By Sada Reddi
It is important for students to realize that they will have to embrace new careers in their lifetime, change and learn new jobs and undergo further and continuous training. Education does not stop at four credits at School Certificate level
About two decades ago, I visited a relative living in Croydon, and at dinner, the conversation turned to education. I asked a niece what she intended to do after her GCSE, and she said that her school teacher had told her class that they should look for jobs in factories or as office workers.
Shocked at such an advice, I asked her to bring her exercise book on English literature and looked at some of her work at school. I was pleasantly surprised to find that her level of writing and analysis was very high compared to the standard in Mauritian schools at that time. I told her to forget about her teacher’s advice and to go for A-levels, which she did. She went on to join university to become a professional in her field
This anecdote is to suggest that advice, guidance and discussions should be an essential part of the student’s toolkit when planning for the next stage on their educational path. This means that students as well as their parents should realize that getting four credits is not the end of the world; they should seek guidance on the way forward whatever that may entail.
During my educational career, I have known many educationists at all levels in the education establishment – from pre-primary to post-tertiary – who were able to provide guidance to parents and students to help the latter plan their education and their future career. In our current system of education, there is no formal structure to help parents and counsel students about their education or career choices; that was available in the distant past with a Students Adviser at the tertiary level and a Career Guidance Office at one time but not an educational adviser.
In the absence of an education counsellor, we can empathize with many parents and students who find themselves at a loss when students cannot join HSC classes for lack of five credits.
This ill-informed bureaucratic decision will certainly be a big blow to the dreams of many students. It should however not be taken as an indicator of the educational potential of our students. This is why it is important for students to discuss with their parents, teachers and rectors about their educational potential, their strengths and weaknesses as well as the possibilities for the future before taking any hasty decision.
A blanket decision imposed on all students can only be wrong – though one should admit that a more judicious assessment of those students who have obtained only four credits is too difficult a task for a bureaucratic rollercoaster. The students must do some hard thinking, find out more about their own abilities and inclinations and explore a variety of possibilities. They may repeat their SC classes to improve their results if they are allowed to so; some may opt for A-levels instead of HSC if given the choice; others could be offered the possibility to move up to HSC while simultaneously resit their SC exams to earn five credits. In the past students with fewer than 5 credits had obtained admission to public universities for certificate courses and have gradually moved to diploma and later to undergraduate level. In Britain, students with two A-levels and four GCSE level grades have access to universities.
Whatever decisions students take at that stage in their educational path, they should realize that further education and training is a must. This is why the slogan ‘one graduate per family’, so little understood, remains important and relevant. A university degree is an initial first stage to becoming a professional. The slogan was never intended to mean that everyone should get an academic degree; everyone however should become a professional in whatever field he chooses, whether it is the arts, music, sports, catering, hospitality, event management or any other area.
It is important for students to realize their full potential in whatever field they choose, notwithstanding the fact that they will have to embrace new careers in their lifetime, change and learn new jobs and undergo further and continuous training. Education is a lifelong learning process and does not stop at four credits at School Certificate level. While planning their educational future, students should do what they like best even though at some stage, they will have to factor in what is also feasible and realizable. They will do well to forget about the rhetoric of those who talk about mismatch in education or ‘education for work/employment’.
Up to now, no one in Mauritius or elsewhere for that matter – be it academics or employers – have been able to identify which skills and competencies to include in the school curriculum which are relevant to the world of work apart from some generic skills and critical thinking, or on the job training. As one writer puts it: “We simply do not have the kind of general hard evidence that would tell us how workers educated in a certain way are able to perform certain jobs better because of their education.”
In the 1970s, we were on the point of blindly following UNESCO’s and the World Bank’s recommendation to introduce Form III examinations, and those who did not reach a certain standard should have been sent to work in the factories. Government had already set up Junior Schools, but parents’ protests forced the then Government to backpedal. The idea for Form III was abandoned, and the junior schools were converted into State Secondary schools. If we had listened to UNESCO and the World Bank, it would have been a disaster for the educational system and for the country.
If parents with resources can build a framework for their children’s aspirations, those from lower income groups are unlikely to provide the kind of support that their children need to make them confident and collaborative learners who can persevere even when the going gets tough. Students and parents from this group should seek help from teachers, relatives and friends and discuss many of these educational issues and make a meaningful educational plan compatible with their life goals.
Such students need the freedom and support to pursue what they like best for they will shine in whatever career they embrace. But for God’s sake do not follow blindly some of the experts’ advice in these matters for such experts are like some of those who fought with missionary zeal for the teaching of Kreol but have never taught their own children that language. The same can be said for some of the promoters of Indian languages. Instead, they have focused on English and French for their children’s educational advancement.
My own experience at two public universities has taught me that more often you will find creativity and originality not in the bright students with very high grades at HSC level but mostly in those who never had any parental guidance, who did not take any tuition and who succeeded in getting one or two A-levels. When these students embarked on a degree course, they proved more productive, creative and innovative. Most of them did not have more than 4 credits, but their potential was no less. We should not allow an examination result to decide our students’ future; on the contrary we should help to unlock the full potential of students and not be deterred by any bureaucratic fiat.
* Published in print edition on 24 January 2020