It is a common knowledge that year in year out the Cambridge examinations reports come with the same chorus and show an abysmal trend of English language in Mauritius, but the authorities concerned seem to turn a deaf ear to it. They are more inclined to act elsewhere where they are sure to reap political mileage, as for instance the introduction of Kreol in our schools. We always vociferate on the rooftops that we must emulate Singapore. Do we know that in 2001 to ensure that English is well spoken, the government of Lee Kuan Yew had launched a campaign of ‘Speak Good English’ and set up a new English syllabus for schools? The long-term results are now rewarding, palpable and encouraging in Singapore thanks to that vision and far-sightedness regarding language.
Our island always takes pride of its priceless linguistic heritage but in practice the treatment meted out to our official language is much to be decried. It has been alleged that in some schools hardly two essays are given per term for the pupils and Kreol is used systematically to teach English language. If this is true, we certainly cannot condone such a scandal which seems to escape the notice of the inspectorate, which apparently is still not well structured. English Departments have become a hotchpotch: in the past teachers holding a degree in History or Latin were found to be teaching English language, as ‘poachers’.
The Mauritian pupil finds himself entangled in a linguistic web with his multilingualism. He thinks in Kreol and then translates his thoughts into English. He does not know when to use words like ‘attend’ and ‘assist’ and gets mixed up. The Mauritian in general by his intonation, accent and articulation speaks Kreolish in the same manner as the Indian speaks Hinglish and Singaporean Singlish. Yet India and Singapore, however, have a good standard of English. The pupils there have a good command of the language. Recently an essay written by a 15-year-old Singaporean girl won the first prize in the Commonwealth essay competition, commanding our admiration with her style and creativity. But of course we cannot forget the outstanding performance of Sebastien Ng Kuet Leong, who bagged the first prize in the International Public Speaking Competition held in London a few years back. If our pupils are well coached I am sure they can do wonders.
On the other hand, it is also true that our pupils are to be blamed for their lack of reading. They spend more time and money on the new technological gadgets than reading books. Aggravating the situation is that the sun has set on the British Council: a treasure trove of readily available English books is now gone. Books are a luxury, being exorbitant in price. New local textbooks littered with spelling errors, grammatical mistakes, pronunciation howlers and incorrect phraseology are flooding our market and our schools as part of a booming business. Yet there is no regulation to ban these pernicious textbooks in circulation. If pupils can hardly snatch passing marks, are they to be blamed?
English language is the global language and wherever we go in different and distant climes in the global village we are sure to be understood if we have English language proficiency. Language is the vehicle of communication. From Chaucer to Rushdie it has taken centuries to flower and has won international recognition. Mauritius is a rare Commonwealth country where English language is regressing. It will wither away if there is no proper language policy. The teaching of History has long been buried in our schools and that of Literature in English is experiencing a slow and painful death. Are we going to produce a generation of boffins in our industrial society? Today many parents are sending their children to private paying schools and this trend needs to be analyzed deeply. The strength behind our call centres is our bilingualism (English and French) or multilingualism (with an oriental language). Let us not spoil the chances of our youth to shine on the international scene of communications. Let us give them appropriate tools to face the challenges.
Philip Li Ching Hum
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When even STAR schools do not provide basic necessities to school children
Hugh Otter Barry School (Curepipe), well-known “Star” school, fails to provide its students the basic right to be able to wash up while in school. The lack of attention to this factor means that every day the students of first and second levels are deprived of elementary factors for their good upkeep. The school’s toilets are dark and dingy and there is no water to clean up after passing stools.
On Monday 1st July also, a six-year old child hid himself in unhygienic condition in a toilet for more than 20 minutes because there was no water to wash up. A crowd of 20 children gathered outside the toilet in helpless condition because while their classmate was crying inside the toilet, none of the staff even bothered to inquire. The staff responsible for maintaining hygiene was not to be found anywhere till the mother of the child reached school to give a maths book to the child which he had left behind at home. She was shocked to see her child in such petrified condition. She looked around for help but could not find anyone except the other children with anxiety written on their faces. After running here and there, she got water to clean up her son, and one lady attendant also came. By that time, the child had already gone through a very painful condition which words cannot describe.
The unfortunate reality of the school is that children spend the maximum hours of the day over there but they are not provided even basic safe and child-friendly sanitation. Every day girls and boys alike are subject to this kind of treatment. The government, which is responsible for running these schools, may not be paying attention to the fact that incidents of the sort show that it fails to cater for the psychological and emotional development of a child, along with academics. Safe hygiene in school improves health, boosts educational achievement and promotes gender equality. The government which has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) long back is failing in its duty when it is reckoned that a school-going child is not entitled to certain basic health rights which includes child-friendly sanitation. The purpose of school is to educate, not to embarrass students.
There is a very assertive Education Act which states that all children must attend primary education, failing which the responsible party is liable to fine and imprisonment. In the situation described in this letter, if parents were to stop sending their children to school, should they be punished? The government and school management must change their attitude in cases like this if they want to live up to their reputation.
* Published in print edition on 5 July 2013