improved teaching training programs Haiti has the potential to make universal education participation a reality for Haiti’s youth, who have the power to reverse the cycle of poverty over time (Hebblethwaite 271). 

This video comes from Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families & Schools– Evaluating Haitian Education-Empowering the Children of La Montagne, Haiti. It provides a good wrap up of Haiti’s current struggling education while emphasizing the integral role education serves the future of Haiti.

Vimeo / CYFS – via Iframely


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