Dr Satish K Mahadeo

Interview: Dr Satish Kumar Mahadeo, Associate Professor in English

 

 

“The issue of mother tongue education, if not properly addressed, can create social and ethnic divisiveness”

* “I suspect a ‘hidden agenda’ to push for the introduction of Creole as a medium in government schools so as to promote French-medium schools in the private sector”

 

Mauritius Times: “Language engineering can flourish or fail according to the attitudes of the community. Having a favourable attitude to the subject of language attitudes becomes important in a multilingual policy and practice.” This is what you argued last week in these same columns. What do you think would be the attitudes of the Mauritian community towards Kreol and its use as the medium of instruction in our schools?

 

Dr Satish Kumar Mahadeo: It cannot be safely assumed that all linguistic minorities (my definition of a ‘linguistic minority’ is that of a group for whom the mother tongue does not form part of mainstream education) WANT their language to be a medium of instruction, as the UNESCO committee recognised. Their advocacy of mother-tongue instruction was so strong that they recommended considerable effort at persuading reluctant populations. There are plenty of instances around the world where linguistic minorities, given a chance, have chosen a language other than their community language as medium of instruction.

Aaliya Rajah-Carrim, a Mauritian researcher from the University of Edinburgh, has fairly recently published a paper on “Mauritian Creole and Language of Multiethnic and Multingual Mauritius” (see Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, Vol. 28, No. 1, 2007). According to her research, those who believe that Creole should not be introduced in school form a majority group in her corpus.

The arguments underline the limited scope for the use of Creole outside Mauritius and are put in the following ways: “the teaching of Kreol in school would not lead us anywhere”, “it is not a passport to the world”. Mauritians seem conditioned to support the use of European languages in the education sector. In fact, not only is the mother tongue seen as an obstacle to the acquisition of useful knowledge, but it is further denigrated as not even a proper language, whatever the linguists, who form a tiny elite, say. On the world market, English has the most socio-economic power and hence is clearly a tool of socio-economic advancement. In contrast, Creole cannot help in promoting the socio-economic interests of its users.

Speakers of vernaculars can be very much opposed to their own languages being used in their children’s education. They may feel that the only path to advancement is via a world language, and their own language is nothing but a barrier. This is clearly illustrated by the language attitudes of parents in Hong Kong, an economic model for Mauritius, on the debate as to which language should be used as the medium of instruction in schools. After Hong Kong’s sovereignty was returned to China in 1997, mother tongue instruction in Chinese – which, by the way, is a prestigious language and less stigmatised than Creole – was made mandatory in schools, and yet all the educational reports emphasise the significance of English language education for parents. Let me quote a statement from the Education Department in Hong Kong.

“Most parents know that English has a utilitarian value as a gateway to better prospects in life for their children within Hong Kong or outside of it, and they therefore exert a great deal of pressure on schools in favour of English as a medium of instruction.” Indeed, parental pressure for English-medium education was so strong that the government had to back down in face of strong opposition from them.

My point is that parents are one of the major stakeholders implicated in issues on language education in postcolonial contexts. At the end of the day, despite the militancy of ‘language activists’ and the intervention of the State, through the Ministry of Education, in language planning and policy, parents are the ones who will ultimately decide what kinds of schools their children will go to: Creole medium, or English medium, or French medium schools.

* Proponents of Creole as medium of instruction as well as a subject to be studied assert that the solution to high rate of failure at the CPE level is to be found in the utilisation of Creole as medium of instruction – not merely as support language. Is there conclusive evidence indicating strong correlation between use of mother tongue and success in exams, as it has been suggested?

In your question, you have used different terminology to refer to the use that can be made of Creole. As a matter of fact, in the eyes of the public, there is lot of confusion and issues get mixed up. So, let me clarify a few concepts. Should Creole be used as a ‘support language’ or as a ‘subject’, or as a ‘medium of instruction’?

Creole as a ‘support’ language is already present in our educational system, not only in the primary sector, but also in secondary institutions, and even at the tertiary level. I even had a Dean of my Faculty who confessed to me that he used Creole to explain the contents of his subject, which is against the University language policy. So the debate on the use of Creole as a ‘support’ language is a false one. The following directive from the Education Ordinance of 1957 makes it explicit: “In the lower classes of Government and aided primary schools up to and including Standard III, any one language may be employed as the language of instruction, being a language which in the opinion of the Minister is the most suitable for the public.”

Now, let us come to the issue of teaching Creole as an ‘optional’ subject on a par with the ‘Oriental languages’ This proposal coming from the Catholic Church underscores the affective/cultural/ethnic aspirations of the Creole speaking ethnic group. It confirms the responses highlighting the role of Creole, as researched by Aaliya Rajah-Carrim, mentioned above, that Creole is perceived as an ‘ethnic’ language associated with Creole identity, and the use of Creole as a mother tongue or the teaching of the language as a subject is seen as a way of empowering the “dominated” groups, thus reinforcing the socio-political functions of the language.

I am personally in favour of introducing Creole as an “optional” subject to respond to the demands for the legitimisation of the affective and cultural aspirations of the Creole ethnic group. Besides, the Ministry of Education seems to share this view.

However, there are problematics in the implementation of literacy in Creole as a ‘medium’ of instruction to teach all subjects in the primary schools. Let us take a dispassionate approach to this issue. There are at least 76.8 million speakers of Creole around the world and its speakers make up a majority of the population as a whole – for example in Mauritius, Reunion and the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean; Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, St Lucia, Dominica, Guadeloupe in the Caribbean region; Cape Verde, Guinea – Bissau, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and the Central African Republic in Africa; Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu in the Pacific. In most of these places, there is no official policy for teaching literacy in Creole — despite its being the majority language. Instead, the language of education in almost all cases is the standard form of a European language – English, French, Portuguese, Spanish or Dutch – usually a former colonial language that has remained an official language of the country.

Only in two French-based Creole speaking countries, Creole has been officially designated as the medium of instruction for the early years of primary school, namely Haiti and Seychelles.

If we base ourselves on the assumption that language rights will lead to economic growth, we should expect both these countries to be models of development for us. But there is no comparison. Haiti is hardly a model for Mauritius. A website* on the language situation in Haiti includes the following observation: “Many sectors of the population do not see the value of becoming literate in Creole. This attitude is even found among the poor, who tend to view education as a means of escaping poverty rather than as a means of learning; as a result, they are especially concerned that their children learn French.”

In the Seychelles, ‘Selsewa’ has been the language of education for Grades 1-4 (i.e. Standards I-IV) for more than 20 years. More recently, its use has been extended for some subjects for up to five more years. The Seychelles has two other official languages: English and French. English is used as a teaching language for some subjects starting in Grade 3, and French is introduced in Grade 6 (St VI). In 1976, the Seychelles government made Creole its third official language, alongside French and English. Although Creole is the native language for most Seychellois, this language policy change has remained contentious. While some have hailed it as essential to democracy, others have condemned it for “widening the nation’s socio-economic divide”. As is the case with so many other developing countries of minority language speakers, English in the Seychelles is commonly seen as a ticket to individual and national socio-economic success.

Despite the overall social value which has been increasingly associated with the official inclusion of mother tongues/vernaculars in the development of language policies in Africa in general, both activists and scientists alike have warned against the temptation of treating vernaculars as a societal cure-all. As Woolff cautions, ‘the indigenous languages and the so-called traditional cultures of Africa must not necessarily be viewed as ‘good’ in themselves just because they belong to some unempowered ‘ethnic’ groups’ (2006:33) [Woolff, E. 2006 Language politics and planning in Africa. UNESCO Institute for Education and ADEA 2006 Biennial Meeting Report]

There is no conclusive evidence indicating strong correlation between use of mother tongue and success in examinations. The controversy about which linguistic medium of instruction provides the child the best learning facility has led to several experimental projects in Africa and elsewhere. The results of these experiments have been conflicting, in the sense that they do not necessarily demonstrate that one approach is as good as the other. Rather, they may be a reflection of the ideological biases of the experimenters themselves. Since the original UNESCO proposal was published, there have not been conclusive demonstrations of the efficacy of mother tongue education. One answer is that the perfect experiment on this question has yet to be designed and executed. A major reason is that it would require a fairly large-scale intervention in the experience of a number of schoolchildren for an Extended period of time. The logistic difficulties in conducting such a perfect experiment, with all variables controlled, would be staggering, not to mention the potential ethical issues.

BEC claims to have produced conclusive evidence, but it must be taken with some scepticism The instruments of data collection, the population targeted, and the methodology adopted by BEC need to be made public before we draw definite conclusions.

* What has been achieved in terms of academic performance in countries that have enforced the implementation of mother tongue instruction in their schools?

Our political leaders often compare Mauritius to Asian competitive economies like Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. So let me refer to these three countries to make my point as regards the implementation of mother tongue instruction in schools.
Singapore is a country which, many would agree, has achieved a fairly reasonable command of English language proficiency which, according to economists, is linked with its high level of economic growth in all of South East Asia. What is unknown to us is that Singapore has attained its English language proficiency without going through mother tongue instruction. Enthusiasts and activists of Creole in Mauritius need to account for this.

Aretha Fraser Gupta, a well-known socio-linguist, previously attached to the Department of English at the National University of Singapore, and now working at the University of Leeds, UK, has made it clear that “the economic empowerment of individuals should have primacy over the development of an individual’s mother tongue, and even over the preservation of a language. If language maintenance gets in the way of empowerment, then the individual’s language rights may be maintained but the educational and social rights are not” (cited in the Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development).

In Malaysia, immediately after independence, this country shifted from English, the language of the colonial master, to Bahasa Malay, the language of the dominant ethnic group. The main function of Bahasa Malay was to provide a common means of communication across varying ethnic groups, contributing to the establishment of national identify. Then in 2003, a sudden shift in language policy was instituted, where Bahasa Malay gave way to English, which attained significant functional educational allocation, especially as the medium of instruction for Science and technology. Protests by activist-led crowds have led to at least partial reversal of the policy. This must be regarded a a case of work-in-progress in balancing economic objectives against activist-led ethnic ones.

The government of Hong Kong embarked on a curriculum reform by introducing mother tongue education in post 1997 Hong Kong. However, mother tongue education met with strong resistance, as I said earlier, from learning institutions, learners and parents.

Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong are three countries that should teach a very relevant lesson to us in matters of language planning. In this context of globalisation and the knowledge economy, the definition of nationalism has shifted from that of ‘linguistic nationalism’, as is being propagated by activists of Creole in Mauritius, to that of ‘knowledge-driven nationalism’ and ‘development-oriented nationalism’.

* How about the academic results in countries where teaching is already done in the mother tongue of the students – in England and France, for example? Does it point to the incontrovertible fact that students learn more effectively through their mother tongue?

There exists a huge literature on the differential educational achievement of students in the above countries, which cannot be explained only in terms of the medium of instruction. Some socio-linguists do however focus on the mismatch between the variety of English taught in mainstream schools and the variety spoken by students coming from working class or immigrant backgrounds. The historical development of standardised languages such as English and French indicates that the medium of instruction adopted for schooling purposes is a variety usually associated with the educated elite within a particular linguistic group. Having said that, the differential academic achievements of students in the UK and France cannot be simply attributed to the use or non-utilisation of the mother tongue. It is much more complex than that. So we must avoid oversimplifying this issue.

* Would you say that failure at CPE/SC in Mauritius is attributable to non-utilisation of Creole as medium of instruction, or are there other material reasons for it, such as the fact that students are not sufficiently exposed (in and outside the classroom) to the English language in which all papers are set barring specific language papers?

A survey of studies of factors bearing on educational performance will reveal that there exist a host of variables to explain academic success or failure. In the past few decades, sociologists have placed the focus on family background as the main explanation why some students perform better than others academically. The conventional wisdom is to believe that students from a rich family are privileged in the sense that the abundance of material and cultural resources lead to school success. However, as we have seen after the publication of SC and HSC results, Mauritius is a very good case study which shows that underprivileged students can succeed, with or without mother tongue instruction. A poor family background with its implications – parents’ incapability in supervising their children’s schoolwork, inadequate material resources, and lack of knowledge of high culture – do not bar students from school success. On the contrary, there are many cases where a (materially) poor home environment acts as an impetus to work hard and achieve for many students. There are many instances where family deprivation does not seem to have deterred students from attaining good results in their education. This means that other factors such as parental interest and personality characteristics or peer influence or school effects that impinge on their performance in exam.

 Back in 1991, a UNICEF funded research project did look into the ‘determinants of performance in primary schools with special reference to failure at CPE level’. The objectives of the study were precisely to ascertain the contribution of a selected number of variables towards academic achievement and to investigate into the factors associated with failure at CPE. That project demonstrated the influence the factors I just mentioned, e.g. PARENTAL INTEREST, etc. in academic success.

* What are the implications of teaching done in Creole with the support of the grafilarmoni script from the perspective of the students and the teachers? Does this imply that textbooks and exam papers would also have to be set in Creole?

There are basically two types of orthography used for Creole languages: ‘etymological’ and ‘phonemic’. An etymological orthography is based on the conventional spelling of the ‘lexifier’ languages, i.e. French from which Mauritian Creole has borrowed the vocabulary. An example would be ‘Humain par so nature li ene creature politique’.

A phonemic orthography, of which the ‘grafilarmoni’ script is an illustration, is based on the sounds that actually occur in the Creole without reference to the lexifier, ideally with one symbol for each phoneme, a ‘phoneme’ being a ‘minimal unit of sound’. So, a phonemic orthography for the above would be ‘Imin, par so natir mem, li enn kreatir politik’.

It is premature to say anything about the effectiveness of the ‘grafilarmoni’ script in the teaching of Creole. But, this week itself, Jimmy Harmon, in charge of Creole at BEC, made the following complaint against the use of the (grafilarmoni) script in a manual for the Enhancement Programme for Standard IV, apparently distributed in schools.

“Placer des textes en Kreol dans un tel manuel alors que les enseignants n’ont pas fait d’apprentissage dans cette langue n’a pas de sens.” (Weekend, 07 Feb 2010).

The above complaint says it all about the amount of investment required in the training of teachers to teach Creole effectively in our schools.

* The view has been expressed that the implementation of the mother tongue instruction policy (in this case Kreol) may help to crowd out other less scoring subjects from the curriculum, including the Oriental languages, if students find it really easy-going to score even higher marks by taking up Kreol as a subject – much like SC/HSC students take up some easy-scoring subjects rather than science subjects. Is this really likely to happen?

This is not likely to happen. The introduction of Creole as an ‘optional’ subject must not be perceived as being in competition with the learning of ‘Oriental’ languages. The same amount of effort and mental discipline needed to learn ‘Oriental’ languages will be needed to acquire literacy in Creole, which will consist in developing cognitive and academic skills to read and write in that medium.

* Language activist Jimmy Harmon stated to a paper that “l’introduction du kreol morisien à l’école va au-delà de la question pédagogique et de l’échec scolaire… l’État mauricien ne peut continuer à le (l’enfant mauricien) priver du droit à sa langue et à sa culture”. What would be, in your view, the consequential generalised cultural impact of implementing the Creole-as-medium-of-instruction policy in a context like Mauritius?

Definitely, it has been one of the major aims of the ‘Language Rights’ movement to achieve mother tongue education for all children. The ultimate rationale for the promotion of mother tongue education is the empowerment of underprivileged groups. But even a well-known language activist like Phillipson, a linguist who was in Mauritius recently under the sponsorship of an NGO militating for mother tongue education, has pointed out in his seminal work ‘Linguistic Imperialism’ (1992) that ‘An apparently sound focus on the mother tongue as medium of education does not in itself provide a guarantee of enlightened education.’

Let me also quote Carol Benson (2004) on ‘The Importance of mother tongue-based schooling for education quality’ — “Simply changing the language of instruction without resolving other pressing social and political issues is not likely to result in significant improvement in educational services” (Centre for Research on Bilingualisms 14 April 2004).

This brings us to my earlier point: should economic rights take precedence over linguistic rights? My answer is yes.

My second point is that in multilingual settings like Mauritius, the maintenance of social cohesiveness is of greater importance than the benefit of mother tongue education. Once this issue is politicised and ethnicised, as it is at present, we must brace ourselves for a spiralling of demands of a similar nature from other ethnic groups. The issue of mother tongue education, if not properly addressed, can spin out of control, and create social and ethnic divisiveness.

* The argument in favour of using Creole in schools is obtaining support from the Church, which has stated that seven generations of Afro-Mauritian people would have reaped failure due to the non-adoption of Creole either as a medium of instruction in schools or as a curriculum subject in its own right. But how come teaching in the Church-run schools – the BEC schools – is done mostly through the medium of French?

If we study the French colonial language policy, we find that the French have often been somewhat reluctant to spread their language along with their power. They have reserved French for dominated elites, and they have shown considerable intolerance of local varieties of the language and frowned on any derivative pidgins or Creoles. There is no doubt that the French are imbued almost from birth with ideas about the superiority of French as a language. As Harzic (1976) says: ‘les Français ont une conviction innée dans la superiorité de leur langue’ (the French have an innate conviction in the superiority of their language). Can it be that this French-Creole ‘entente’ in Mauritius may actually turn out to be the ‘embrace of death’? I suspect a ‘hidden agenda’ to push for the introduction of Creole as a medium in government schools so as to promote French-medium schools in the private sector. There will be a huge demand for both English-medium and French-medium education if the Ministry succumbs to the demands of the so-called ‘language activists’.

 

* It is felt in some quarters that the lobby in favour of using Creole as medium of instruction as well as a subject to be studied in schools is but the first step in a language engineering policy that will seek to generalize, at a later stage, the adoption of French as medium of instruction in all our schools, resulting in the crowding out of English from the educational sector. Would the shift from Kreol to French be an easier game than Kreol to English?

English seems to have redoubled its prominence and relevance to become the de facto world language since the advent of globalisation. This means that we need to intensify the search for effective strategies in the teaching and learning of English in Mauritius where the gap between demanded competence and actual competence in the use of English is growing wider.

We in Mauritius fail to realise how millions of people around the world today want to improve their communication skills in English or to ensure that their children achieve a good English has created an enormous demand for quality language teaching and language teaching materials and resources. Employers, too, insist that their employees have good English language skills, and fluency in English is a prerequisite for success and advancement in many fields of employment in today’s world. I would therefore like to make a strong recommendation to the Ministry of Education, which is the largest provider of English language education, to bring a greater clarity of vision on its English language policy in the context of globalisation. The absence of clear guidelines from the government in a situation where the use of English is being de-emphasised yet at the same time it remains the medium of instruction leads to ambivalence on the part of both teachers and students. If we do not pay attention, we run the risk of relegating the status of English from a second language to a foreign language, and at worst it will become a ‘library’ language – a language for writing reports in government and parastatal organisations.

* Dev Virahsawmy states it is “sheer nonsense” to believe that Kreol is a debased, corrupt form of French (broken French). He argues that “all experts agree English is in fact a highly developed Creole language” and that “Mauritian Creole as a subject at primary level (will) allow for a smoother passage to English”. Is he right?

There are two or three issues that are implied in your question. Let me try to address them. According to me, it will take several years to remove the stigma attached to Creole. Despite 50 years of socio-linguistic findings to the contrary, negative attitudes towards Creole will persist. The same negative attitudes prevailed during the Norman conquest as regards the English language which was associated with the working classes, and did not have any standardised or codified variety. If we study the historical evolution of the English language, we can say that it started as a ‘Creole’, at a time when French and Latin were the languages of the nobility. It has taken several centuries for the English language to reach its present status as a global language. If English has such a prestigious status around the world, it is mainly because, whether we like it or not, the people who speak it are important – politically, economically, commercially, socially, culturally, not necessarily because of its intrinsic value. We always learn the languages of the powerful. You will agree with me that the same cannot be said yet as regards speakers of ‘Creole’ languages.

A second point that you made refers to the concept behind the smooth passage from Creole to English. There is a hypothesis that once students have basic literacy skills in the mother tongue and communicative skills in the second language, i.e. English, they can begin reading and writing in English, efficiently transferring the literacy skills they have acquired in the familiar language. The pedagogical principles behind this positive transfer of skills are that the knowledge of language, literacy and concepts learned in the mother tongue can be accessed and used in the second languages once oral skills in the latter are developed. But no study to date has been done to test this hypothesis in Mauritius.

Thirdly, if by ‘creole’ you meant a ‘mixed’ language, definitely, English is a ‘creole’ language which has assimilated words from different languages and cultures. The ‘mixed’ character of its vocabulary is indeed considered among one of the assets of the English language, unlike the French who tend to be very possessive about their language, as evidenced by the Toubon law which was designed to fight against the invasion of Anglo-Saxon words in their language.

* What about the so-called “ancestral languages” – Hindi, Bhojpuri, Tamil, Telegu, Urdu, Marathi, Marathi, Mandarin. How are they doing in the local context? Can they survive here in Mauritius given the competitive forces at work in the present globalized environment?

There are approximately 6000 languages in the world today. The question is: will all those 6000 languages survive? Different researchers have different approaches to the language environment in the age of globalisation.

(i) First, we have the ‘evolutionist’ attitude which follows Darwin’s idea of the survival of the fittest. Those languages that are strong will survive. The weaker languages will either have to adopt themselves to their environment, or die. A different way of expressing this is in terms of a free, ‘laissez-faire’ language economy. Languages must survive, according to this view, on their own merits without the support of language planning.

(ii) The second approach to languages is that of ‘conservationists’. Conservationists will agree for the maintenance and the enrichment of variety in the language garden. For conservationists, language planning must care for and cherish minority languages, revitalising and invigorating them. Just as certain animal species are now deliberately preserved within particular territorial areas, so conservationists will ague that threatened languages should receive special status.

(iii) The third attitude to languages is that of ‘preservationists’. Preservationists are different from conservationists by being more conservative and seeking to maintain the ‘status quo’ rather than to develop the language, e.g. through devising any orthography, etc.

Sociolinguists have proposed that many factors are involved in ‘language vitality’, namely status factors, demographic factors and institutional support factors. The economic status of a language is likely to be a key element in language vitality. Where, for example, a minority language community experiences considerable unemployment of widespread low income, the pressure may be to shift toward the majority language. The social status of a language – its prestige value – is closely related to the economic status of that language and is also a powerful factor in language revitalisation. The symbolic status of a language is also important in language vitality. A heritage language (called ‘ancestral languages’ in Mauritius) may be an important symbol of ethnic identity.

Then we have demographic factors. The high numbers of speakers of a language is a component of vitality. (For this reason, talking of ‘linguistic genocide’ as regards Creole in Mauritius is sheer nonsense in view of the vast number of its speakers — almost 90% of the Mauritian population – though it may not be as regards some other languages.)

Among institutional support factors, we must consider the absence or presence of a language in the mass media (television, radio, newspapers etc.). Providing administrative services in a language also serves to give status to that language.

As long as the above criteria are met, the ‘ancestral languages’ will continue to survive.

* To come back to the issue of the high rate of failure at the CPE level and the poor turn-out in the system generally, would you say that this issue is being addressed properly by all stakeholders? What can be done to improve academic results?

I will restrict myself, in my answer, to the language issue in educational success. Language is an essential element in literacy and development of nations like Mauritius. I believe that the Ministry of Education must set up a panel of experts to look into the issues of language, education and development. Fishman, another world renowned sociolinguist, has established a distinction between ‘nationality-nationalism’ and ‘nation-nationism’. Within this framework, ‘nationalities’ are groups of people who view themselves as a sociocultural unit with integrative bonds, whereas ‘nations’ are political units which tend to have one dominant nationality. In determining language policies, Fishman contends that a country needs to balance the concerns of ‘nationalism’ (the feelings that develop from a sense of group identity) and ‘nationism’ (the practical concerns of governing, e.g. economic concerns). If language policies are formed primarily on the basis of nationalism, in which the concern of promoting a national identity is paramount, such things as the efficient conduct of the government and its institutions may suffer. On the other hand, if language policies are based on nationism, with little regard for the emotional attachment that languages can have, language planning may engender great hostility among some members of society. So a balance needs to be struck between the ‘nationist’ and the ‘nationalist’ priorities of postcolonial countries Singapore has tried to achieve this by making official 4 languages, namely English, Mandarin, Tamil, Malay. How the public (e.g. parents) act upon a state-enforced language planning is a different issue. Will it be ‘linguistic nationalism’ or ‘development-oriented nationalism’ for Mauritius? I leave it to your readers to reflect on the delicate balance that should be attained between the two. 

 

* http://www.culturalorientation.net/haiti/hlang/html


 

  

The absence of clear guidelines from the government in a situation where the use of English is being de-emphasised yet at the same time it remains the medium of instruction leads to ambivalence on the part of both teachers and students. If we do not pay attention, we run the risk of relegating the status of English from a second language to a foreign language, and at worst it will become a ‘library’ language – a language for writing reports in government and parastatal organisations…”

 


 

 

Can it be that this French-Creole ‘entente’ in Mauritius may actually turn out to be the ‘embrace of death’? I suspect a ‘hidden agenda’ to push for the introduction of Creole as a medium in government schools so as to promote French-medium schools in the private sector. There will be a huge demand for both English-medium and French-medium education if the Ministry succumbs to the demands of the so-called ‘language activists’…”


 

Mauritians seem conditioned to support the use of European languages in the education sector. In fact, not only is the mother tongue seen as an obstacle to the acquisition of useful knowledge, but it is further denigrated as not even a proper language, whatever the linguists, who form a tiny elite, say. On the world market, English has the most socio-economic power and hence is clearly a tool of socio-economic advancement. In contrast, Creole cannot help in promoting the socio-economic interests of its users…”

 

 


 

Only in two French-based Creole speaking countries, Creole has been officially designated as the medium of instruction for the early years of primary school, namely Haiti and Seychelles. If we base ourselves on the assumption that language rights will lead to economic growth, we should expect both these countries to be models of development for us. But there is no comparison. Haiti is hardly a model for Mauritius…”

 

 


 

“Parents are one of the major stakeholders implicated in issues on language education in postcolonial contexts. At the end of the day, despite the militancy of ‘language activists’ and the intervention of the State, through the Ministry of Education, in language planning and policy, parents are the ones who will ultimately decide what kinds of schools their children will go to: Creole medium, or English medium, or French medium schools…” 


 

There are at least 76.8 million speakers of Creole around the world and its speakers make up a majority of the population as a whole – for example in Mauritius, Reunion and the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean; Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, St Lucia, Dominica, Guadeloupe in the Caribbean region; Cape Verde, Guinea – Bissau, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and the Central African Republic in Africa; Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu in the Pacific. In most of these places, there is no official policy for teaching literacy in Creole …”

 

 


 

Should economic rights take precedence over linguistic rights? My answer is yes. In multilingual settings like Mauritius, the maintenance of social cohesiveness is of greater importance than the benefit of mother tongue education. Once this issue is politicised and ethnicised, as it is at present, we must brace ourselves for a spiralling of demands of a similar nature from other ethnic groups. The issue of mother tongue education, if not properly addressed, can spin out of control, and create social and ethnic divisiveness…”

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