Should Creole replace French in Haiti’s schools?

Creole (Tiếng Creôn)  is the mother tongue in Haiti, but children do most of their schooling (học và nghe giảng bài) in French. Two hundred years after Haiti became the world’s first black-led (được lãnh đạo bởi người da đen)republic, is the use of French holding the nation back (có kìm hãm đất nước lại không)?

“The percentage of people who speak French fluently is about 5%, and 100% speak Creole,” says Chris Low.

“So it’s really apartheid through language”

Ms Low is co-founder (đồng sáng lập) of an experimental school, the Matenwa Community Learning Center, which has broken with tradition, and conducts all classes (thực hành việc dạy ở lớp) in Creole.

Educating children in French may work (phù hợp) for the small elite (tầng lớp tinh hoa) who are fully bilingual, (nói song ngữ)  she argues, but not for the masses (quảng đại quần chúng).

Most linguists would share her view – that education in vernacular (thường dùng, tiếng dân gian) languages is best – says Prof Arthur Spears, a linguist and anthropologist at City University in New York, and an expert on Creole.

“That is what children arrive at school speaking, and it’s obviously going to be better for them to learn in that language,” he says.

Michel DeGraff, a Haitian professor of linguistics based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US, describes educating children in a foreign language as “a well-proven recipe for academic failure”.

He argues that French should be taught in Haiti as a second-language – after children have learnt basic literacy skills in Creole.

“Learning to first read and write in a foreign language is somewhat like a toddler who is forced to start walking with a blindfold, and the blindfold is never taken off,” he told the BBC World Service.

Job prospects

No matter which indicators you pick, Haiti has an appalling (kinh khiếp) record on education.

One recent report rated it as the third worst place in the world, after Somalia and Eritrea, to go to school.


A brief history of Haitian Creole

It emerged (xuất hiện, ra đời, come out into life) towards the end of the 18th Century as (khi mà)  slaves from Africa began mixing African languages with French. Lots of the vocabulary comes from French, but the grammar is quite different.
Spelling was standardised in 1979. A law called the Bernard Reform was introduced in the early 1980s, designed to boost (đẩy mạnh, promote) Creole in schools

The 1987 constitution (hiến pháp) states (nêu rõ) that French and Creole are both official languages in Haiti

It’s estimated that about one-third of children never enrol at primary school, and only about one in 10 complete secondary school.

Prof DeGraff is working with the Matenwa school to try to prove the case for mother tongue education, in studies with the children there, showing – for example – their progress in maths, when taught in Creole.

But if the weight of (uy tín, sức nặng) expert opinion supports mother tongue schooling, not all Haitians agree.

Interestingly, those most opposed tend to come from the poorest backgrounds, who speak little or no French, and see school as the best place to correct that.

Twenty-five-year-old Daphnee Charles, who is among the 1% of Haitians who go to university, attributes her academic success (thành công trong việc học hành) to the Catholic primary school selected by her parents – who did not go to school themselves and speak no French at all.

“You would have [extra] homework to do if the sisters caught you speaking Creole, even during playtime – they didn’t want you to speak Creole,” she says.

But the tough policy worked for her, as she now speaks two languages to a high standard.

“When you can speak two languages, you can have a better job. It can open many doors,” she says.

Theodule Jean-Baptiste, who is studying medicine, is also unconvinced.

“Whether we want it or not, we are influenced by French because of the history of colonialism – this is not something we can get rid of quickly,” he told the BBC World Service.

“I don’t think education should be only in Creole – Creole is not a scientific language.”

English and Spanish

The belief is widely held in Haiti that Creole is somehow a primitive, inferior language – possibly because of its origins in the days of slavery.

The earthquake in 2010 destroyed about 80% of schools

But linguists are at pains to counter (đảo ngược) this perception (cách cảm nhận).

Creole is “fully expressive“(có đầy đủ sức diễn đạt), as well as being rich in imagery (sức tưởng tượng) and wisdom (khôn ngoan), says Prof DeGraff.

“Most have accepted the ideology of elites which says that if you go to school it’s in French – that Creole is not worthy of (không xứng đáng) being used, and that Creole is not a complete language,” adds Prof Spears.

“Most parents accept that same ideology, just as in most societies, most of the masses accept the ideology of the ruling elite.”

More than 30 years ago, a law known as the Bernard Reform was introduced in Haiti, with the specific aim (mục tiêu rõ ràng) of boosting education in Creole – but critics say it has never been implemented.

The Haitian Ministry of Education accepts that textbooks in Creole are in short supply (không có đủ), though it says Creole is already being used widely in classrooms, alongside French.

But the question of Creole of French as the language of instruction appears to be of less concern (thiếu được quan tâm) to the Ministry than the very different question – how to give students a good grounding in English or Spanish.

These are the languages, according to the Ministry of Education’s Pierre-Michel Laguerre, that will really open up the world for Haitian children

m . o . r . e      g . l . o . s . s

seal the deal: complete/ finalize a business deal, negotiation, or an agreement
doable: that can be implemented
tangible : perceptible by the senses especially the sense of touch


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