Image: iStock/MIT News
Image: iStock/MIT News

MIT professor of linguistics Michel DeGraff is hailing Haiti’s new policy to educate students in Kreyòl (Creole), the native language of 95% of Haitians, as a positive step toward improving the Haitian education system.

DeGraff has long advocated for such an educational change in his native Haiti, where classroom instruction is traditionally conducted in French—a language that most children do not speak. In a recent interview with MIT News, DeGraff explains that this sets up children for academic failure: Because children never learn to read well, they are unable to read to learn.

As principal investigator of the MIT-Haiti Initiative, DeGraff has collected data demonstrating that children taught in Kreyòl attain much higher learning levels, including better test scores. The research, supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), also observes that students take a more active role in the learning process by asking more questions, and that their “joyful creativity is set free when they can learn in their native Kreyòl.”

In collaboration with academic partners in Haiti, the MIT-Haiti Initiative has developed digital tools to aid in interactive learning, as well as a framework for standardizing Kreyòl writing and providing training for teachers. Materials are being developed for all education levels, from kindergarten to university.

Standardizing Kreyòl writing will be critical to expanding the use of the language in the classroom. Although there has been an official Kreyòl alphabet since 1979, the language’s exclusion in education means there is not yet a vocabulary to adequately explain advanced science and math concepts.

While DeGraff acknowledges that such an undertaking will take time, he is optimistic that the effort will propel Haiti toward a more progressive future with better opportunities for its citizens: “We’ve been documenting such improvement with Haitian students and faculty who have participated in our NSF-funded work in Haiti since 2010.”

Read the full interview at MIT News.

Learn more about the MIT-Haiti Initiative.

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