By Nita Chicooree-Mercier
Why is Mauritius a good place to raise kids? One major reason is undoubtedly because children and adolescents in this country have been protected from what Norman Mailer, the late American writer, called the ‘crap’ that America has been exporting to the rest of the world for decades. American TV serials are full of youngsters acting tough, using foul language, putting on airs and answering back to parents and teachers in sarcastic tones, challenging parental authority not to mention girls dressed like sluts and boys adopting aggressive and anti-social behaviour. All this vulgarity has been quickly mimicked by youngsters in developed societies who look up to America as a model for everything.
Over here, children may be overprotected, hence the perception that they seem to be less mature than their peers in advanced societies. Yet they are undeniably more civilized. If anything, they behave like children, sweet, courteous and respectful. Sixteen-year-old girls and boys still have all the charm and gentleness of youth though they may adopt the same hairstyle and clothes as youngsters in more affluent societies. Vulgarity is so entrenched in behaviour and language that it goes unnoticed. In fact, it has become the norm in some societies.
The other point is that while education is being taken less and less seriously in advanced countries, those in emerging countries like Mauritius are willing to make painstaking efforts to achieve the best results in year-end exams. Paradoxically, schoolchildren in primary and secondary schools do not complain about being overworked notwithstanding all the criticism levelled against the educational system. Parents are reassured that the value of hard work imbibed at an early age will help their kids get along in life whatever be the circumstances. Though hard times may prompt a number of young people to migrate, they will be resourceful and resilient enough to make it in life. How spontaneously they express their love for their country may baffle a foreign observer. A French friend observed that patriotism has become a taboo subject in France. Most probably due to the left-wing discourse which deprives countries of their real identity. In those countries, people have lost a sense of belonging; they have been taught to conceal and deny any specific identity.
Being still a conservative and traditional society, a great majority of children grow up in stable families. Marriage is still taken seriously, not like a game to be played. Get fed up with one partner, snap it up and take another one. A sense of real values and an ingrained wisdom keeps people away from jumping from one bed to another… thanks to the so-called freedom which looks more like an enslavement to sex and physical pleasure than anything else. Despite the less strict social mores gaining ground, western-style free sex with multiple partners before settling down in stable relationships is generally rejected. Unstable families and the deep psychological damage caused to both children and adults is a major tragedy in western societies.
A multilingual society is a blessing provided its members make the best of the language exposure which is accessible to them on a daily basis. Old prejudices have kept part of the adult population away from the cultural and aesthetic benefits of a variety of languages the country can boast of. Under proper guidance, the younger generation can take a different course. Languages are openings on different cultures. Staunch advocates of what is coined ‘Mauritianism’ should ask themselves how receptive they are to other languages in Mauritius and how far they are willing to let their children open their minds and hearts to the cultural treasures the country offers. Some languages contain a much higher number of phonemes than the main European languages, which make it easier for young Mauritians to adjust to other languages anywhere in the world.
Currently, cultural treasures are not fully used to improve the minds and hearts of society at large. Neither does general knowledge help to develop a critical mind and refine the intellect as it should on a wider basis. But the country is a unique place which can create one of the best mental and spiritual space in the minds of the younger generation. This will equip them to surf over the uncertain waves the forthcoming decades have in store for them.
* Published in print edition on 21 September 2012