I am late in this discussion, but I wanted to add what I perceived the differences were. While most of the differences I am highlighting below were already identified by the previous posters, what I want to do is grouping and organizing them within their different school levels.
The US school system has these levels: pre-school, elementary, middle school, high school, and college. The Haitian system has: jardin d’enfants, école primaire, école secondaire, université. Both systems have the same levels, except that middle school and high school in Haiti are combined into one, called école secondaire. Excluding the two years of pre-school, which exist in both systems, the Haitian system in the 60s and 70s requires a total of 14 years, from 7th grade to Certificat and from 6th to Philo. Today, in the US, it takes 13 years, split between seven in middle and high schools, five in elementary school plus kindergarten.
In Haiti, the same government entity, the department of education, oversees all levels, except jardin d’enfants. I believe they have an office in each town, called “inspection scolaire.” In the US, the States oversee all the levels as well, except the pre-school, through the School Boards and the Board of Regents, like in Florida. I am not sure of the role of the federal government, through the department of education, in the US school system. It is no wonder that Newt Gingrich wanted it eliminated. In any case, the schools under the State system are called public schools. But, there is a vibrant private school system thriving in parallel to the public system, subdivided into the same levels. In both countries, the best schools tend to be private, primarily due to availability of resources. Both systems have vocational schools, but I believe they are treated as outside of the system. In both countries, there is a gap between the private and the public school system. I will not compare the pre-school level, since it covers only two years and operates, to a certain extent, outside of the government’s school system. In general, it is entirely private in both countries.
Primary vs. Elementary School
1. First and foremost, is the sorting of the various grades names. In Haiti, I started in 7th grade then went to 6th, 5th, 4th until 1st, which is also called Certificat. In the US, they start with kindergarten, then to 1st, 2nd, 3rd to fifth grade
2. In general, in the USA, your 5th birthday must fall on or before the first day of school in kindergarten to be admitted in elementary school. That requirement is more flexible in Haiti.
3. In both countries, they tried to teach you reading, writing, and speaking in one language, and mathematics. While in the Haitian system they start teaching logic during the last years of primary school, in the American system the teaching of logic starts at kindergarten. Furthermore, I understand that today, Haitian students learn to read and write in two languages – Creole and French – while the Americans just do it in one, with a second language optional in certain districts. There is a beginning of sciences, the country’s history, and civic instructions in both systems in this level of schooling, though in the latter years of primary school. But geography was stronger in Haiti than in the US and the teaching of Haitian history was very chauvinistic. I am going on a limb here, but I will venture that the way they teach Haitian history in primary school may be at the basis of the fascination of Haitians with politics and the lifelong desire to have their names in the Haitian history books next to Dessalines, Toussaint, Petion, Christophe, etc., besides the wealth lure. On the other hand, art, music and physical education were more systematically taught in the US as opposed to in Haiti.
4. One of the biggest differences between the two countries at the primary school level was in grading. The Haitian school system encourages competition between the students, in the way that they rank the students based on the grades obtained on tests and quizzes, and the ranking is widely know to all students. I am going on a limb again here, but that grading system may explain that competitive nature in adult life of Haitians whereby eliminating the competition is more sought for than doing better. In the Haitian system, in the 60s & 70s, the students were graded on how they did, in the aggregate, on the tests of the subjects taught in school: reading, writing, math, history, geography, etc. In the US, not only the students are graded on reading, language arts, math, science/social studies, they were also graded on social growth, study skills, music, art, physical education, and perhaps the optional language, such as Spanish.
5. Another major difference was the administration of punishment. In Haiti, academic failure leads to repeating the class and then expulsion from the school. Of course, the teacher was allowed to administer corporal punishment when it deems it necessary. In the US, they create two schools for the students. They move the better students in a class by themselves, called Gifted or Magnet. The rest of the students are taught at a lower level, not pushed, and advanced from one grade to a higher one every year. At least, that is my understanding of the US system. But, I will confess that I do not understand and know it. Perhaps, someone else can explain better how it works with the slower students in the USA. Corporal punishment is prohibited in the school system, and many indicated before, students with learning disabilities have access professionals which was unheard of in my hometown when I was growing up.
6. Another major difference, which was widely covered by previous posters, is the learning by rote. I was surprised, while in primary school, that the learning by rote did not improve my memory capacity and ability to memorize as I advanced towards higher education. Instead, it deteriorated significantly. I found that very astounding afterwards. But I should not have been surprised. Our brain uses links to other frame of references in it to memorize. But, when you are memorizing things for which you have no other frame of references in the brain, it follows that your brain would have no recall capability as there is no frame of references to trigger the recall. I had to wait until I was in 4eme secondaire to start blooming at school, right after I jettisoned the learning by rote system. By then, some of my classmates and I divided students in our classes in two groups: a) those who learn by rote and b) those, like I, who used a more “understanding to learn” system. Certainly, in the US, starting with recognition of differences in objects in kindergarten to the use of multiple choices, the learning system is very different than we have in Haiti.
7. In both countries, parents, primarily mothers, help with homework. But, the difference in the homework was rather in its content. In Haiti, the daily homework in my primary school was lessons that must be recited the following morning in class, reading, and spelling words. Math homework was left for the weekend. In the US, at least at my daughter’s school, there was no homework on weekends. On the other hand, on weeknights they have spelling words, math homework, reading, etc. Occasionally, they would have a project. In addition, they would also the field trips which did not exist in Haiti, except for those in “Croisés” which were not all the class. But, “croisés” were only during the last three to four years of primary school.
8. In Haiti, there is a regional exam, Certificat, to move from primary school to secondary school. Without it, you cannot go to secondary school. Each State in the US has its own standards. In general, a passing grade from fifth grade from your school is all that is needed to start 6th grade. However, in Florida, there is a standardized test called FCAT, starting third grade, which each student must pass each year. The school gets penalized, if its students, as a group, consistently failed it.
9. The comparison I made so far between primary school in Haiti and Elementary school in the US is based on my experience when I went to school in Jeremie in the 60s. While in 1965, Duvalier shut down the schools for weeks after Jean-Claude and his other children’s cars were shot upon, this was nothing compared to what went through in the past ten years in Haiti with political unrest, strikes and others. Last year, the Broward and Dade Counties School System in Florida closed the schools for two weeks after Hurricane Wilma, this was the exception, not the rule.
This is my first installment in the response to Liline’s question. I will post later the analysis of secondary school and another one afterwards on the university level. Perhaps, each level should have its own thread in order to narrow the discussions to the topic debated.