Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago
“The Standard of English: Low”, say School Certificate Examiners
By R. Rummun
Now that the exams are striding fast, and the very thought of the English Language is troubling minds, we feel it will do much good to SC add even GCE candidates taking this language and also to teachers and parents to know what the examiners have to say on that subject.
The most important section of the English Paper is the one dealing with composition – Paper I. Its purpose is to test the candidate’s ability to express his thoughts clearly, logically and convincingly. It strictly stipulates that he must provide a “reasonable length”, and pay attention to “style, subject-matter and arrangement”. For the guidance of candidates, we shall group the various paragraphs of the Report dealing with Paper I under four headings, suggested by the above requirements, and treat them in the same order.
Length of Composition
This is a point that puzzles many candidates. The Report emphatically states that the compositions were generally short. “Few candidates wrote 3 pages and the average was barely 11/2 pages”.
Many could write even this and, being short of ideas, fell to “stupid repetitions” and padding – “The opportunities afforded by the subjects to introduce local material were not seized with conviction and description lacked colour and knowledge.”
After recording this sad lack of material, the Report mentions a general absence of fluency. The candidates were evidently straining every nerve to make themselves understood, but the efforts of many were rendered fruitless by faulty constructions of sentences and paragraphs, and errors of vocabulary, idiom and concord.
As regards sentence-construction, the examiners stress the need for “complete sentences, simple, compound and complex.” The main faults were lack of unity of thought, and the use of “loose and completely uncontrolled” sentences, or the other extreme of short, jerky, monotonous sentences.
A very important point is mentioned about vocabulary: the use of coinages (drying-leaves making, chasing-time, habituated, etc.) and such stale and meaningless phrases as, “as a matter of fact”, “and so on and so forth”, etc.
“This was often slight, childish and elementary. Frequently it was incorrect. There was an absence of individuality in these compositions. Many candidates appeared to avoid subjects favouring a personal approach and concentrated instead on those requiring objective writing (e.g., Nos 1, 3, 6). There was much reliance on conventional ideas expressed very superficially.” The above remarks, which we could not resist quoting in full, deserve careful study.
A good number seemed unable to concentrate on a topic, but inability to convince was also due to lack of “factual knowledge.” (e.g., in No. 1 –climate). Thus, candidates are advised not to write on a subject on which they have “only hazy and inaccurate notions.”
Coming to relevance, we learn that many who attempted No. 6 (Forests) digressed badly, no doubt through lack of material. But most of those who tackled No. 8 (School Plays) were woefully irrelevant, since they wrote not on dramatic productions but on sports.
On the ticklish problem of interpretation, the examiners have this to say: “A wide tolerance is observed by examiners, but some candidates go beyond this and have to be penalised for gross, often deliberate, irrelevance.” There seem to be two causes for this: first, a misreading of the title; second a deliberate “twisting” of the subject to suit the candidate’s “own convenience”.
Under this heading will come plan & construction, and paragraphs. The examiners admit that many candidates did make some kind of mental or written plan, comprising introduction, body, conclusion. But they failed in execution. In many cases the introduction bore no relation to the body of the composition and the conclusion was but a poor repetition of some point already dealt with. Rarely were the main threads gathered into a summary. Often the conclusion was inexistent or irrelevant, being introduced by a lonely and meaningless “Thus”.
As regards paragraphs, the examiners note the absence of “a topic sentence to introduce a new point”, and failure to achieve unity within the paragraph. Many paragraphs had not one idea but “as many as six disjointed thoughts, unrelated to one another.” Such mistakes were more glaring in the scripts of those who had chosen a subject beyond their capacity, but they often found their way in essays on such familiar subjects as “Tea.” There were also numerous cases of multi-paragraphed compositions: e.g., as many as ten “so-called paragraphs” in an essay of 11/2 pages.
On the whole, the Report concludes: “The standard of work in English Language I was low. Punctuation was haphazard and elementary blunders were rife. Spelling was often very shaky. Handwriting was careless and often illegible.”
* Published in print edition on 31 August 2021
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