French and underdevelopment, Haitian Creole and development: Educational language policy problems and solutions in Haiti

Publication date



This article argues that Haiti’s French-dominant school system is an impediment
to the nation’s development, whereas Haitian Creole-dominant education
will lay the foundation for long-term development. In that Caribbean country,
95% of the population is monolingual in Haitian Creole while the portion that
additionally speaks French does not exceed 5% with an additional 5–10% having
some receptive competence (Valdman 1984: 78; Dejean 2006). Even though
French is the language of the school system, as many as 80% of Haiti’s teachers
control it inadequately and only a minority of students completes school (Dejean
2006). Economic, historical, sociolinguistic, and demographic factors are a part
of the explanation for Haiti’s low educational achievement. Another important
but often ignored factor is educational language policy. Data on educational language
policy compared internationally show that the use of a second language in
schools correlates with high illiteracy rates and poverty (Coulmas 1992). I reject
arguments in favor of maintaining French-dominant education in Haiti (Lawless
1992; Youssef 2002; Francis 2005; Ferguson 2006, etc.) because the resources for
it are woefully lacking. I argue that the progressive promotion of Haitian Creole
throughout Haitian education will lead to improved learning, graduation, and
Creole literacy, in addition to a more streamlined and coherent State, economy,

and society (Efron 1954; De Regt 1984; DeGraff 2003; Dejean 2006). As Haiti
rebuilds after the earthquake of January 12th, 2010, aid workers, government
employees, and researchers who get involved in the recovery also unsuspectingly
perpetuate French, English, and Spanish hegemony in development work
(DeGraff 2010). The long history of suppressing Haitian Creole and promoting
French in education and administration — and French, English, or Spanish
in development work — form underlying obstacles in the nation’s struggle to
produce an adequate class of educated citizens, to achieve universal literacy, and
to make socioeconomic progress.