In 1912, Haiti was the first island to introduce electricity in the Caribbean [1]. In 1995, the Haitian private sector introduced internet, giving birth to an ICT community that built a vibrant ecosystem in spite of major challenges and issues the 11 million islanders have been faced with, the most visible ones being political unrest, 7.2 earthquake, killer hurricanes, tropical storms, cholera outbreak, record brain drain, 90% of higher education facilities were destroyed in 2010. Briskly, for the very first time, arose a general awareness to acknowledge the important role that both ICTs and higher education could play in the reconstruction by providing local solutions to locally complex issues!

 

High expectations in respect of Technology and Higher education entail that they ensure the design and reinforcement of methods allowing the effective utilization of techniques. These expectations were clearly elaborated by Dr Evens Emmanuel, Chairman of the Haitian doctoral Collège, during the Higher Education, Research and Development Week, in summer 2017, citing the UNESCO report on Science of 1996, which highlighted the clear evidence that science, technology and economic development are closely related. Dr Emmanuel further elaborated on this theme: « It seems that Haitian government authorities finally understand that only higher education, science and research working along with the private sector, to deploy a local competitiveness system, can spearhead the country towards innovation, increased government revenue, jobs and wealth generation capable of improving livelihoods. This decision disposes of any unintentional or provisional character in such an endeavor.”

 

Based on the current demographic growth, the main challenge the Haitian education system is faced with is the satisfaction of ever increasing numbers of learners. Not merely linear but an exponential growth. Unleash access, leads to “massification”, and requires adaptation that is met with  constraints given the meagre financial resources both HEDs and learners possess in a developing economy [2].

 

Ideally, on the supply side, massification of access ought to be sought concurrently with the “mutualisation” of resources by aggregating institutional offer to provide the following:  a cost-effective solution that combines quality digital content; appropriate volume of resources; a state-of-the-art learning environment; innovative technological learning management tools; efficient tutorship, coaching, communication and evaluation devices and a nationwide network of strategic partners capable of providing proximity logistics to potentially expandable groups of disseminated learners.

 

On the demand side, massification of access entails the learners’ (individual and collective) commitment to adopt transformative models such as distance learning or autonomy of apprenticeship; develop digital capabilities; time management and other 21st century skills to successfully integrate an essentially web-based learning community.

 

Reflexion, research and field experiences led the Ecole Supérieure d’Infotronique d’Haïti (ESIH) to come up with a solution taking into account supply and demand side constraints and anticipating some foreseeable developments such as:

  • persistent infrastructure pitfalls conducive to the use of low energy consumption devices like tablets and backup mechanisms to mitigate the instability of connectivity and energy-related services. The mechanism also includes learning material storage on the device itself.

  • lack of exposure to complex technological solutions of ordinary developing country learners to be mitigated by a hybrid type of learning formula including learners engagement by periodical classroom activities. 

  • scaling up challenge due to exponential growth of HEI student population which is anticipated by the use of artificial intelligence [3] to deploy an intelligent tutoring system minimizing the need for human tutoring. Consequently, while the enrolment growth is exponential, human tutoring needs’ growth remains linear.

  • use of existing open source content (other than MOOCs) whenever available which allows significantly reduced overall costs of the solution to the end user.

  • a multi-institutional integrated ecosystem including student information systems (SIS) and learning management systems (LMS) at an affordable cost with local access to developers, training and maintenance. 

  • choice of a recognized international academic and administrative standard (i.e. the Bologna process) aimed at enhancing local mobility and transparency for international partners.   

Compiling world best practices, observing and scrutinizing experiences, ESIH concluded that parallel to the use of existing content, there also was need to acquire modern digital course development capabilities that can be mutualized by a majority of HEIs in order to guarantee local know-how and an economic model to ensure the sustainability of a locally developed customized technological platform.

 

It seems there is no single technological structure tailored to the needs of every HED community and in the absence of a low cost and integrated higher education management system, ESIH has felt compelled to design and develop a professional software packages generic enough to be used by several institutions, capable as well to address the specific issues encountered in the higher education ecosystems of poor countries. The name of this solution is THESS, which stands for Technologie Hybride pour l’Education, la Science et le Savoir / Hybrid technology for education, science and knowledge[4].

 

References/Notes:

 

[1] In the South Eastern region of the island, near Jacmel: a hydropower plant called Gaillard.

[2] Haitian GDP per capita is estimated at 815 Dollars of the United States in 2015, Source World Bank

[3] THESS-IA led by Ben-Manson TOUSSAINT, PhD, Director of the SITERE Laboratory (http://sitere.science/)

[4] The THESS platform and portal (http://thess.online) were developed in 2015 thanks to a funding from the French Embassy in Haiti and the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF).

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IAU blog on the role of technology in higher education 

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