Education Problem in Mauritius

MT 60 Years Ago

3rd Year No 75 – Friday 13th January 1956

•       Il n’est pas du tout question, pour moi, de célébrer et de conserver à tout prix l’impérialisme de la race blanche. – G. Duhamel

Education Problem in Mauritius

Criticism and Suggestions

By Peter Ibbotson

It a deplorable and shocking that only half the primary schools in Mauritius can admit children this year; and that approximately only one quarter of those on the waiting lists can be admitted at those schools where admissions can be made. This shocking state of affairs is a condemnation of the Colonial Office; for since Mauritius has up to now been denied a full measure of responsibility for her internal government, it is Whitehall which bears ultimate overriding responsibility in such a matter as education. After all, we recall that it was only two years ago that Oliver Lyttelton, as Colonial Secretary (one of the old style, who relied on the gunboat policy), criticised the Budget for allotting too much money to the social services (which include education). He should have criticised the Budget for not allotting enough to education – if more had been allotted and spent in past years, there would not now be the grave shortage of school places. The 1953-54 Budget allotted 36 percent of expenditure to critical services – the Financial Secretary criticised this and said that 31 per cent should be the maximum. Lyttelton’s criticism was that Mauritian prosperity was more apparent than real.

Economies in Education desirable

No real prosperity can be built on illiteracy – which is what there will be if children are denied access to education. What on earth is the use of adult literacy campaigns if the children are not, in ever increasing numbers, to be educated? Economies in education at the school-age stage lead only to the need for more literacy campaigns in adulthood when it is, as is well known, more difficult to learn one’s letters. Lyttelton’s criticism, and the Financial Secretary’s criticism, were short-sighted in policy and long lasting in effect. Far more should be spent on education; not far less. The Parti Mauricien supported the idea of universal adult suffrage when everyone should be able to read and write. What becomes of the Parti’s aim if there is to be restricted success to education?

The debate on Hon. Ringadoo’s motion revealed that the elected members of the Legislative Council were for once united on wanting to get as many children educated as possible. But the Nominees showed some deplorable tendencies. For example, one member revealed a typically ruling-class attitude in his reference to the minimum of education for working-class children. Why should it be the children of the working-class who should suffer? It was just the same when the Tory Government in England in 1951 introduced its economies in State education: the children at the State schools suffered worsening conditions so that they were getting no education but squalid instruction. But the children whose parents could afford to pay fees for them to go to private schools suffered no such worsened conditions.

What, it would appear, is at the back of the Hon. Nominee’s mind is : let the working-class child have a minimum of education, so condemning him to a life of perpetual labour, with no opportunity to better himself by education. Let the working-class child study only one language at school; what then? If he doesn’t study English, how can he feel he belongs to the British Commonwealth of nations? (Despite the vicious and despicable lies spread by Le baron de Mallefille and his fellow-traducers of the truth, Indo-Mauritians have the earnest wish to remain within the Commonwealth, not be annexed to India). In passing, let me add that I note that the Nom. wouldn’t commit himself to which should be the one language that should be taught as part of the minimum curriculum studied by working-class children.

The Liaison Officer not to blame

The debate showed that the people of Mauritius have little for which to be grateful to most Nominees, or to most officials. An ever-increasing number of children being kept out of school; a reduction of one year in the primary school course; these are what the last two years have been. The Liaison Officer for Education has the interests of Mauritius at heart, and wants to see free and compulsory education of secondary as well as primary stage.

The 1953 general election manifesto of the Labour Party showed its educational aims for Mauritius: free secondary education and technical schools, with a seven-year plan to abolish illiteracy were included. But the Liaison Officer is hamstrung: he is like a progressive educational administrator in England who is at the mercy of his officials. The officials set the pace, not the Liaison Officers. No-one discussing the problem of children being refused admission to school should blame Dr Ramgoolam – they should blame the officials, and the political system which prevents Mauritius from having internal self-government.

Where is the money to come from to build more schools needed to house the children who can’t be admitted? The answer lies in the Income Tax Report for 1953-54 in which we see that companies paid out Rs 22.5 million in dividends. Some of those dividends could have been taxed away, to be added to the education budget. In any case, the education budget last year was underspent – why? Why wasn’t all the money allotted for education spent on education? Then there is the question also of the schools that have actually been built. (The magnificent programme for a five-year school-building programme seems to have been forgotten). Much money has been spent on a few schools – would it not have been better to spend the money on many cheap schools: reserving construction of solidly-constructed buildings until you have all the children at school?

More next week: How space problem was solved in UK

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