Education: How free and how fair and at what cost?
— Nita Chicooree
What difference is there between an eighteen-year old Mauritian HSC holder with excellent grades and a foreign student with an excellent A-level or Baccalaureate sitting on the bench of a university of Science, Law, Economics or Arts? Not much at first sight. And yet a great deal on second thought. How much does private tuition cost parents in Mauritius? Around Rs 750 a month for Chemistry, same amount for Physics, Rs 450 for Biology, double the price for both theory and practice, Rs 650 for Maths, roughly the same amount for Economics, and Rs 500 or less for English depending if the teacher rents a building or not. How many years of private tuition drain their parents’ salary? Around seven years, considering only secondary education. In the last two final years, they go for it almost every day of the week including Saturday and Sunday, mid-term holidays as well as the end-of-the year holidays with a short respite of two weeks around the New Year festivals in December and January. This is the timetable of the average conscientious student who competes for the ‘laureate’ awards for a seat in a university abroad or even for admission to the University of Mauritius. How much does that amount to per year? Around Rs 2350 per month, Rs 26 2000 a year out of parents’ bank account per child. Add to this the sum of Rs 1900 a month for a second child sitting for SC, Rs 20 100 a year. A monthly expense of Rs 4250 for two children.
In the knowledge-oriented cyber-island Internet costs Rs 1000 monthly, almost as expensive as in France; privatised foreign-owned electricity in keeping with the ultra-liberal policy of successive governments costs an average Rs 1800 for a family of four. The father, a former bright pupil of the Royal College Curepipe, works in a major private printing company for Rs 12 000. In his days, higher studies abroad were accessible only to a few moneyed families, the University of Mauritius offered few courses. In the dark era of the 70s and early 80s, as many other Mauritians, he switched political obedience out of disillusion. He joined the MMM and was councillor in one municipality; he remained jobless for seven years as he was allegedly on the black list of those who were barred from the Civil Service. He belongs to the Sacrificed Generation of wasted intelligence powerlessly witnessing their country wallowing in the quagmire of local politics, nepotism and corruption. He has been spending Rs 7050 a month on tuition, internet and electricity. Education is like elections, free and fair.
Roughly Rs 5000 left for a family of four. How do you live with this amount of money? Everybody knows how disproportionate the cost of living is compared to the salary of the average householder. Some items are much higher than in Europe. How many Mauritian families have been putting up with such cost of living for years? Good news, the young lady competing for Laureate, scores 4 A in Maths and Science and B in English. Bad news, no studies abroad. Never mind, she is rewarded with a handshake and a smile from the Prime Minister. Bad luck, the Medical School in the name of the Father of the Nation is far too expensive, incredibly exorbitant! A generation later, studying Medicine abroad or in Mauritius is still the privilege of a few moneyed families. It is a private school. Sorry. Okay, she will take up Civil Engineering at the UOM. Not a bad place, highly motivated professors with honourable credentials, no nepotism or promotion on communal basis, an ideal institution to form the future élite of the nation. Thanks to Equality of Opportunity, her father will have to take a loan to pay for the enrolment fee though the daughter immediately took up a job after the HSC exams in November and has been saving to help her family. Fortunately, banks give equal opportunities of borrowing to all Mauritians.
It is the legitimate right of parents to give the best chances to their children in the field of education. At any cost. How come students cannot receive the right education and complete the syllabus within the state-sponsored free educational system supported by taxpayers’ money? Or rather, the question should be put the other way round. How come teachers, who are civil servants serving the younger generation of the nation, are unable to do the duty they are paid for? A fragile national ego with a lack of self-confidence takes its self-view from foreign observers. Reminiscence of colonialism.
Recently, it suddenly dawned upon the good people that the widespread thriving business of private tuition equates with silent corruption. The PM will probably recruit a foreigner, preferably from enlightened England to explain what corruption means and what sort of corruption escapes the vigilance of the ICAC. That educated people, who attended university and achieved honourable academic level and became teachers, can cheat on their working time, withhold knowledge from their pupils to force them to take private tuition and unscrupulously fleece parents all year round is just revolting. Such dishonesty and greed in the enlightened minds of the country is hard to reckon with. Some teachers even ignore pupils who do not come to them for private tuition. One relative reports that however often she puts up her hand to participate or answer questions, her French teacher just ignores her. One reason is that her French is excellent, probably better than the teacher’s (they can’t expect to keep up the standard if they never leave the country for a more effective language immersion, so overworked with private tuition!) and the other reason is that she does not inflate the teacher’s bank account.
A class of about 40 pupils coached in Physics brings a monthly sum of Rs 30 240 to the teacher. Income tax-free. Mauritian youngsters are not different from their counterparts abroad. Private tuition should be given temporarily to enable a pupil to catch up but it should stop once this objective is achieved. Ambitious and hard-working secondary school students abroad do not require extra hours of learning from their teachers to perform very well and later reach high academic university standards. For how long are the authorities going to shut their eyes on the silent corruption teachers involve the younger generation in while they unscrupulously fleece their parents?