Politically Incorrect

By Nita Chicooree-Mercier

Is homogeneity in political, economic and cultural values an essential factor in achieving good performance in education?

Countries like South Korea, Singapore and Finland have an almost homogeneous population and a homogeneous culture where people, parents and children adhere to the educational policy set up by the governmental authorities and give full support to the reforms initiated by their ministers. There is a culture of trust and obedience among people cherishing the same values.

Finland has almost no immigrants, Singapore has a small minority of Indians and South-East Asians, mostly Malays, sharing common values with mainstream Singaporean society. South Korean society is entirely homogeneous. So are towns like Shanghai with a vibrant economy and a cultural uniformity. Does homogeneity enhance a sense of patriotism and consequently, breed a proper atmosphere for learning, and motivating youngsters to perform well and to feel part and parcel of the economic progress of their country?

In these places, the public is not prone to protests, strikes or endless disputes with the authorities. The same mindset prevails in the educational system. Is a dispersal of ideas and values harmful for the realization of a national purpose in the field of education? Too much thinking can be counter-productive in this case.

Japan used to be considered as a competitive system which produced outstanding results and hoisted the country as a world class economic power notwithstanding the indoctrination and the high teen suicide rate the country was criticized for. Today, in a free and open IT environment, its youths are being exposed to highly liberal and foreign ideas coming from all over the world breaking up the traditional strong culture of work and sacrifice, and creating confusion and dispersal of values. No wonder China is surpassing it.

Patriotism and what is perceived as ‘indoctrination’ stemming from adherence to a national goal seem to bring about positive results.

Are there flawless educational systems abroad? Germany’s half-day school and afternoon sports activities was first hailed as a major innovative step to enhance the effectiveness of the system and the panacea to the issues of rhythm, attention span of pupils and their motivation in performing well. Today the Germans themselves are not so satisfied with their educational policy.

In France today, leftist ideology that has permeated the egalitarian idea of education is giving way to a more pragmatic approach following the disillusion of imparting education to one and all on a level-playing field. The result of an ambitious project of lifting up pupils to the ‘baccalaureate’ level has led to a massification of education. French literature has been dealt a severe blow in the process.

French pre-primary policy of making young ones start learning how to write and read at the age of 6 has been hailed as one of the best systems in Europe. However, today it is being considered as too late an age especially for children with a high IQ and for the ones having an average intelligence. There is an alarming percentage of children who leave primary school and start college without mastering the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic. For lack of seats in colleges, pupils are made to go up the ladder of grades while accumulating deep deficiencies.

French intellectual and philosopher Alain Finkielkraut qualified what is called ‘créativité’ in ‘classe de découverte’ supposed to let every pupil free to do research work on the internet which suits their needs as a waste of time.

Opinions in the Mauritian press used to hail the French system as a better one than the local one but their analysis is based on the local private French schools in Curepipe and in the North which attract a social category which is fairly educated and which is demanding in so far as parents have to pay school fees every month. The whole system cannot be appraised through the prism of a few privileged private schools. The ‘esprit critique’ which many hail in the press has its limits. Students who are hauled up to university tend to go on learning courses by heart, many turning out to be devoid of any critical mind especially when they find themselves in Canadian universities.

The French PM proposed that year-end exams be reintroduced in the last year of primary level, and there is even talk of setting up a new system of exams before the baccalaureate level which would give more incentives to candidates for the two final years of high school. Regular assessment has had a limited impact on creating motivation. The other point is that teachers in the French system would not mind having school uniforms imposed on pupils given the wild indiscipline and uncivil behaviour prevailing among youngsters.

Any of them who visits a Mauritian public school out of curiosity is impressed by the discipline and natural politeness of the young ones. Not to mention their adaptation to more than two languages. Notwithstanding cases of indiscipline and aggressiveness reported in the press. Locally, one cannot imagine the wild and the uncivilized behaviour prevailing in schools in advanced countries where there is considerable erosion of traditional values. The concept of mixed-ability classes is being questioned.

Sounds as if the Mauritian system is not so bad, hey? What solution to the private tuition business? End free education? Since parents believe in paying teachers privately to enhance the academic performance of their children. Are they just circumvented and overwhelmed by a system to which the authorities have found no alternative? The core issue remains how to get CPE drop-outs into the mainstream so that they can improve their minds with adequate general knowledge and practical skills, and later find a proper place in society as grown-up citizens.

* Published in print edition on 17 December 2010

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