What contribution could intellectuals make to building scientific disciplines in Haiti?

Por Venise A. Dubique, Evens Emmanuel, Roger Petit-Frère


Neoliberalism and economic globalization provide immense competitive advantages to countries whose populations have a very good level of scientific and technological education. Indeed, the world’s seven major economies are the countries where illiteracy has been more or less eradicated. The human resources of these countries are not only endowed with functional literacy, in the meaning of Graubard (1983), they are also initiated in scientific literacy.

Graubard (1983) defined the function of literacy as the capacity to read and write sufficiently well to be adapted to society, either to communicate with others in order to further one’s interests, whether economic or otherwise, or to participate in democratic life. In basic scientific culture, Ayala (1996) considered that scientific literacy implied this functionality, that is to say the capacity to react intelligently to the technical questions raised in our daily lives and in the world of political action.

These theoretical approaches relating to the pair “Science-Democracy” tend to propose, according to a hypothesis remaining to be validated, that the arrival into the 21st century of a state of decline and economic and social underdevelopment, must inevitably lead to a rational schism between functional literacy and scientific literacy. The operationalization of such a hypothesis would therefore imply the need to integrate science and technology in the implementation of a national policy aimed at triggering a cultural rupture in modes of functioning.

At the level demanded by the challenges of the modern world, the mastery of science and technology, wrote Malu (1994), is possible only when the scientific approach is interiorized at the cultural level to become a mode of thinking, of acting and a behavior one hopes is innate.

The integration of scientific culture in the mode of societal functioning is conditioned by the political vision of the State regarding science and technology. However, in Haiti, the silence of the public authorities on the role of science and technology in the country’s socioeconomic development only delays the assimilation of a culture of scientific research. This study proposes to build reflection focused on the creation in Haiti of a national agency of science and technology capable of ensuring the supervision of a Haitian scientific movement and favoring the integration of Haitian intellectuals living abroad.

The issue of developing science and technology in Haiti

The true wealth of a country cannot be measured by the quantity or quality of its mineral and organic raw materials, but rather on the quantity and quality of its gray matter (Malu 1994). By analyzing the indicators used by international organizations to evaluate levels of the economic and social levels of the countries of the world, Barcelo (1997) thought that with the implementation of new national scientific policies in the least developed countries, these institutions should take into account new socioeconomic development indicators, for example: scientific production per inhabitant. In the perspective of building a possible cultural policy in Haiti aimed at the rational integration of science and technology in our modes of thinking and acting, it appears necessary to raise the question: What is the scientific production per inhabitant in the Republic of Haiti? The problems of providing a precise answer to this question lead to the conclusion that there is no active scientific life in Haiti. However, the existence of a normally functioning human community requires forms of knowledge and science permitting better understanding of the different realities that surround us; in other words, the existence of scientific activity in Haiti. The main question is not to know whether or not there are scientists in Haiti capable of ensuring a given level of production, but what strategy should be adopted at the national level to build a genuine chain of scientific production? With such a system, could Haitian scientists of all disciplines efficiently fulfil their roles? If it exists, scientific activity in Haiti appears to attract only a few if any people. Those among the rare researchers of Haitian origin who have achieved varying levels of success in foreign institutions, do not return to Haiti except to pursue a career in politics or business. This can obviously be studied as a function of the discipline of specialization. The attraction of politics is stronger for scientists in the social sciences than for those in the so-called natural sciences (Gilles, 1998). Thus, it would be interesting to raise the question as to the reasons why Haitian scientists practicing abroad are demotivated by, or abandon, the idea of pursuing scientific research in Haiti, besides that fact that researchers in Haiti generally do not benefit from decent living conditions. The answer would undoubtedly consist in setting up a national agency of science and technology that could supervise a scientific movement having cultural, institutional, economic and political objectives (Dubique, 2001).

In Haiti, the development of science and technology is faced by the deficiency of the education system combined with a troubled economy, condemning the country to be dependent on international aid. The actions carried out by the Haitian government to integrate the country in regional markets and those of both the south and north could facilitate our approach.

The challenges of globalized economies and the need to seek a model of sustainable socioeconomic development for Haiti obliges Haitians to consider the novel advantages that science and technology offer and then act, if only to avoid the country’s economic and social marginalization. In view of such an outlook, the country must be able to count on every Haitian, whether they are in or outside the country. The absence of PhD programs in Haitian universities has led to the adoption of an imported model of science that relies on Haitian scientists educated abroad. Initially, this entails, as emphasized by Gilles (1998), science dependent on a foreign scientific culture, practiced by scientists educated in foreign institutions, addressing problems determined by scientists of other countries, and who seek through their works, the legitimacy of foreign institutions. It should be remembered that the problem that remains to be solved is that of building a national scientific culture.

The observations made and the experiences undergone in the economic and social stagnation of the Republic of Haiti show that the country’s deficit regarding these issues can only be offset by the rational organization of Haitian thinking. Like any science, that of Haiti must rely on national and foreign observation and experience in order to identify the fundamental problem of Haiti’s underdevelopment. Knowledge does not begin immediately through perceptions and observations, or by collecting data and facts, but with problems. No knowledge without problems – but also the problem without knowing (Popper, 1979). In the present situation, Haitian society constitutes a genuine social laboratory. However, the concepts generally used to understand our problems have been built in other historical contexts. However urgent the situation, the solution in the medium and long terms demands a phase of conceptual deconstruction and reconstruction. It would be a shame if the country’s social scientists choose not to respond to this imperative in an organized way (Gilles, 1998).

Key concepts and main hypothesis

Like other countries, Haiti’s shortage of creativity in science and technology can be decreased by integrating the intellectual diaspora in building a national scientific policy. A national scientific research and technology agency should be capable of promoting the integration of all Haitian scientists and maintaining between them approaches that permit the production of specific knowledge.

In the framework of this study, we mean by intellectual diaspora all the Haitian scientists working in a foreign higher education and/or scientific research institution. The national scientific research and technology agency to be created, as an institution of mediation, would play the role of facilitator between scientists working abroad and within the country. One of the missions of this agency would be to create conditions propitious for the development of Haitian scientific knowledge.

Choice of a methodological approach

Our analytical approach relies on different media and resources: observation, interviews, a questionnaire, and the analysis of available documentation. A certain number of indicators have been selected to build the methodology intended to validate the hypotheses put forward. They have been used to form the basis for drafting two questionnaires that were administered to 32 scientists of Haitian origin working in North America and Europe, and to the scientific research directors of 3 higher education institutions established in Haiti. In-depth interviews were also held with Haitian civil servants directly concerned by the theme of science and technology in Haiti.

State scientific policy

The term “State scientific policy”, as emphasized by Salomon (1970), means the political approaches and decisions taken in view to promoting the progress of science. In Haiti, the most recent example was the granting of subsidies to scientific research in 1998 by the Ministry of National Education, Youth and Sports (MENJS). In the framework of implementing the program of supporting research of the Department of Higher Education and Scientific Research (DESRS), this ministry expressed the definite interest of the Haitian government in fostering scientific development.

Setting up the DESRS within the MENJS and the existence of research structures in two or three government ministries would provide the opportunity to create an Inter-ministerial Commission of Science and Technology (CIMST). This commission would profit from evaluating the scientific, technological and economic relevance of different research works performed by the research centers of the ministries and the research support program of the MENJS. It could play a role in promoting specific actions liable to tackle government and national priorities and solve various issues raised in different branches of research of real importance for the country. It should also play a role of mediation between scientific research activities, due to the different strategies adopted by the ministries considered and the isolation of their research units within the particular ministry to which are attached. The CIMST would also have to determine the operational framework of existing research units in the ministries, including the DESRS and the mode of linking their actions with the National Research Agency. It would be desirable in the much longer term to set up a Ministry of Scientific Research to implement the national policy of the State relating to science and technology.

The scientific policy of higher education institutions in Haiti

Research in Haitian universities is carried out by “regular” professors. A regular professor is defined as a teacher-researcher who has a responsibility for teaching, a research program and an administrative responsibility. Generally, regular professors work a total of 35 hours a week.

Good university education must be linked to work in scientific research. The university heads are aware of the importance of research in university education but are faced with problems of organizing research within the structure of the institutions.

In Haiti, much university research is directed at writing undergraduate dissertations (degree programs vary from Bachelor of Science to Masters degrees according to the discipline). Professors participate little in international symposiums except in the social sciences, most notably sociology, economics, education and the environment (particularly water science). Several publications produced in Haitian universities are registered in the PASCAL and FRANCIS databases produced by the Institut National d’Informations Scientifiques et Techniques (INIST) of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) of France.

The heads of national universities want to integrate Haitian intellectuals living abroad in common research activities since they can be very useful in carrying out research programs. However, their integration will not be easy since three main hurdles must be overcome: a) the absence of scientific policy, b) the weakness of financial resources specific to research, c) the small number of supervisors available in higher education and scientific research since there is no real status of teacher-researcher in Haiti. Those with university competences in teaching and research are more attracted by the salaries and working conditions offered by international organizations. More than ever, it is necessary to guarantee teacher-researchers a career path that allows them to face a precarious and unstable socioeconomic environment, and attract a higher number of qualified job seekers to opt for the profession of teacher-researcher in view to stimulating quality research in Haiti.

An optimistic representation of the establishment of scientific disciplines in Haiti among nationals living abroad

An economic, social and political objective, the installation of scientific research in a country like Haiti is above all the responsibility of the Haitian government before becoming a cultural goal. A scale of appreciation has been formulated to collect and interpret qualitative data relating to this group of questions. It includes the following criteria: excellent, very good, poor and no comment. Table 1 gives the frequencies obtained for these different parameters.

In addition to these different answers, 63% of the respondents shared the idea of carrying out research in partnership with scientists living in Haiti. However, they thought that these studies should respond to a national priority. Generally, the respondents thought that Haitian scientists living abroad could make a considerable contribution in the operationalization of the country’s research structures. According to them, this contribution can have three levels of cooperation: a) the development of bilateral scientific cooperation between the universities of Haiti and their host universities, b) setting up joint research projects between their research unit abroad and Haitian university research centers, c) the introduction of mobility between Haitian researchers.

An empirical analysis for establishing a theoretical model for building Haitian scientific disciplines

The construction of Haitian scientific disciplines remains an open question, whose solution must first overcome the absence of a legal framework defining the functioning of the profession of teacher-researcher in Haiti; second, the lack of qualified human resources to conduct research programs; and, third, the absence of a structure capable of supervising a scientific process in pursuit of cultural, institutional and political objectives. But as long as the Haitian scientific community accepts the results of this initial consideration on the issue of science and technology in Haiti and on the opportunity of taking advantage of Haitian scientists living abroad, then the problems raised before can be solved.

The development of science, as established knowledge acquired according to methods open to criticism, is not only the result of the economic resources available to a society. It also depends on the political choices and a culture that favor the emergence of a tradition of research. Regarding this, mention should be made of India, the countries of Eastern Europe, especially former Czechoslovakia, Poland and above all Austria, whose contribution to science and philosophy bears no relation with their level of economic development (Gilles, 1996).

Conclusion and perspectives for the future

Regarding the construction of scientific disciplines in Haiti, we put forward the hypothesis that the shortage of creativity in science and technology affecting the country can be decreased through the integration of the intellectual diaspora in establishing a national scientific policy and the creation of a national scientific and technology agency. The analytical approach was taken as the theoretical basis for the methodology. The observation, the technique of in-depth interviews, the use of questionnaires and the analysis of the documentation available on scientific research management policy, were the tools used to collect the information required for performing this study.

This survey showed that the Haitian scientists living abroad and the heads of research of Haitian universities had a very optimistic perception regarding the construction of scientific disciplines in the country. By considering the lack of qualified human resources for conducting research programs, the respondents found that expatriate scientists formed a pool of competences that had to be taken into consideration when drawing up the inventory of resources required to set the Haitian scientific scene in motion. Nonetheless, the Haitian government must draft a legal framework for the profession of teacher-researcher in the country, and set up a structure capable of supervising scientific activities by pursuing cultural, institutional and political objectives.


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*This work is taken from the thesis presented in 2001 to INAGHEI of the State University of Haiti by Madame Venise A. Dubique for obtaining her license in Higher International Studies. It was produced under the direction of professors Evens EMMANUEL and Roger Petit-Frère. It is published today with the aim of saluting the memory of the late and late Professor Roger Petit-Frère. Those who embody great ideals never die. Their works mark them in eternity. Peace, Tributes and Thanks to Professor Roger Petit-Frère.