Improving STEM Education Through Technology for Active Learning in Haitian Creole

Sunday, February 19, 2017: 8:00 AM-9:30 AM
Room 312 (Hynes Convention Center)
Michel DeGraff,Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA
The MIT-Haiti Initiative is an NSF-funded collaboration between faculty at MIT and in Haiti for the development, use & evaluation of digital tools & other pedagogical materials for interactive pedagogy in Haitian Creole (“Kreyòl”). The three pillars of the Initiative (native language, modern pedagogy, educational technology) have each been shown to improve learning gains.

Due to socio-historical reasons from Haiti’s (neo-)colonial past, the native-language issue is a particularly challenging paradox: French is de facto the main language of formal instruction & written discourse; yet it’s Kreyòl that is spoken by the entirepopulation, with French fluently spoken by a tiny élite (not more than 3-5% of the population).

We report on the Initiative’s strategic use of Kreyòl as language of instruction, alongside modern pedagogy & educational technology, in order to improve the teaching & learning of STEM in high schools & universities in Haiti. Since 2012, the Initiative has been providing training workshops to some 250 faculty in mathematics, physics, biology, bio-chemistry & chemistry. The goal is to usher a much needed transition from the traditional school system, based on rote-learning of French texts that few students can deeply understand, to a modern system where creation & transmission of STEM knowledge is participative & open to all, without any linguistic barriers, thanks to the systematic use of Kreyòl.

This is the first time ever that Kreyòl is used for the teaching of STEM at such advanced levels. Such innovative use of Kreyòl, modern pedagogy and technology is essential for ensuring widespread access to quality STEM education across social classes in Haiti. The Initiative is also helping change attitudes toward Kreyòl—a language that has long been stigmatized and excluded from Haiti’s schools, courts, government, courts, etc., while the use of French as primary language of instruction and administration is a recipe for academic and social failure—in addition to causing daily violation of human rights in Haiti with negative consequences for identity formation, mental wellbeing and social cohesion.

This project is presented as a model for speakers of local languages worldwide, keeping in mind that some 200 million students (40% of the student population) are native speakers of such vernacular languages that are by and large excluded in their schools. The ultimate goal is to improve quality and access of STEM education for sustainable development on a global scale, while strengthening the foundations of students’ linguistic and cultural identity and while promoting respect of universal human rights.

For more information, see: