The question as to which language or languages to use in educating the children of Haiti and in adult literacy programs, which are organized by both government and voluntary organizations in Haiti, has generated a lot of debate among educationists and the Haitian public at large. Two languages are spoken in Haiti, Creole and French. Creole is the most universally spoken language in Haiti, accounting for over ninety percent of native monolingual speakers; whereas French language has for the past two centuries enjoyed the pride of place as the country’s sole medium of official government and business transactions as well as the language of education. To understand the position of the various parties to this debate, we have to go back to the evolution of language and education in Haiti since its independence from France on January 1, 1804.
Post Independence Haiti
Haiti transformed itself from a slave colony of France to a full fledged self-governing and independent entity through sustained armed struggle and war between the French slave owners and their enslaved African fellow human beings. The revolutionary war was long, bitter, but sustained by the grim determination of the enslaved Africans to break the yoke of French enslavement from their necks or otherwise die in the attempt. When the white French were finally expelled from Haiti, their language remained as the means of official communication in all government and business transactions. The place of preeminence and influence vacated by the departing French was taken over by their mulatto offspring, who then occupied the elite upper class of the emergent Haitian society.
The unique position of the half-French and half-African mulattoes, as heirs to their departing French fathers, gave them the economic and political clout to call the shots in all aspects of Haitian public and educational life. This they did by entrenching the continued use of the French language in all official government business, as well as making French the only language of educational instruction. The vast majority of Haitians could neither speak nor write in French. This majority was consisted mostly of the Afro-Haitians, who were uneducated, and thus could not in any way contributed to the national discourse; whereas they constituted over ninety percent of the total Haitian population. The Afro-Haitians spoke only Creole, which until recently, was not recognized as an official language in Haiti.
The situation of things continued like this for over a hundred years. The little progress made by a rather small number of Afro-Haitians who became educated did not have any effect on the dominant status and position of French language in Haitian national affairs. Instead, by what would amount to a rather ironic twist of events, these Afro-Haitians having moved up from their lowly status in the rural peasantry, through urban low class, to the urban middle class, were more interested in entrenching their positions, rather changing things for better for their fellow marginalized brothers and sisters in the lower classes of Haitian society.
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