Mauritius Times – 60 Years
By Peter Ibbotson
Barbados, in the West indies, has much in common with Mauritius. It is a small, densely-populated island, dependent on sugar. It has a mixed population. Its birth rate is, however, only two-thirds that of Mauritius, being (in 1951) 30.7 per 1,000 as against 47.5 in Mauritius (‘Report of the Committee on Population’, page 6).
Barbados has for years been much more highly developed, politically and constitutionally, than Mauritius. It has for example, Cabinet government. Like Mauritius, however, it has employment problems. Its government has begun to tackle the problem of unemployment in an imaginative fashion, and on the principle of the Scottish proverb that “mony a mickle maks a muckle” — many little things add up to one big thing.
Photograph of a woman arriving in England from the West Indies. May 1956. Pic -British Library
For example, London Transport recently sent two senior recruiting officers to Barbados to interview prospective employees. A number of Bardadians were selected and came to the U.K. to work for London Transport. This was at the initiative of the Barbados government. And most people who have met Barbadians (and other West Indians) on London’s buses and tubes have been impressed by their cheerfulness and courtesy. In both respects the Barbadian compares very favourably with his English fellow.
Another interesting aspect of assisted emigration from Barbados is detailed in the current issue of The Times Review of the British Colonies. Since 1955, it appears, the Barbados government has sponsored a training scheme for workers who want to emigrate to the UK to work in the catering trade. Vacancies in the UK catering trade are notified to the Barbados government by the British Transport Commission and by the British Hotels and Restaurants Association (on behalf of its member-employers). Workers who are selected for the vacancies are given a loan of £65 for their fare to the UK (£65 is Rs867). The loan is free of interest but repayments must be started after six weeks in the UK and are at the rate of 15 shillings (Rs10) per week. It thus takes 87 weeks, or nearly two years, to repay the loan.
Says the Times Review, the catering trade “suffering as it does from a chronic shortage of labour, offers a secure and modest livelihood, a firm foothold in the United Kingdom”. Perhaps the Mauritius government could make arrangements with the British catering trade similar to the arrangements made by the Barbados government? The catering trade is short of workers: and the British Hotels and Restaurants Association (which has recruited over 2000 Barbadians under the scheme already, and it has been running only two years) acknowledges that they have been of great assistance to its members.
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Mr Ward and Mr Opper initiated a number of reforms and innovations during their tenures of office at the Education Department, a teacher correspondent reminds readers of the Mauritius Times (20 Aug 1957). He points out that Mr Snell’s name is not so far associated with any desirable reform.
Mr Snell yet has time to make a name for himself in the development of education. He has time to prepare and put forward to his Minister a scheme for the eradication of illiteracy in Mauritius. UNESCO has just published a report in its series of monographs on fundamental education entitled ‘World Illiteracy at Mid-century: A Statistical Study’. The occurrence of illiteracy in many countries is presented statistically; and the incidence of illiteracy in a number of countries (Mauritius is one) is analysed in more detail.
In 1952, it appears, there were in Mauritius 300,256 persons aged 15 or over of whom 48.2% were illiterate. The criterion of illiteracy was the ability to read; and the figures do not include the dependencies of Mauritius. At mid-century, i.e. at the census nearest 1950, the rate of Illiteracy in Madagascar was between 65 and 70%; in the Seychelles it was 60 to 65%: and in Reunion, again 60 to 65%. Mauritius thus compares favourably with the other Indian Ocean islands; but this favourable comparison is nothing to be complacent about. Barbados, British Guiana, Jamaica and Trinidad – to select but four small British colonial territories – all had rates of illiteracy well below the level in Mauritius. In Jamaica, the rate was 25 to 30%; in British Guiana and Trinidad between 20 to 25%; and in Barbados, which is so like Mauritius socially and economically and demographically, it was as low as 5 to 10%. All these rates of illiteracy are percentages of the population aged 15 or over. (As a digression, we may contrast the illiteracy among the Algerians and the French colons in Algeria. For the former, the rate is 93.8% illiterate; for the colons, only 8.2% illiterate).
Examining the 1952 census in some detail, and examining the illiteracy figures contained therein, the UNESCO monograph shows that male illiteracy is less frequent than female illiteracy in Mauritius (excluding dependencies). Whereas 36.3% of males were illiterate, no less than 60.2% of females were unable to read. (Ability to read is the criterion of illiteracy.) Illiteracy was highest among the Indo-Mauritians, at 41.2% for males and 77% for females. Among the General Population it was 29.1% for males and 32.2% for females: and the lowest illiteracy rates were among the Sino-Mauritians: males 8.3% and females, 28.1%. It was notable among all three ethnic groups that there was a correlation between age and illiteracy; illiteracy was more prevalent among the older age-groups, reaching its highest level (90%, or nine out of ten) among Indo-Mauritian women aged 65 and over. The age-group with the lowest illiteracy rate, was incidentally, the 12-14-year-old age group of the Sino-Mauritian population, where (for boys and girls combined) there were only 5.5% unable to read.
Also traceable is a connection between the rate of illiteracy and the number of men engaged in agriculture. A graph shows very strikingly the sharp fall in illiteracy in Belgium, France, the UK and the USA as all four countries became more industrialised and less agricultural. Out of 35 selected countries, 13 have over half their population illiterate and at the same time over half the men working in agriculture. Countries with illiteracy rates comparable to that of Mauritius are Ecuador (44%), Thailand (48%) and Venezuela (48%): all three have more men working in agriculture than Mauritius.
On the other hand, Trinidad, with 29% of its men working in agriculture (as against 27% in Mauritius), has only 26% of its population illiterate, as against 48% in Mauritius. And Argentina, with 30% of men working in agriculture, has an illiteracy rate of only 14%.
There is scope for much work in Mauritius, therefore, to get rid of illiteracy. If Mr Snell can lay the foundations of a campaign to abolish illiteracy, therefore, he may yet go down in the educational history of the island as a great Director of Education.
In my article Repeal this Law, which appeared on 1 Sep 1957, I said that the publications of the Jehovah’s Witnesses were banned from Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. I based this statement on a parliamentary reply given early last year. Now, however, I learn that my information was not completely up-to-date. The ban was the subject of protests, court actions, etc. and has now been lifted, so that the books and magazines of the Jehovah’s Witnesses are now allowed freely to enter these territories. (Some restrictions, however, do still remain in a few countries).
I am glad to be able to publish this correction, and to learn that at least two Commonwealth territories are a step nearer the full and free exchange and circulation of views and opinions. Other territories (e.g. the Seychelles) please note.
Friday 4th October 1957
4th year – No 165
* Published in print edition on 22 June 2021
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