2 Prolegomena of the Study of Language Disorders and Failing Students with Disabilities

Rochambeau Lainy


This article is a prelude to a more a more extensive study that will be published in December 2020 on the theme of school failure and language disorders. It invites the Haitian educational public to consider the impact of language disorders on the intellectual growth and psychological development of children. The analyzed findings support a position linking the deficiencies of the Haitian school system to the psychological and intellectual weakening of its students. They are extracted from a database that GIECLAT has been collecting in three departments of Haiti, in partnership with CASAS, Laboratoire LangSÉ and INUFOCAD.

Keywords: language disorder, school failure, disability, student, pedagogical practice

Atik  sa a bay  yon  apèsi  sou yon  etid pi pouse  k ap pibliye an desanm 2020  sou tèm : Echèk eskolè ak troub langaj yo. Li envite aktè edikatif ayisyen yo pou yo mezire  konsekans ak enpak troub langaj yo sou pwogrè intelektyèl ak devlopman sikolojik timoun yo. Menmsi kèk lòt faktè ka koze echèk eskolè kay elèv yo, done ki deja analize yo prezante sistèm eskolè  ayisyen an tankou yon sistèm k ap diminye kapasite entelektyèl ak sikolojik kay timoun yo. Agiman sa a chita sou kèk done ke GIECLAT kolekte nan twa depatman nan peyi Dayiti avèk kolaborasyon CASAS, laboratwa LangSE ak INUFOCAD.

Mo-kle: twoub langaj, echèk eskolè, sistèm edikatif, bilengwis, pratik pedagojik,  anseyan, elèv.


Whenever we talk about poor academic performance, deviant psycho-social behaviour, and the risky and uncertain future of students, we are talking about matters of academic failure.

This has been expressed in newspapers and by education specialists ( see Bentolila & Gani, 1981; Jolicoeur, 2008; Ménard-Trouillot, 2013; Berrouët-Oriol et al., 2011; Botondo, 2016). This is also evident in the results obtained by students in official exams, in  Haitian schools that struggling to respond to socio-cultural changes in order to achieve educational and socialization objectives.

School failure results from difficult socio-economic, personal and psychological contexts involving mismatches between supply and demand, the gap between parents’ incomes and the demand for learning support. It is caused by rejection, exclusion, self-exclusion, late enrollment of children who are out of step with school, clumsiness and unsuitable teaching methods. This phenomenon is linked to a context of intellectual concerns and results in a failing school that is unable to help put in place the common base of knowledge and skills. It is  the result of an education system that stigmatizes, traumatizes and generates deviant, passive and revolting behaviors, the corollary of poor results.

These facts are indicators of extra-cognitive causes of school failure and do not exclude problems related to the learning of reading, writing and mathematics, which give rise to behavioural problems and inadequate prerequisites that are caused by the teaching of unsuitable content. The intellectual level leading to dissatisfaction and uncertainty deserves to be analysed. Such an analysis should be able to show how anomalies and deficiencies in the learning of written language and mathematics, resulting from pedagogical factors, language policy and environmental problems, are also at the root of school failure.

Methodological points 

One hundred and five (105) students enrolled in four (4) schools located in two (2) communes of Grand’Anse department (Beaumont and Roseaux) are selected during a field survey. These students that were observed for seven (7) months, five (5) days per month, showed warning signs associated with serious problems in reading, writing and arithmetic. We administered several tests, including a battery of tests to monitor language skills and performance (ERTL6), tests to screen for reading, writing and spelling problems (L’alouette-R et la BALE) and tests to identify dyscalculia, which are difficulties in mathematics, numerical comprehension and visuo-spatial orientation (Le ZAREKI-R, written by Von en 2005).

The students who were selected are in the first cycle of basic school (1st – 3rd year). They are between 7 and 15 years old. To gain access to the site of investigation, we co-signed an ethics document and a consent protocol with school officials and teachers. A guide with guidance was also written to check for non-neurological problems that could interfere with language and math learning, thereby causing academic failure.

Starting from the idea that reading, writing and mathematics disorders can result from the operating conditions of the classroom and the pupils’ socio-familial environment, it is appropriate to present the teachers’ pedagogical practices, uncontrolled school bilingualism, stigmatization and trauma as the causes of the problems comparable to the disorders we identified during the investigation.


Following the observations made, tests and trials administered, we are hereby presenting our results in terms of pedagogical practices, bilingualism in the school context, language disorders and environmental problems.

Pedagogical practices

Students are not always able to use their sensory-motor, cognitive and mental assets to learn. When this happens, it is the responsibility of teachers, parents and support staff to play their part by providing effective devices and necessary guidance. The most painful and disappointing situation for a student is when he or she is faced with problems of learning and integration for which few understandings and opportunities are available and offered.

Our student samples do not appear to suffer from neuro-anatomical deficits that can paralyze the process of learning written language and mathematics. Yet the results obtained are discouraging. After 4 years of schooling for some, and 5 years for others, preliminary elements in reading and writing, such as knowledge and recognition of syllable and word spelling and sound-graphic correspondence, have not yet been mastered. They do not seem to pass the preparatory stage for writing and grapho-phonemic correspondence that are determined by sensory-motor activities and adaptive supports. Contrary to what Le Roux wrote, the school does not seem to help them in this respect. The author points out that: “What is clear is that the child must develop motor and perceptual skills sufficiently to be able to learn to write and that kindergarten education should put in place pedagogical situations that foster this development” (2003: 81).

Teachers seem to ignore the place of language in the cognitive development of students since they indulge in discourses and practices that do not help, but instead stigmatize.They adopt discourses and practices that are not aimed at making students learn by themselves and for themselves, at rallying human and material resources around for the benefit of the class group. Instead, they engage in teaching practices that motivate rivalries between “good students” and “bad students”. They are sometimes overwhelmed by the fact that their students are having difficulties and that they teach in classes deemed “difficult”. In their classes, few places are given to improvisation and the development of automatisms, whereas the improvised nature of any activity aimed at speaking and personally engaging the subject could be used to organise the oral, without underestimating the writing exercises involving each student in a task of recognition and appropriation of the signs of language.

Bilingualism and linguistic barrier in the school system

These students come from sociolinguistic backgrounds characterized by the predominance of Creole and only encounter French at school. They have no real means of using it outside the classroom. Yet Creole is the language in which they express their emotions, develop their thoughts, define themselves as subjects, reflect and interact. This language shares, in a disproportionate way, the pedagogical space with French, a language that generally exists in textbooks, ministerial instructions and educational references. The two languages, Creole and French, are present in the school setting and form the basis of a bilingualism that does not really help children in their learning.

French is being imposed on these Creole-speaking children, while at the same time there is a desire to introduce Creole as a language of instruction, without any real linguistic and educational planning to support students and teachers in the teaching/learning process.

In these schools, French is often used to penalize and disapprove. A teacher insulted a student and made fun of his speech because the student spoke Creole, even though the same teacher only uses that language (Creole) when explaining a lesson in his classroom. Students do not have good role models. They are asked to speak a language or use it to learn, while at the same time it is used as a weapon and an argument for mockery, stigmatization and labelling, apart from linguistic, psycholinguistic and psychopedagogical considerations.

The issues of correspondence, equivalence and assimilation are noted. These students whose socialization had begun in Creole had difficulty recognizing structured graphic signs in French during the reading and writing process. The coexistence of French and Creole is not used to their advantage. This reality is the result of linguistic and cognitive problems, not to mention factors combining unsuitable pedagogical approaches, didactic systems and educational policies. Bilingualism per se is not compromising, but as it is used in the schools observed, students find it difficult to benefit from it. Educational actors have not rounded the corners to allow students to use both languages as an asset and an opportunity. As Sanson noted, harmonious bilingualism is an undeniable asset for other spheres of child development. The main pitfall to be avoided is to consider bilingualism as the cause of any speech and language disorder or delay (2010: 52).

Stigma and trauma

The students are traumatized. Several factors explain the reasons for their trauma: complicated family histories, disruptive socio-psychological environment, communication constraints, repressive verbalization, school situations marked by discrimination and stigmatization, humiliating treatment and corporal punishment. The majority of them have memories of the terrible events of Hurricane Matthew in October 2016, misfortunes resulting from unfortunate circumstances and precarious school conditions.

An AF1 student enrolled in École nationale Christ Roi located in the commune of d’Anse d’Hainault[1], became stuttered after witnessing a scene in which an individual threatened to kill his father with a machete. This student is traumatized by the violent socio-familial environment and presents enormous difficulties in his learning activities.  The cases of over-aged students in overcrowded classes with age gaps of 5, 7 and 8 years, and the psychosocial context of schools marked by precariousness and dissatisfaction, are also traumatic.

The access and conditions of accommodation are problematic. Some buildings still bear the marks of the devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016, despite support and some psychological educational programs. Many students are aggressive, impulsive, uncooperative and disruptive. Some have severe impairments (trisomy 21, psychotic…) and developmental delays that have not received appropriate follow-up and care. Trauma is also caused by behaviors such as mockery, conflict, hyperactivity, aggressiveness, excessive language, arguments, fights and provocations.

Problems related to learning of language and mathematics

These students who are stigmatized, traumatized, weakened and educated under the conditions described above do not perform well in language and mathematics. The majority of them do not master the basic rules of mathematics: numbering and calculation, reading and writing numbers (confusion between 25 and 52, 10 and 01, 6 and 9, 77 and 707, 69 and 99, decimal and decimal-free numbers, – and signs, etc.). They have difficulty distinguishing numbers and numerals, retaining addition and multiplication tables, performing simple operations and decoding clues such as problems with spatial and temporal orientation, identifying geometric figures and symbols.

They confuse phonemes of neighboring or close sounds e/e/ai/er/ez, phonemes and syllables a/to, an/en/am/em, make irregular additions, omit phonemes and syllables when reading and writing, and read falsely and abusively. Their reading is hesitant, choppy and incomprehensible. They are unable to match sounds and letters, read and segment words of 3-4 syllables. When writing, they repeatedly confuse French words and Creole words with similar sounds such as bateau/bato, oiseau/wazo, demain/demen, écolier/ekolye, pain-pin/pen, travail/travay, chemin/chemen; letters and syllables such as p/b, m/n, u/i, é/e, eur/è, un/en, en /an, etc. The articulation of vowels and rounded syllables in French often seems a painful operation, especially when they sound close to the vowels and syllables of Creole words.

These identified signs illustrate difficulties in reading, writing and mathematics. The situation of these students leaves much to be desired. Behavioral problems, poor numeracy skills, and an ineffective language system are among the results of these problems.


Many children are being penalized by the conditions of their accommodation, teaching and learning. Although the family and socioeconomic problems are damaging, the poor academic performance of these students is not due solely to their family background and precarious socio-economic conditions but also to educational and pedagogical problems leading to language and behavioral disorders. The case of the students with disabilities continues to worsen as long as educational actors (teachers, school principals and government officials) underestimate the place of language in human intellectual development and psychological fulfillment. Far from reassuring these destabilized students, this school system, characterized by uncontrolled bilingualism, undifferentiated pedagogy, psychological and environmental problems, only increases the obstacles that students try to overcome every day. This produces poor performance and behaviors that are difficult to manage.


Bentolila, Alain & Léon Gani, (1981), “Langues et problèmes d’éducation en Haïti”, Langages, no. 61, pp. 117-127, J.-B. Marcellesi (dir.), Bilinguisme et diglossie.

Berrouët-Oriol, Robert et al., (2011), L’aménagement linguistique en Haïti : enjeux, défis et propositions, Montréal: Éditions du Cidihca et Port-au-Prince : Éditions de l’Université d’État d’Haïti.

Botondo, Jacques, (2016), La réussite scolaire d’élèves haïtiens performants en classe de 3e secondaire provenant de milieu socioéconomique défavorisé : une étude ethnométhodologique, Thèse de doctorat, Université Sherbrooke.

Jolicoeur, Rhony, (2008), Effets de l’abandon scolaire comme indicateur de l’exclusion scolaire dans les pays en développement : le cas d’Haïti, Mémoire de maîtrise, Université Laval.

Le Roux, Yves. 2003, “Comment les enfants apprennent à écrire”, Enfances & Psy, volume 24, no. 4, pp. 81-89.

Ménard-Trouillot, Évelyne, (2013), “L’éducation en Haïti : inégalités économiques et sociales et question de genre. La femme dans l’enseignement supérieur”, Haïti Perspectives, no. 363, pp. 35-39.

Sanson, Coralie, (2010), “Troubles du langage, particularités liées aux situations de bilinguisme”, Enfances & Psy, volume 48, no. 3, pp. 45-55.

Von, Aster, et al., (2005), ZAREKI-R – Batterie pour l’évaluation du traitement des nombres et du calcul chez l’enfant, Paris: ECPA.

  1. Source : données de l'enquête collectées dans le département de la Grand'Anse, janvier de 2019.


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Disabilities in Haitian Schools by Rochambeau Lainy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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