To perpetuate the myth that it is difficult to succeed in a faculty at the UEH, some professors go so far as to asking that they be referred as « boulè »*, according to testimonies collected by AyiboPost
The scene J.D. recalls took place in 2019. The philosophy student at the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) was in his first year and was taking his third course on Thomas Hobbes.
“At the end of the session,” says J.D. on condition of anonymity to avoid being penalized in his studies, “the professor returned copies of an assignment we submitted during the previous class.”
Among about thirty students, barely three passed. “To justify the poor grades awarded, the professor said that a mark of four out of ten obtained in a state faculty is equivalent to an eight in the best private university in the country.”
Of seventeen students from the State University of Haiti (UEH) interviewed by AyiboPost, fourteen believe that professors prefer to give better grades to those from private universities. This, even if the work of the latter might be of lower quality. The former dean of the Henri Christophe de Limonade campus, Irvings Julien, recognizes this. He describes this trend as a « repetitive abuse of which these students are a victim on the part of teachers and other officials of the UEH ».
To justify the poor grades awarded, the professor said that a mark of four out of ten obtained in a state faculty is equivalent to an eight in the best private university in the country.
AyiboPost requested an interview from the UEH rectorate on August 14, 2023 and submitted a detailed questionnaire a week later.
Eleven days after the request for an interview and four days after the questionnaire was sent, the vice-rector for academic affairs, Jean Poincy, wrote to the editorial staff explaining that the University does not « base its activities or its decisions on the deadlines of any organization ». This article will be updated in the event of an answer from the UEH to the questions asked.
The perception of a grade that does not reflect performance seems to be of concern to the UEH. Esther Lazarre takes herself as an example. Suffering from nephrotic syndrome, the young woman who has graduated in civil engineering since 2020, recalls feeling unwell during a second-year exam at the Faculty of Science (FDS). AyiboPost could not verify these facts independently, but she says that the teacher who taught the course allowed her to retake the test a few days later with other students who also missed the exam for various reasons. Except that when the results were published, the faculty coordinator refused to allow her grade to be registered, forcing her to retake the course.
To be able to perpetuate the myth that it is difficult to succeed in a faculty at the UEH, some professors would go so far as to have themselves be referred to as « boulè« *, according to testimonies collected by AyiboPost. This implies that the marks obtained by students will never be very high. Berly Alexandre, another FDS student, accuses these teachers of deliberately failing learners.
Of seventeen students from the State University of Haiti (UEH) interviewed by AyiboPost, fourteen say that professors prefer to give better grades to those from private universities.
« Without a valid reason », Alexandre reports that in 2014 a lecturer in a recitation class decided to take away two points from him for each exercise of an assignment. The student specializing in architectural engineering was in his first year. “I tried to complain to him, he adds, but that did not yield any results.”
The problem turns out to be complex. Doctor of education sciences, Joël Clairesia, prefers not to look at things in black and white. « If the professors have this attitude towards the students of the State University of Haiti (UEH), he says, it is because they consider the university in question an institution of excellence ». In other words, they know that the few admitted are those who obtained the best marks through a very competitive entrance examination. Therefore, their goal would not be to under-evaluate the students, but rather to push them to always do better.
Jean-Jacques Cadet is also of this opinion. Moreover, according to him, the students of the UEH would be overvalued rather than the contrary. A teacher at the State University of Haiti and the Society and Environment Doctoral School of Quisqueya University, the 30-year-old does not hide the fact that he demands more from his state scholarship students. The latter are what Jean-Jacques Cadet calls « privileged intellectuals ». And as such, they must provide greater intellectual effort than others.
If the professors have this attitude towards the students of the State University of Haiti, it is because they consider the university in question an institution of excellence.
This expectation is even more evident during evaluations. Even if it is the same course and the same level, Jean-Jacques Cadet recognizes that state scholarship holders will always have a more difficult exam. With the addendum that, “ this is not necessarily a problem,” he says. The professor in the master’s program in social anthropology at the Faculty of Ethnology emphasizes the fact that students are aware of the expectations of the professors. “It is also for this reason, he says, that like professors, those enrolled at both a private university and at the UEH do not deliver the same effort on both sides.” In addition to that, Jean-Jacques Cadet sees the difference in the difficulty of the exams as a form of differentiated pedagogy.
“It is about the existence of nuances in the delivery of education and evaluation,” he explains. In other words, the way of teaching and evaluating changes according to the university. “It is in this sense that a test evaluated at 40 out of 100 at the École Normale Supérieure can obtain an average of 60 out of 100 in several other universities,” he adds.
To evaluate a test, taking the instructions into account is also very important. These are indicators which make it possible to judge the quality of the work and give arguments to the student to defend themselves when making claims. Only, there are teachers who have the bad habit of not taking this into account, complains Irvings Julien. And, “not communicating the instructions and correction criteria for each evaluation activity is an open door to acts of corruption, even to sexual exploitation in universities,” warns the specialist in science and technology.
A psychology student at the Faculty of Ethnology, R.B. admits that once she passed a course when she shouldn’t have. “During a final exam in the second year,” testifies the 25-year-old young woman, “I barely answered three questions out of the ten that were asked. When I saw my score of 70 out of 100, I was shocked. It was only later that I realized that my mark was due to the fact that the professor had a relationship with my best friend.
Another consequence of what is considered by students interviewed to be the under-valuation of students at the State University of Haiti, is transcripts riddled with poor grades. Irvings Julien points out that although state scholarship holders are generally very good in practice, these transcripts often show the opposite. Yet it is these very documents that allow for benefiting from educational and career opportunities.
Failure to communicate the instructions and correction criteria for each evaluation activity is an open door to acts of corruption, and even to sexual exploitation in universities.
In May 2023, Esther Lazarre wanted to join a master’s program at a Dutch university. The young civil engineering graduate submitted her documents as required, but her application was rejected because her grades were deemed too low. « I explained the situation for UEH students and that my grades of 70 and 80 ranked me among the brightest, » says Lazarre. “But they demanded an average of 90 out of 100”.
It is difficult for a student to obtain this average within the UEH. However, international universities are not aware of this reality and do not have to know about it, says Julien. They simply know that they have a passing grade and rely on the candidates’ transcripts to assess their performance. As a result, the highest-scoring candidates will always be prioritized.
Still, passing grades aren’t much of an issue, as they vary from university to university. What is needed is the use of an explanatory weighting system that allows the student’s ability to be judged rather than their marks, according to specialists. In this sense, Irvings Julien and Joël Clairesia both argue in favor of adopting the North American rating system. Instead of numbers, grades would be represented by letters varying between A and F.
“If, for example, it is established that an interval of 0 to 60% is worth an E, explains the doctor of education, Irvings Julien, we will know immediately that a student whose marks are there will be out of the running.”
Thus, changing the grading system should allow any official of a national or foreign university to judge whether the level of the student corresponds to that required to integrate their institution. After which, « it will be necessary to standardize the passing marks, » advance the two scientists. That is, having a single passing mark in all entities.
Another consequence of what is considered by students interviewed to be the under-valuation of students at the State University of Haiti is their transcripts riddled with poor grades.
« Getting out of the average system where there is more risk of student under-valuation and adopting the credit system is also a necessity, » notes Irvings Julien. Students will be able to choose their courses according to the number of years they want to devote to their studies.
The perception that students are under-valuated exists in an environment where the UEH faces a serious problem with finding qualified staff for in-person teaching in its faculties. The University does not release figures, but students complain of canceled classes or unavailable professors. Long delays in the grading of some students’ work is an old problem that continues to persist today, according to testimonials.
AyiboPost is not aware of any studies carried out on the perception of unfair grading at UEH. While students in every department surveyed report that this is a concern, the editors cannot confirm whether and how the institution plans to address the issue.
The problem is that there is no regulatory body for higher education in Haiti. “The Department of Higher Education and Research (DESRS) within the Ministry of Education oversees questions of higher education at the private level,” notes specialist Joël Clairesia. In other words, the State University of Haiti is not affected by its decisions. Especially since the 1987 Constitution makes the UEH an autonomous and independent institution.
What is needed, according to Joël Clairesia, is a body that has authority over higher education across the country.
* A « boulè » is a teacher predisposed to giving low grades to students in order to enhance the prestige of his course.
Cover image : freepik
English translation by Sarah Jean.
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