KU News Release

Jan. 5, 2012
Contact: Mary Jane Dunlap, KU News Service, 785-864-8853

KU team proposes programs to help stem Haiti's brain drain

Photo by C.B. Clairborne

LAWRENCE – Long before the January 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, the country was experiencing a brain drain of talent that Haitian officials hope to restore as the nation works to recover, said Maryemma Graham at the University of Kansas.

Graham is one of four members of a KU team producing a report proposing collaborative research programs with Haiti in education and information technology. The KU team traveled to Haiti in July 2011 representing the Haiti Research Initiative, a post-disaster project involving KU partnerships with Haiti and the (Domestic) International Center for Community and Human Development, Inc., in Atlanta.

Their report, “The Faces of Haiti: Resolute in Reform, Resistance and Recovery,” describes Haiti as a resilient, resourceful nation with huge literacy needs and an emigration of talent.

In the past 40 years Haiti has experienced a drain of people seeking degrees in higher education. That migration has sent the best-educated talent elsewhere and has virtually eliminated Haiti’s middle class, Graham said.

Graham, a professor of English, emphasized that Haiti’s literacy needs are broader than reading and writing skills. Specific literacy skills are needed for better health choices, agricultural practices, even political participation.

“Their educational system is woefully underdeveloped. They don’t have enough teachers, enough equipment and enough resources to sustain education,” Graham said.

Kiran Jayaram, Haitian specialist on the KU team, noted that in many rural areas formal education is less than adequate — schools are few and far between and little to no transportation available. A KU graduate and former instructor of Haitian Creole at KU, Jayaram is a doctoral candidate at Columbia University researching Haitian migrations to the Dominican Republic. He teaches anthropology at Johnson County Community College.

The KU team seeks funding for several proposals that could help stem the emigration of talent. One proposal seeks to form partnerships with Haiti’s libraries to increase access to scientific, historical and cultural resources. Another seeks to develop an accelerated teacher-training program to help increase literacy.

KU Libraries has one of the strongest U.S. collections of Haitian-related materials. Partnerships with Haitian libraries would not only preserve and maintain Haitian data, but also make it accessible online, said team member Brian Rosenblum, KU associate librarian for digital scholarship.

“It may seem odd to focus on libraries in a country where there is so much urgent need for basic elements of survival, but libraries have an important role to play in Haiti’s long-term development and emergence from its condition of dependency and exploitation,” Rosenblum said.

The KU team also proposes “The Haiti Teachers Corps Core Curriculum,” a teacher-training program at the State University of Haiti to benefit both emerging professional teachers and Haitian children. The program is similar but more ambitious than Teachers without Borders or Teach for America in the United States.

“If there is no intervention and support, even as resourceful as Haitians are, they can’t expect to progress and sustain an educational system necessary to meet the ongoing and future needs of a country plagued by poverty,” Graham said.

The KU team found that despite abundant humanitarian aid and good intentions, recovery from the disastrous earthquake has hardly begun. Jayaram noted that many Haitian officials view nongovernmental agencies as ineffective and suggested researching NGOs.

Graham said the Haitians they met “would not allow us to wallow in sympathy…instead, we learned … about the human capacity to survive, to find joy, to love and care for one another, to know and create beauty, to express a sense of dignity and self-worth – none of which is dependent on outsiders.”

KU is among several U.S. universities that have or had programs in Haiti. KU’s Institute of Haitian Studies was founded in 1992 by Bryant Freeman, now a retired professor of French and Italian and of African and African-American studies. The institute has published numerous studies related to Haiti and the Creole language. KU Libraries has six of those books freely available online, including an English-Haitian medical dictionary.

The KU team included C.B. Claiborne, professor of marketing at Texas Southern University. The team’s visit included attending a conference sponsored by the Interuniversity Institute for Research and Development in Port-au-Prince. The Haitian-based institute is developing an Interdisciplinary Longitudinal Study of Post-Earthquake Haiti. More than 25 international researchers and institutions are collaborating in the study.

The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. University Relations is the central public relations office for KU's Lawrence campus.

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