C. Dukhira’s ‘Pioneers of Private Secondary Schools’ & ‘Nation mauricienne souveraine’

Book Review

Two books of late Chit Dukhira were launched posthumously by the family of the author last month – ‘Pioneers of Private secondary Schools in Mauritius’ and ‘Nation mauricienne souveraine: Survol historique’. The ceremony was held at hennessy Park hotel in the presence of former Vice President Raouf Bundhun, Global Rainbow Foundation and former Education minister Armoorgum Parsuramen and with Finlay Salesse as master of ceremonies, all of whom have known Chit Dukhira from close quarters and in different capacities.

Interest in Mauritian history has been growing over the years, both locally and amongst academics in different universities worldwide. An online search will quickly reveal the number of academic articles, penned by American, British, Indian, French scholars and so many others in other foreign universities on different aspects of our history. ‘Nation mauricienne souveraine: Survol historique’ is a valuable addition to the body of research seeking to understand what has gone into the making of the Mauritian nation, the political battles as well as the social and cultural fault lines that existed in Mauritian society, some of which persist to this day. Besides thorough and time-consuming research dedicated to the writing of this book, Chit Dukhira must have drawn from his exposure to local government administration, having himself been a Town Clerk, and previously written four books on local government and one on the history of Mauritius – ‘Experiments in Democracy’, and been closely involved in social and political activities for most of his active life.

‘Pioneers of Private secondary Schools in Mauritius’ comes at an opportune time when many of these private educational institutions are facing uncertain times and indeed threat of closure. It should be of particular interest to the pioneers who contributed to make the future of this country brighter than what it might have been by setting up private secondary schools in the country at a critical stage of its economic and social development as well to students of history with a particular interest in the educational development afoot in the country since the 1950s and much earlier. In an earlier contribution to the subject of private secondary schools, economist Anil Gujadhur, who was also a former Deputy Governor of the Bank of Mauritius, referred to them as an effective tool of social and economic empowerment for vast numbers of Mauritians at a time when the economy was still narrow-based, and who had no opportunity to pursue any meaningful activities other than menial work in the fields, in commerce and as artisans.

‘The past generation of masons, fishermen, mechanical apprentices in factories, workers in factory electrical units, tabagie-owners, labourers, handy men of all sorts, small shop owners and planters of a primarily agricultural society, looked upon education as the route that would spare their offsprings the life of hardships and vicissitudes that had been theirs. However, besides the Catholic and other Christian denomination secondary schools which were designed originally to provide formal secondary education to their own specific pools of students, both boys and girls, there were not as many public schools providing secondary education to children in those days. It is in this context that we need to assess the key role played by secular private secondary schools towards the real uplift of this country. The work they have done to comprehensively uplift the majority of the population, along with the public and confessional elite schools, has been remarkable.

The pioneers who established private secondary schools were men and women of some character and strong dedication, who took the risk to fill up the void in which those who had been left behind by the elitist public and confessional schools, were finding themselves. They were the Obeegadoos of Trinity College, the Bhujoharrys of Bhujoharry College, the Pattens of Patten College, the Balgobins of Eden College, the Roys of Mauritius College, the Venkatasamys of New Eton College, the Jeetahs of Prof Bissoondoyal College, the Khadaroos of Darwin College, the Chan Lam of London College, the Bolakees and Chamroos of Universal College, the Sanmukhiyas of Modern College, the Bunwarees of Ideal College, the Napals of Cosmopolitan College, the Chellappoos, Bhugaloos, Luchmuns, and many others.’

Sadly, many of the educational establishments which saved a full generation of Mauritians by imparting education when the latter had nowhere else to go to are now extinct. Some private establishments are still around despite the era of free education at the secondary level which came into play from 1976 and the competition that now obtains from the better equipped state secondary schools. It can be said however that private secondary schools of the 1950s and the 1960s have played a critical role to help this country reap fully the benefits of our education system, and this must be what inspired Chit Dhukira to pay tribute to their dedicated promoters.

‘Pioneers of Private secondary Schools in Mauritius’ and ‘Nation mauricienne souveraine: Survol historique’ are both a valuable contribution to local history and should be read as widely as possible.

* Published in print edition on 10 December 2021

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