By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee
For the second year running I had the pleasure of being invited to the Annual Prize-Giving ceremony of the Royal College Curepipe, which was held this time in a marquis erected for the purpose. As had been the case when I attended last year, the organization was excellent.
I was welcomed at the entrance by a senior student who accompanied me to the venue and ‘handed me over’ to another representative who led me to my seat. I found myself amongst many familiar faces, and a feeling of warmth surged as I looked around at the décor and the packed audience.
Many times when I was a student myself, I had sat amongst my peers in excitement, waiting for my name to be called, then walked up to collect my prize. I still have all the books that I received then, and they are a treasured part of my expanding library. So when I watch the winners going up to the stage to receive their bundle I make a secret prayer that many years down the line they will still cherish in sweet remembrance their moments of glory, and also, like me, give pride of place to their prizes.
There were three main speakers: The Rector Mrs H. B. Nabheebucus, the President of the PTA Mr H. Chellen, and the Guest of Honour Dr Dinesh Somanah of the University of Mauritius, an alumnus of the RCC. The common, and most important, message they conveyed was that the purpose of education at the RCC was to form a ‘total human being.’ This is reflected fully in the vision of the school: ‘To strive to establish a unique centre of learning which provides a world class quality education to our boys, ensuring their total personality development to become global citizens; a centre contributing to build an educated nation fully aware of its rights, duties and responsibilities not only towards Mauritius but towards the whole world.’
It is commendable that duties and responsibilities are included, because there is a tendency these days to claim only one’s rights at the expense of those of others, which leads to an abuse of freedom verging on licence. It is good to inculcate in tender minds that their rights are associated with corresponding duties and responsibilities, so that when they become adults they are better citizens and have a balanced approach to social issues.
The Rector’s constant reference in her speech to ‘our boys,’ ‘our students’ was no doubt an indication of the fact that the school and its denizens – staff and pupils – form a family, and thus are related and inter-related in the unique school ecosystem that the RCC is. They have to share all the ups and downs, but they have been lucky to be on an upward swing in the past decade in particular. She had every reason to be proud of the seven laureates that the school has produced at the beginning of this year, in addition to the 92 pupils (out of 147) who secured 3 A’s. The pass rate for HSC has increased steadily from 89.1% in 2001 to (save for 2009) 98% in 2010.
It was heartening to hear from Mr Chellen about the robust support that the PTA gives to the school, and indeed there were many parents in the assembly. The involvement of parents is certainly a great necessity, especially in view of the many outside influences that their children are exposed and vulnerable to in this day and age. By supporting their children’s school and taking part in the important functions, such as the Prize-Giving, they are not only showing their concern for the future of their children, they are also strengthening the moral authority of the Rector, a crucial factor in the moulding of the students.
Besides, the Rector did stress on human values that she is convinced must be passed on to children, and all parents must back her in this respect. By taking part in the myriad extra-curricular activities that the pamphlet issued for the occasion shows, the students learn to compete healthily, but also to cooperate, share and empathise. The fallout of this eventually spreads to society as a whole, and is therefore beneficial to the country at large.
Dr Somanah, himself an illustrious example of the success that follows hard work, indicated at the outset that he did not have a prepared speech, but would share some of his experiences with the students. His theme was the nurturing of a complete man through education and the activities that accompanied the process in the school setting. He cited his own example of being good at athletics and sports, especially football – which he still plays – and this continued at university where he won championships. Besides, he was also fond of and was too a good dancer, and for him sports, dance and music were necessary to complement formal qualifications and make a complete human being. No parent or educator would argue with that.
The other important point he made was that one should pursue what one was passionate about as a first degree, which was really an entry point to the world of one’s career – in which, he felt and I concur, that the Master’s was the determining factor. And since he is a scientist, he observed that studying science helped one to be objective and logical. He was not surprised that many of his students, graduates in physics, had finally made a career in finance, because the analytical and computational skills that they thus acquired gave them an edge over those who had not had such an opportunity.
All of us realize that winning prizes is but the beginning of the road, and that those who had not won any prizes were not necessarily doomed – far from it, as our collective experience shows. Developing this idea, Dr Somanah said that, without in any way undervaluing the prizes that were to be awarded, his opinion was that they represented, on the broader canvas of life, the bronze medals: to him, the gold medals for all students was making a success of living in society after one had left the cocoon of the school or university.
I am sure that these lofty thoughts, strong and clear messages, and encouraging words would have touched the hearts and minds of all present but especially of the students for whom they were primarily meant. There was a custom when I was at the RCC for guest speakers to be invited to talk about their respective fields to the upper forms, perhaps with the idea the latter would gain an insight into the world of work they would shortly join, and might help them decide upon a career. If it is no longer practiced, it could be reconsidered; in any case it costs nothing, and the beneficiaries will be the future generation, one prepared to lead in their chosen fields and their county.
Let me end up with a few of the quotations that are on the inside of the front cover of the programme booklet:
- Your schooling may be over, but remember that your education still continues. Anon
- The man who graduates today and stops learning tomorrow is uneducated the day after – Newton D Baker
- Education is not a skill. It is an attitude – Ralph Marston.
- Keep in mind that neither success nor failure is ever final. – Roger Bobson.
- If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door – Milton Berle
And finally, one of my favourites:
- Try not to become a man, but try rather to become a man of value – Albert Einstein
May all the students of Mauritius become human beings of value – to themselves, to their families and communities, and to their country.
* Published in print edition on 1 July 2011