Free education: Cost Sharing

Titbits

The salvation of free education and its public schools lies in giving more fiscal space to Government to allow it to invest heavily in overhauling the education system

The five students of RCC, the laureates of the Omnicane award on the theme “Enn sel lepep, Enn sel nation” question and challenge us, inter alia others, on the free education system – “Il y a beaucoup de parents qui peuvent payer. D’ailleurs, ils payent bien les leçons particulières. L’argent ainsi économisé pourrait être consacré aux plus nécessiteux. De même on aurait dû prévoir le Wi-Fi gratuit à ceux qui n’ont pas de connexion la maison…

Free education has served us well over the past five decades especially in terms of access, in improving our mean years of schooling, in enrolment in higher education and female education and in reducing socioeconomic inequality. But the education system has begun to falter for quite some time now in terms of overall efficiency and effectiveness.

Nothing happens overnight. It is difficult to uncover, measure and therefore analyze the total impact of the country’s educational policies – overly free education system, school discipline, messages of overindulgence, parents’ responsibility, values system, teacher training, teachers’ salary, private tuition, teacher selection process, etc – that have led to such a state of affairs. But everyone agrees that we cannot continue with such an outdated system which has failed to bring out our students’ talent and potential and inspire them to life-long learning while meeting the country’s future needs.

Today a variety of trends are utterly reshaping the education landscape – 24/7 access to online teaching, learning and discovery environments, long-life learning. The budget for education will be rising in the near future to meet these challenges of the worldwide revolution in the education system oriented towards new teaching methodology and technology.

There will increasing risks that the overly free education – free transport, free exams, free meals, free stationeries – may end up being very costly. In the sense that Government will not be able to fully support the public schools; quality will continue to plunge and the state system will become dysfunctional, and most of the products of these state schools will be misfits when they get out into the real world.

Government schools will become reserves for children at the very bottom of our social ladder while private schools will thrive providing a quality education for the elite. (This is what we seem to be experiencing in the health sector – a wanton deteriorating public health but improving private health. Our free public schools will only be trapping generations of students at the margins of society and locking them out of the economy.

This is what our bright youthful Omnicane award winners have tried to warn us about, oblivious of the reactions of our politicians, the hardcore supporters of the Welfare State and some of our obstinate leftists. Underlying such an education system subsisting in parallel with the insidious private tuition is the fact that Government has been subsiding the elite. With the ongoing cosmetic reform of the system, it is undeniable that the latter feels that it is no longer serving its purpose and cares the least about its gradual decay. They are encouraging more and more private schools to pop up across the nation, giving well-to-do families an alternative to public education.

It will no longer be feasible to continue providing wholly free education from general taxation. The salvation of free education and its public schools lies in giving more fiscal space to Government to allow it to invest heavily in overhauling the education system to meet the above-mentioned challenges. This will require that policymakers, business leaders and the universities to:
a) rededicate themselves to creating a more flexible system, including improving efficiency and effectiveness,
b) do away with some of the freebies of our education system, and
c) introduce measures aimed at cost sharing with parents and students (exempting those on the social register) so that education funding can be supplemented by sources other than government.

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The Metro Express: The accompanying measures

Recently, a top architect was commenting that « … l’ État est en train de manière continue, de démocratiser et libéraliser l’accès à l’automobile, kot tou dimounn anvi roul loto, sans se soucier de savoir si le Metro Express apportera un changement de mentalité ».

What are the accompanying measures that will be needed to prevent the Metro Express from becoming a white elephant given that the road infrastructure is also being improved and the number of cars on our roads continues to increase relentlessly? The just released indicators on Road Transport show a net addition of 11,826 vehicles to the existing fleet for the first semester of 2018. At end of June 2018, there were 543,623 vehicles registered at the National Transport Authority (NTA).

The EDB should come forward with the accompanying measures that will follow the coming into operation of the Metro Express. The population should be prepared for that – a different mindset for both the commuter and car users. Building the Metro is one thing and ensuring that it is operating successfully and efficiently is another.

We hope we will not have to go through the same mess as the measures and penalties to reduce road accidents – going backward and forward. We hope we will have enough time to analyse and discuss these measures.

Our fears are that these measures, which are likely to include many controversial and hard-hitting ones on private car users, will only be announced after the next general elections. They will buy in the electorate by tricking them into taking the sweeter pill first… Short term gains for long term pains!

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Rs15 to Rs19 billion for the Surveillance State

Can we afford this huge amount for the Safe City project? Another prestige project! We can achieve equally good results by spending more on our police force. Intelligent video surveillance has become widespread in more and more numerous social and national spaces, while its effects in terms of crime prevention and/or law enforcement and community reassurance are not demonstrated.

Most of the time some of the crimes are displaced to nearby areas within or close to the city centre where there is no camera coverage but where there are similar opportunities to commit crimes. Indeed research carried out shows that despite the popularity of closed circuit television (CCTV)/video surveillance, evidence of its crime prevention capabilities is inconclusive. Research has largely reported its effect as “mixed”. At such cost, to go for a system that is not that foolproof is a folly.

The European Forum for Urban Security, “Charter for a Democratic Use of Video-Surveillance,” provides a useful overview of the issues at stake as well as a set of principles and tools to ensure that citizens’ rights are respected with CCTV/video surveillance systems. These include:

Necessity: The use of camera systems must be justified empirically, ideally by an independent authority. Objectives and intended outcomes must be defined.

Proportionality: CCTV equipment must be appropriate for the problem it is intended to address. Technology should “respond to the established objectives, without going further. Data should be protected and the length of time it is retained be clearly defined.

Transparency: Citizens should know what the objectives of a CCTV/video system are, what its installation and operational costs are, the areas being surveyed, and what the results are. Reports should occur regularly so citizens can make informed decisions.

Accountability: Those in charge of public CCTV systems should be clearly identified and accountable to the public, whether the systems are run by the government or private firms.

Independent oversight: An external body should be charged with ensuring that systems respect the public’s rights and are achieving their stated objectives. Ideally citizens would have a voice in the oversight process.

Indeed, this Charter drives us to challenge the whole approach to this Safe City project. What will be the role of Mauritius Telecom and the Chinese Company Huawei? The Agreement should be made public.

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 The Census Issue: “L’hypocrisie politicienne”

In our dear little “C’est un plaisir” country, when some societal issues appear occasionally, as they do in most societies, we tend to sweep them under the carpet.

After the Grand Bassin gandia issue, the LGBT march, the child marriage issue, religious conversions and now the census issue: “L’hypocrisie politicienne”, there is a common pattern. The elite, the thinkers, leaders of communities, social activists, NGOs who are always on the forefront on non-controversial issues, look the other way, burying their heads in the sands allowing the radicals, the delinquents, the hooligans, the conservatives, the religious bigots, the fanatics to take over the main stage.

When some avant-gardistes delve deeper, they are castigated, threatened, boycotted… and the views of the conformist majority prevail and we go back to our comfort zone, doing business as usual. They get away with it and slowly and gradually but surely we are allowing the parasites to gnaw at our foundation. We are not building out houses on granites as Wilhelm Reich used to say — If, little man among millions, you were to shoulder the barest fraction of your responsibility, the world would be a very different place. Your great friends wouldn’t perish, struck down by your smallness.”

Are we not civilised enough to even talk to each other on these… “Man’s right to know, to learn, to inquire, to make bona fide errors, to investigate human emotions must, by all means, be safe, if the word “freedom” should ever be more than an empty political slogan.”

Or is it easier to ignore it, avoid the tensions these create in our minds and in society and across communities? Or is it much larger than that? There is the fear of reprobation from our community, the social pressure to conform… they have imposed their will, their linear thinking, and imprison us in their archaic conformism and attitudes. Are we afraid of being free, of being left alone on the side lines, being marginalised…?

Hypocrisy is not our nature. Like Francis Fukuyma (Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment), Kwame Anthony Appiah (The Lies that bind. Rethinking Identity) and Michael Ignatieff (The Ordinary Virtues: Moral Order in a Divided World), we are prepared to engage a debate and a dialogue that looks beyond group identity and failed institutions and meritocracy.

We believe that “identity politics is a symptom of democratic decay and a diversion from the real task. That is to create coalitions that can move past our differences, strengthen our shared public goods, rebuild the ladder of economic opportunity, and recognise once again the human identity we have in common.”


* Published in print edition on 13 September 2018

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