English Teaching in our Schools

Mauritius Times – 60 Years

By Peter Ibbotson

The election petitions against Messrs Ramnarain and Rai — on the grounds that that they didn’t know enough English to be able to follow the proceedings of the Legislative Council — demonstrate the importance which, very rightly and properly, many people in Mauritius attach to a knowledge of English. Equally rightly and properly, the Education Department also attaches great importance to a knowledge of English and having the language taught earlier in the pupils’ school life.

We look forward confidently to amendment of the junior school scholarship regulations. We look forward confidently to compulsory French being abandoned as a qualifying subject; perhaps the compulsory French paper can be replaced by an examination (compulsory of course) in the candidate’s mother tongue. Thus, the Franco-Mauritians would be able to keep their beloved French; but those children whose mother tongue is an Oriental language, and to whom French is a foreign language would no longer be discriminated against by being compelled to be examined in two foreign languages.

There are several countries where there are problems of bilingualism analogous to that of Mauritius. One not usually thought as having a bilingual problem is the Netherlands. Over all the Netherlands, Dutch is spoken; but in the province of Friesland (except for the provincial capital, Leeuwarden) the language of West Friesland is spoken as well. It is a language in its own right; it is not just a dialect of Dutch. In the schools of Friesland, Dutch is the first language, the language of instruction; but West Friesian is the mother tongue of the people and some children know hardly any Dutch when they start school. The Netherlands Broadcasting system gives a special place to Friesian; which is more than the MBS does to broadcasts in Creole.

In Wales too there is the problem of teaching children whose mother tongue is Welsh whereas the official language of the UK is English. But whereas in those parts of Wales where there is a fairly big proportion of Welsh-speaking people (relative to the total population), that language is not forced on those children who come from English-speaking homes.

In Mauritius we do find children from homes where French is not spoken being compelled to learn that language at school. Thus, British colonial education policy differs from British homeland education policy; for once it is the homeland policy which should be followed in the colony. (The parts of British education policy which have regrettably been implanted in various colonies, including Mauritius, include central schools and, indeed, segregated secondary education generally).

At the beginning of April, the annual conference of the National Union of Teachers was held in Douglas, Isle of Man. (This island is part of the British Islands but is not part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is constitutionally independent of the Whitehall Parliament: it has its own Parliament, the House of Keys, and does not send members to Westminster. Its bishop has not the right — unlike other bishops of the Church of England — to sit in the House of Lords.) To this conference came delegates from many other national unions of teachers, including the French Fédération de l’Education Nationale, the All-Ceylon Union of Teacher’s, the Polish Teachers’ Union, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, and the Mauritius Union of Primary School Teachers. The fraternal delegates from France, Ceylon, Ireland and Poland all made speeches.

The Ceylonese and Polish teachers both spoke in English. The Frenchman spoke in French; commenting on this in the Schoolmaster, the official organ of the N.U.T. (of which Mr Kynaston-Snell used to be a member), a Surrey headmaster wrote: “One of the characteristics of international meetings has been the grim determination of the French to hang on to their language as a means of international communication… More and more, this insistence on the use of their own language has put them out on a limb by themselves.” The headmaster has remarked also that during the last ten years teachers from all over the world have met regularly to discuss teachers’ affairs, “and instead of the business of these meetings being obstructed by language difficulties, the use of English has become almost universal”.

Against this, several people used sentences in the Manx tongue (Manx is the ancient language of the Isle of Man. It is one of the group of Celtic languages; the others are Welsh, Cornish, Breton, Gaelic and Erse — associated with, respectively, Wales, Cornwall (s.w. England), Britanny (n.w.France), Scotland and Ireland. It is not a living language in the true sense; like Cornish, its revival is due to the efforts of antiquarians).

The Irish teacher delegate spoke in Erse first, then translated his speech into English — and his English was more fluent than Erse! In other words, the people from nearest to England insisted in speaking languages which few understood; the people from furthest away spoke in English which all understood.

The Schoolmaster contributor says that English is more than a national language. “It is no more the property of those who live between the Tweed and the English Channel than the modern raincoat is the property of the original McIntosh who invented it. The English tongue has become the property of humanity… A child who is born to use the English language today is born to use a currency that is recognised the world over. To rob him of that currency is political inaptitude little short of positive crime.” It follows that as much time as possible should therefore be devoted to teaching English.

6th Year – No 244
Friday 17th April, 1959

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 25 August 2023

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