Educational Developments in Mauritius 1955-1956

Mauritius Times – 60 Years

By Peter Ibbotson

UNESCO seems suddenly to have become aware of the existence of Mauritius. I referred last week to a report on ‘Illiteracy at Mid-century’in which the incidence of illiteracy in Mauritius, as revealed at the last census, is detailed. Now, another UNESCO publication has a passage on educational development in Mauritius.

This time it is the issue of the series ‘Educational Abstracts’ for September 1957 (1 shilling; 50 frs.; Rs 0.67). Entitled ‘Long Range Educational Planning’, the document deals with the educational development plans of a number of territories, self-governing as well as dependent. 13 of the 26 territories dealt with are British colonies; but the others include countries such as China, the USSR and India.

Of Mauritius, the document says: “The Education Department carried out a survey in 1951 of existing school accommodation in Mauritius and prepared this five-year programme for primary and secondary school buildings. The plan consists of: (a) construction of 56 primary schools providing an additional 12,000 places allowing the space of 10 square feet per pupil; (b) construction of a girls’ government secondary school to accommodate 300 pupils with allowance for possible expansion to 500 pupils; (c) rebuild the Royal College and the Royal College School on newsites to accommodate 500 pupils each rather than the present roll of about 300; (d) give financial assistance, up to two-thirds of the cost, to rebuild or expand non-government schools of the Church of England, Roman Catholic, Hindu and Moslem Education Authorities; (e) raise the annual teacher turn-out to 150.”

The document invites readers to supply “progress reports on work undertaken in relation to the long-range plans recorded”. It will be very interesting indeed to see the progress report furnished by the Education Department to UNESCO on the fulfilment of the five-yearplan announced as a Sessional Paper in 1952.

Let us look at a few figures and facts to see what progress has been made. First, remember that the survey was undertaken in 1951, and the plans were to be fulfilled within five years. As it is now near the end of 1957, it is reasonable to take the ‘Report of the Education Department’for 1956 and compare it with the ‘Report of the Education Department’ for 1951, to see how the state of education in Mauritius has progressed in five years.

The five-year-plan promised 56 new primary schools. We find that in 1951 there were 143 primary schools, of which 67 were government and 76 aided. In 1956, the numbers had gone up to 163 primary schools in all, of which 86 were Government and 77 aided. Instead of the 56 new schools as the plan envisaged, we find an additional 20 only! Only one of these being an aided school, what becomes of the fine and pious assertion in paragraph (d), that financial assistance would be given to the education authorities to build or enlarge schools? What will UNESCO be told?

The number of children attending primary schools between 1951 and 1956 went up, by more than 12,000 (60,143 in 1951 and 74,288 in 1956); but this was not due to the construction of the promised 12,000 extra school places. No, indeed, these extra children were often crammed into school into far less than the 10 square feet promised. Mr Snell himself said in his notorious broadcast last year that “nearly every one of our primary schools is overcrowded. There are sometimes nine children sitting on a bench seven feet long. In these few inches we expect the child to listen to the teacher, to learn to write and not to be naughty.” And as Mr Snell admitted, many schools are holding classes on verandahs or under trees; or out in the open at desks improvised out of scrap wood resting on empty dried milk tins.

The increased enrolment of children is not due to any effort by the education department to get the five-year-plan implemented. It is due to the earnest desire of many parents to have their children educated; the extra numbers of parents sending children to private primary schools is proof of this.

Of the extra number of children at school in 1956, the bigger proportion of the increase is attending government schools – not unnaturally in view of the new government schools that have been built.

The inclusion of plans to build a new Royal College School in the five-yearplan suggests, of course, that it was intended to have the new school completed by the end of the plan. Yet work on the new school was not even begun until after Princess Margaret had laid the foundation stone in September 1956. Developments at the Royal College were not complete by the end of 1956, for the 1956 ‘Report of the Education Department’ admits that “the new assembly hall and classroom block at the Royal College is not yet finished”.

Of teacher-training, the Education Department could give a rather better account by comparison with 1951. In the first four years of the training college, only 269 teachers were turned out (96 of them in 1951); but in 1956, 229 students (excluding the handicraft teachers) passed their final examinations. However, only 101 of these had followed a two-year training course; and it is this length of course which we in the UK look upon as the minimum for teacher-training. However, on bare figures alone (and bearing in mind the urgent necessity for teachers to cope with the increased school enrolments) the Education Department can take credit for having fulfilled this part of the five-yearplan.

But when will the progress report be sent to UNESCO; and just what will it say? It will obviously have now to be a report from the Minister for Education – and it will thus be the Minister who will have to bear the implied criticism for non-fulfilment of the plan; whereas the criticism properly belongs to the colonial regime. And to Secretaries of State who, like Mr Lyttelton (he was then) in 1953, said Mauritius was spending too much on the social services.

On the subject of the Education Department, I cannot help noticing the remarkable fact that in the same month the Department brought out its report for both 1955 and 1956. How pleasant it is to have up-to-date statistics relating to education; since the report for 1955 appeared in September 1957, may we hope that no future annual report will be delayed longer than nine months after the end of the calendar year to which it refers? None the less, while it is good to have figures and facts soon after the end of the year, I would like to know what has happened to the table showing the number of school pupils at primary and secondary schools according to race? Such figures are essential to us if we are to judge whether the various racial groups are being afforded equal opportunity of getting secondary education; and we are denied the figures.

Friday 11 October 1957
4thyear – No 166

* Published in print edition on 29 June 2021

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