Twenty years ago, Alexandrine Policar left her home country of Haiti to complete her education in the United States.
But, she says, she’s never stopped thinking of Haiti.
“I was speaking to a colleague and she told me it’s really great that I have a different understanding of Haiti, because all she could see was crime, corruption and poverty,” Policar said. “But there is [much more to] Haiti, and the worst thing is we don’t have the right technology in place to help Haitians.”
So Policar, now firmly settled in Boston with a career in Information Technology at UMass Boston, a family, and several graduate degrees – including a Doctor of Law and Policy from Northeastern University College of Professional Studies – has made it her mission to do what she can to help.
“As someone born in Haiti, I’m saying: How can I use my knowledge of law and policy to help Haiti, and to think creatively?” she said.
Policar is already taking steps to make her dream a reality. She was recently awarded a Fulbright grant by the U.S. State Department to spend six months working with the State University of Haiti to start the process of transforming educational technology and online education there.
She plans to explore Haiti’s current educational technologies, networks and infrastructure, determine the impact online education could have on knowledge creation, enrollment and accessibility, and examine the internal and external barriers facing these types of changes, among other goals.
She also plans to use her original research into digital copyright materials that she completed as part of her doctoral thesis at Northeastern.
“One of the things I learned through my law and policy degree is to determine when the time is right, and when to ask the right questions,” she said. “The time is right for Haiti to be involved in online education.”
About 75 percent of Haiti’s population is under 30, Policar says, and since education is centralized, those looking to learn must come to the capital, which means financing a place to stay as well as paying for their education. And although Internet access is still expensive, there have been several key expansions into infrastructure in the last ten years.
“Education is the key for the development in any poor country, but we have these young people who are yearning to learn and they don’t have the foundation they need in Haiti,” she said. “If we don’t educate our population, how can we expect Haiti to develop?”
Although her current grant is research-based, Policar says her ultimate goal is to make sure her recommendations are the first step towards real progress in transforming education in Haiti.
“I don’t want to do the research and have it sit there,” she said. “Even if I don’t do it directly, I want to make sure they will implement my findings and recommendations. If I don’t do that, I will feel as if I have failed.”
Admittedly, it’s a lofty goal. But Policar says one of the keys she learned through her doctoral degree is that fostering change in laws and policies often means taking the time to make personal connections.
“Making policy is not always about words or laws,” she said. “It’s about developing the human connection. If I can understand you and relate to your story, that will always impact you more. We all share feelings and emotions, regardless of where we come from or our background. If I can bring that human connection to my policymaking in Haiti, I think I will be successful.”