By Dr Balmick Foogooa
In the course of our medical studies it often happened, as it always does, that some subjects such as Histology, Microbiology, Pharmacology or Neurology are not only brain-racking, but also dull and boring to the average student. They do not appeal to most of them.
In my own case, I remember having, in the fifth year, failed in Neurology. I was then allowed a second attempt in that particular subject. Just imagine the predicament I would have been in were I to sit for all 4-5 subjects anew!
If we were required to repeat the full course just because of failure in one subject, most students would have taken 10 to 20 years to graduate as a doctor. Moreover, many would have given up halfway; not to speak of money and time loss. Luckily a second and even a third attempt is allowed by most schools for any subject in which one has not been successful.
As far as Cambridge University exams are concerned, our Ministry of Education (MoE) recognizes a School Certificate (SC) if, and only if, there are passes in a specific number of subjects including English Language (EL) at one and the same sitting.
But, what about students who are, let us say, very good at Maths and Sciences, but weak in Humanities just because the latter do not appeal to them? And, should they be dropped in case they have scored excellent marks in 5-6 subjects of their liking, but failed in EL?
According to the rules of the Ministry of Education (MoE), they have to repeat and sit for all the subjects within 6 months or 1 year. If they should fail again in EL, repeating the whole course is mandatory for Cambridge SC and HSC. Thus the poor student would have to pay exam fees for subjects in which they have already passed!
Let me digress here to point out something very pertinent. Students taking foreign languages (FL) far more difficult than EL, e.g. German, Mandarin, French, Tamil and other oriental languages, score much higher marks than in EL. It seems the examiners at Cambridge have a tendency to put the pass benchmark at a much higher level for EL as compared with that of FL. Actually, of all languages, EL has one of the simplest of grammars. This is also the reason behind its becoming so popular and almost an international language! We should therefore actually be expecting better performance in EL than in other FL.
Moreover, there are natural inclinations and tendencies among students. For instance, it is common knowledge that the average student taking Humanities would love to read Maupassant, Lamartine or Shakespeare rather than Sartre or Karl Marx.
Time for Change?
Taking this factor into consideration, it is high time the prerequisites for pursuing HSC studies, for employment and for any other related purpose, be reviewed by the MoE. The PSC and other like bodies will also have to change their rules.
Needless to say that Mauritius is one of the very rare countries to still maintain the wrongful practice of failing students all the way if they do not get through EL. Even in the UK, whose educational system serves as benchmark for its former colonies, such is not the practice.
Hence, if a candidate scores good marks in 5-6 subjects of his choice at SC but fails only in EL, he should be required to repeat only EL and pay fees for that one subject only. In the meantime, the student can continue his studies so as not to lose one precious year. Likewise, HSC students who score good marks in all the main subjects but fail in GP should be allowed to pursue higher studies with the exception of those doing Humanities who may have to repeat GP.
Thus the candidates, their parents and even government can save millions of Rupees altogether by not having to pay the fees all the way through. We should not forget that the Pound sterling is one of the most expensive currencies which parents of students cannot easily afford to buy up from time to time to settle recurring examination fees.
Lastly, let us be clear about one thing. Cambridge is not responsible for this archaic state of affairs as concerns our examination system. It is most unfortunate that, with the help of our own successive MoE, the Mauritian people have been fleeced for decades.
It is high time the present MoE trod off the beaten track and made the necessary realistic improvements in the situation. In the face of global economic and financial crises, tightening the strings of our purse, wherever useless expenditures have to be avoided, should make better sense.
* Published in print edition on 28 October 2011