Point out the flaws in someone else’s proposal and you’re only halfway done – in order to contribute something worthwhile you’ve got to come up with a better idea to replace the one you just rejected. My position on Kreyól and its usefulness in education is evolving, and will probably be a different creature entirely by the time I’ve been in Haiti for six weeks working on teaching people to read and use reading with Project Rive. But here are my thoughts as they now stand:
It might be better for students to learn to read in Kreyól first.
Kreyól is easier to read than French. Unlike French, each letter in Kreyól is pronounced the same way every time. It’s especially easier for Haitian students, because it allows students to learn how to read in their own language before tackling an unfamiliar second. Early readers read phonetically, sounding out the combinations of letters on a page and matching them to words they already know. Also, a familiarity with grammar and syntax will help students when they begin reading for comprehension.
But, at some point in their school careers, they need to make the transition to French, English, or Spanish.
A teacher in Michel DeGraff’s report sums up her feelings on this subject:
“Lé yon anseye an kreyól, li gen dezavantaj an menm tan li gen avantaj…Sa ka koze pwoblém…paske jan mo a ekri an franse se pa kon sa li ekri an kreyól.”
“When you teach in Kreyól, there are disadvantages at the same time that there are advantages. One thing that causes…a problem is that the French spelling of a word is different from the Kreyól spelling.”
As the words student use become more and more advanced, they become indistinguishable from their French counterparts, except by spelling. Would it make more sense, at that point, to begin integrating French or English words into the curriculum, instead of sticking to Kreyól? I believe it would. The content simply isn’t there for learning in Kreyól, especially when we’re talking about using the Internet and interacting with the wider world. As admirable as Michel DeGraff’s efforts are to spread the use of Kreyól, Haitian students, like many other students around the world, are eventually going to have to learn a second language in order to be successful.
So it turns from a debate about whether or not to learn French, English, or Spanish to a debate about when to make the transition. And along the way, we have to remember the last point that the teacher from the report brings up:
“Avantaj la…li pémét nou bay lang lan valé.”
“The advantage is that it permits us to give the language value.”
That’s ultimately where the question gets messy, I think. Haitians deserve to be allowed to be proud of their language and to teach it in their schools – but they also have to consider how to prepare their students for the future and for facing a wider world.