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24785: Vedrine (pub) A history of Education in Haiti
E Vedrine <email@example.com>
[This article appeared in the March 2005 issue of the Boston Haitian
Finding Some Means to Improve the Urban Achievement Gap
By Nekita Lamour
Special to the Reporter
This month's column will be my response to various Education related
articles, commentaries and letters to the editor that I have been reading
since January. I will present a historical overview of Haiti's education,
will provide some anecdotal observations as a veteran educator and finally
will propose an Education Summit which will serve as a catalyst for a
permanent Cross Cultural Education Task Force with various ethnic groups
communicating among themselves. Haitians will use the steps that might lead
to such "summit" to assess the Educational state of their own community.
I started to witness a decline of Haitians students' performance since the
1985-1986 academic year and brought it to various mediums. Haitians as part
of the minority urban schools that Governor Romney referred to have
regressed in their educational attainment. When a research study is done,
one will document that in the past 10 to 15 years, more young Haitian
Americans have been involved with the justice system or had succumbed from
violent crimes. As a result, less Haitians attended a four-year higher
institution, which is not healthy for a 21st century society.
Given the grim history of education in Haiti, I firmly believe that the
governor, the Legislature, and the business community will have to take an
active role to ascertain that an educational atmosphere is permanently
established in the Haitian community.
A lack of interest in the printing world, an anti-intellectual attitude, a
lack of dialogue among community leaders, a community "zoomed" only on the
200 year political quagmire of Haiti, and an indifference and complacency
vis-à-vis civic and political affairs in the United States are symptoms of a
deteriorating community. Individual achievements within the first
generation, such as home ownership, significant presence of professional
Haitians in mainstream political, social, literary, music, business and
educational institutions that Professor Zephir penned last month have
downplayed the importance of collectively planning the future of the Boston
In addition to coming from a country where the literacy rate is very low,
Haitians of African descent are members of an oral culture. The 20 percent
who are supposedly literate do not read regularly. Thus reading, which is
the foundation of learning in the western world, is not familiar in a
Haitian child's environment. Moreover, Haiti doesn't have a history of
strong educational leadership.
Haiti's leaders seldom made educating the Haitian population a priority in
their agenda. As I read the 162 page book l'Histoire de l'Education en Haiti
by Jocelyne Trouillot, King Henri Christophe, a free-born negro, who reigned
from 1806 to 1820, mostly in the North was the only government who had an
efficient, austere, state of the art educational system in Haiti. He built
elementary schools as well as colleges during his "kingdom." Medicine,
Latin, French, Spanish, Religion, and the Arts were incorporated in
Christophe's curriculum. Printing, science, meteorological studies were also
highlights of his northern territory. A government printing company,
Imprimerie Royal published numerous books. By the end of Henri's kingdom in
1820, an Almanac Royal, produced by Math teacher M.Moore, documented weather
patterns and observations.
Christophe's instructional style was based on the British Lancaster method
that he enforced under the counsel of abolitionist William Wilberforce. In
this approach referred to as mutual teaching, one teacher taught the
brightest students who in turn instructed others. Christophe did not have
official vocational schools, but settings were established for training in
mill and horse wagon repairs as well as in carpentry and printing
apprenticeship. The school days were nine hours on a regular day and seven
on early release days. Though Christophe tolerated all religions and
languages, he encouraged protestantism and the teaching of English.
Trouillot wrote that the leaders of Christophe's schools were British
citizens such as T.B Gulliver, Simmons, Sanders, Sweet and Oxley.
Christophe paid his teachers salaries similar to those in my life time. For
instance, Académie de Peinture (the Art Academy) teacher received 400
gourdes, a printing teacher was paid 180 gourdes monthly, and a school
teacher 100 gourdes. For 19th century economy, a gourde is worth at least
$US 3.00 now.
Believing that the Arts were also important in the formation of a society,
Christophe built a theater in Cap Henry (Cap Haitian) with modern
commodities of his time. After Henri's suicide, Haiti's educational system
went from bad to worse. Boyer sold the art theater to a Masonic lodge. The
signing of the Concordat with Rome under Fabre Geffrard in 1860 gave the
Catholic church complete control of Haiti's educational system. That accord
changed the shape of the schools, the mindset and the ethos of the Haitian.
One sees up to today in Boston, a Haitian people with high deference to the
Catholic church and priests whom through an antiquated ministerial practices
keep them isolated from the mainstream and disengaged in educational and
community leadership endeavors.
Regarding Haiti's educational history, two visionaries Elie Dubois and Louis
Joseph Janvier are worth mentioning. Fabre Geffrard chose Dubois as Minister
of Education in 1859 who established a national school structure at all
levels, with a focus on solid foundation at the elementary level by opening
Ecole Normale Primaire et Ecole Normale Supérieure. Louis Joseph Janvier
(1855-1919) a respected Haitian scholar, trained in medicine, a diplomat in
London and Paris, envisioned mandatory elementary schools in urban and rural
areas as well as in Masonic temples. Educating the girls and empowering
women through voting and having them teach Haitian values were his
priorities also. Like Christophe, Janvier called for an emphasis on the
sciences. Anticipating the negative impact of the European instituted
schools on the Haitians'minds, Janvier envisioned banning catholic and
protestant clergy from teaching in the classrooms.
As with Dr. Rosalvo Bobo, the political and educational situation did not
please Janvier either. In the late 1800's, he wrote "if things continue the
way they are, Haiti will fall into an absolute anarchy." Thomas Madiou, a
renown Haitian historian was a minister of Education under Michel Dominge's
presidency (1874-1876). Due to what Trouillot called gabedgie administrative
(bureaucratic waste), none of Madiou's educational visions came into
fruition during or after his short tenure.
Given the gloomy history of Haiti's Education, Governor Romney's
administration may need to consider appointing or forming a "Cross Cultural
Education Task Force" composed of Haitians, Latinos, Brazilians, African
Americans, African immigrants and involving the Asian and Islamic
communities. I agree with the governor that, "a huge infusion of money is
not the best way to help underperforming schools" (Boston Globe 1-14-05). I
believe rather, special emphasis on community-at-large educational
activities such as teaching about the MCAS, the curriculum frameworks, and
this country's culture, ethos, or expectations could be the proper route.
Comprehensive training engaging ethnic and euro teachers, new immigrant
medias and their social agencies may be channels used to crystallize the
governor's "Education Reform Act of 2005."
Finally, a "Cross Cultural Education Summit" with subsequent follow-ups
where each ethnic community will share their educational experiences,
including the Haitians, may result in more systemically inclusive vision and
means to improve the educational achievement gap in urban schools.
Nekita Lamour has been teaching since l980 in the field of