By Paramanund Soobarah
Statistics do not lie, in spite of the famous dictum “Lies, damned lies and Statistics” ascribed by Mark Twain to British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. Others liken statistics to an article of clothing: it hides more than it reveals, even though what it reveals may be suggestive. But the fact is that honestly compiled and displayed statistics can reveal the whole naked truth, but the compiler can display his figures in such a manner as to hide certain important aspects of the matter he is attempting to shed light on (or to conceal).
The National Basic Education Statistics shown in the attached table is intended to display to what extent the Ministry of Education and the schools it supports succeed in meeting the minimum expectations of the population it serves, that is to say the children who attend these schools and their parents. There is a minimum reward that a child and his or her parent expect after eleven years of primary and secondary education. That reward is a pass at the School Certificate including at least a Credit grade 6 in each of the three core subjects, namely English, French and Mathematics, and in some more subjects to qualify them for admission to the Higher School Certificate class. The table reveals that, for a fact, these expectations are not being met in more than fifty per cent of the cases of those sitting. We want to tell the political class that, while all their efforts are directed towards the 40% or so that fail the CPE, they are failing the other 60%, more than half of whom end their basic education period in tears. Those half merely fall by the wayside, without any attention or thought being given to them. Do they not deserve at least half the attention and care that is being lavished on the 40%? This stricture is addressed not just to the present government but to the political class as a whole. This state of affairs has been going on for a long time regardless of the musical chairs of governing parties.
Since 1982, when the MMM-PSM alliance swept the polls, the main concern of governments and the mainstream press has been the 40%. Successive governments have resorted to diverse acrobatics to improve the performance of that group. Some of these acrobatics are here to say permanently – the ZEP schools, for instance, an import from France. Another movement, that of making Creole the language of education, the brainchild of the MMM, was actually successfully mid-wifed by the Labour Party by its officialization of the grafi-larmoni script, thereby seriously affecting the chances of our children of writing and speaking proper French. The latest acrobatic display has been the Nine Year Schooling scheme. All, it would seem, to no avail. In the process, the 60% or so who do pass the CPE and join secondary education have been totally ignored. Half of them get through mainly with the help of private tuition. The Nine Year Schooling scheme, as devised and implemented, has dealt an even more severe blow to the 60% than earlier gymnastics by denying them a stable programme of studies and of supervision for five years in one and the same secondary school with the same teachers before having to confront the School Certificate examination. Nobody would object to nine (or even nineteen) years’ schooling being granted to the 40%, but for God’s sake why mess up the 60% at the same time?
The final verdict on the Nine Year Schooling system is yet to come. The PSAS system only came into effect in 2017; this means that SC results based totally on the NYS system will only become available as from 2022 – unless of course in the meantime we get a Minister of the calibre of Mr Dharam Gokhool who did not hesitate to undo the damage done by his predecessor.
The story of education in the recent decades has mostly been one of decline, as the figures in the table for 2010 to 2018 show. However, exceptionally, a fact not shown in the table, there was notable improvement in the performance of our children at SC during the period 2005 to 2009 during Minister D Gokhool’s stewardship. The number of children scoring Credit 1-6 in Engligh language, for instance, rose steadily year by year from about 6500 in 2005 to reach 9300 in 2009 – an average annual increase of 8%! The momentum imparted by Mr Gokhool continued until 2011 when the number rose to 9500, but since then it has been a downhill movement, as we see from the table.
The student population in the country is declining, which means that the same resources are being devoted to fewer and fewer pupils. This should lead us to expect an improvement in performance. But what is actually happening is just the opposite. The performance of our system in most cases is declining faster than the population: this is the inescapable conclusion that one reaches on perusing the table.
All the figures in the table are either taken directly or computed from data downloaded at various times from the MES statistics website. The CPE cohort figures include the totality of those sitting for the exam, and thus include private candidates as well.
The “SC School Cohort” is the total of all candidates presented by schools participating in the MES system as shown in their tables relating to schools. The data for the “National Cohort” (term chosen buy us) is computed from the subject performance tables; they are established by adding up the number of candidates for the two English subjects. They match fairly closely with the number of candidates for the two mathematics papers and also, separately, with the number of candidates for French. No explanation can be gleaned from the MES tables for the difference between the figures of the two cohorts. We ask anybody who knows about this matter to come forward and clarify the mystery. We believe that this is a matter that should be clarified by the MES or the MOE. The nation needs to know all the facts about education in the country. For too long have we been kept in the dark about, for instance, the streams that follow the French Baccalaureate system or the International Baccalaureate system. Some private schools do submit their pupils to Cambridge SC exams. We need information on the performance of such students.
The average decline in the “CPE cohort” column from 2005 to 2013 is 1.75% per annum: this stems from the declining birth rate in population, and has nothing to do with MOE performance. Significantly, the decline rate in the CPE passed column is only 0.74%. This shows that the attention being given and the resources being devoted to the “40%” may be giving some results. But the 60% are being sacrificed in the process.
Concerning the SC Cohort (Schools) column, it is noteworthy that the number of candidates presenting themselves for the SC exam in any year is substantially less (often by a thousand or more) than the number of candidates of their batch having passed the CPE five years earlier. The decline rate in this column is 1.75% per annum. It is the same as the decline in CPE Cohort column, and probably has little to do with MOE performance.
The data in the SC Passed (Schools) column is taken from the MES tables showing schools info. Over these nine years, the failure rate has been rising steadily, and I would say alarmingly – at an average rate of 3.3% per annum in a situation where the number of candidates has been declining by almost 3% per annum. These are just passes – fifty per cent or more of them are in all likelihood bare minimum just passes mostly without a Credit 1-6 score in English. Details are not available. This means that the number of families facing disappointment every year is growing at an unacceptably high rate. It also implies a serious and steady deterioration in the performance of our schools and the supervision by MOE, if any.
The SC Agg. Score 6-20 concerns schools only. Regrettably, the figures for the year 2010 are not available. The figures for the eight years that are available indicate a steady and heavy decline in performance of 4.5% per annum. This is a very serious deterioration in the dispensation of the services by the Ministry of Education, and the attention of all parents is drawn to it. The time of just taking smiles from those concerned is over. What parents must demand is urgent action to buck this trend.
It is important to mention here that the MES does not release data concerning detailed performance, e.g. the number of candidates scoring Credits 1-6 in the core subjects (English, French and Mathematics) or any other subjects for that matter, in the schools supported by MOE. The detailed results that are made available concern the National SC Cohort. The latter of course includes the Schools Cohort. But as the National SC Cohort is much larger than the Schools cohort, the detailed results of one cannot be used for drawing conclusions about the other.
The average decline rate in the National SC Cohort is 0.65%; as it is much less than the decline rate in the population, it shows that more and more non-school candidates are taking an interest in the SC qualification.
The data in the SC Credits 1-6 column where the decline here is only -0.75% (significantly better than the decline in the population rate), must be regarded as an encouraging trend; sadly this good result cannot be said to apply to schools. The performance of schools can be equal to, or better than, or worse than that of the “National Cohort”. The point is we don’t know, and we want to know. The figures made available don’t let us find out.
The average decline rate in French Credit 1-6 column is 4.17% per annum: this is an extremely serious matter. It means that the number of persons able to converse in French is declining. This is a civilizational matter which ought to concern all educated Mauritians. Those who are pushing for the Creole language to replace all other languages will probably consider this a victory. But all right-thinking persons are invited to do whatever they can, including resorting to political action, to reverse this trend.
Not far behind the decline rate in French is the decline rate in Maths: 3.1%. If this rate continues we will soon run short of candidates for STEM subjects for Tertiary Education. Before politicians start talking about converting the country to a knowledge hub they should turn their attention to this mundane matter, if not their edifice will crumble.
The figures in the Casualties column are obtained from those of the National Cohort by subtracting the corresponding number for the Credit 1-6 scores in English. It shows how many children and how many parents and concerned relatives are being disappointed each year. It is time parents began to pay more attention to what is happening to their children that just to how many members of their particular group are being given posh posts in the Government Service or other plums of similar nature.
The taxpayers who fund the entire Education System want to know the full details of the performance of our schools the Ministry of Education. Just a list of the passes at the SC level fools nobody – this may well be in the category of “lies” envisioned by Prime Minister Disraeli. We want to know, in the performance by schools table, how many children in each school have scored which Credits and in which subject, just as is done for the National Cohort table. The Aggregates table must be expanded to show the full range of scores in bands of six, while keeping the aggregate 6 column, thus: 6, 7-12, 13-18, etc. up to 49-54.
Secondary education needs an outright overhaul. Special attention and resources must be devoted to those schools that perform less than satisfactorily; students in many of these must be allowed an extra year to give them time to prepare themselves more fully before having to confront the SC exams. The curricula in lower forms need to be revised; schools principals must be given more freedom in the choice of textbooks and teaching methods. The straight-jacketing of our children into different impermeable groups must also cease. More children must be incentivised to take science subjects. These must be made more interesting by giving children hands on experience of practical tests – as used to happen in the colonial days. Teachers must be trained in essential subjects like Statistics, History and Geography; these subjects must be popularised. The teaching of history must not be restricted to just that of Mauritius: our children must get a broad view of the development of the human race right from the Stone Age.
To reinforce the chances of success in English language, English Literature must be made a compulsory subject. All subjects (except languages) are taught in English; teachers of all subjects must be made responsible for ensuring that the spoken and written English used in their classes is correct: this is the principle of CLIL, Content and Language Integrated Learning and it must be rigidly enforced. Criteria for teacher competence and continued service must be reviewed, and performance monitored on a regular basis. It is probably a good idea to maintain the Form III national examination for the 40%, but for the 60% the good old-fashioned year-end annual assessment from Form I to Form IV should be restored, and promotion from one class to the next be made subject to satisfactory assessment. Repeats should be allowed unhesitatingly. Principals of schools should be made accountable for annual assessments and for satisfactory performance of the children they submit for examination at the SC level.
Finally, it is time for attention to shift nationally from the 40% to the 100%. If it it necessary to segregate the 40% from the rest at an early age to achieve that aim, so be it. By that process it will be possible to give the fullest attention to both groups right through their basic education – from pre-primary to end of secondary.
* Published in print edition on 3 May 2019