In the view of the current debate on reforms in the educational system, several points have been raised about the risk of ‘ideologizing’ the issue and focusing on the form instead of assessing the content of the syllabus offered to students, starting from the primary level to HSC, and reviewing the teaching methods used and the motivation instilled to achieve a reasonable rate of success at SC and HSC levels.
Indeed, how many of us today would have been able to get through the present CPE exam or the HSC General Paper exam for that matter?
The requirements of the CPE exam papers may seem too demanding for 11-year-old children. Though many voices are opposed to a change in the choice of the language used as a medium of teaching, we have to admit that due to the family and social environment, acquiring academic knowledge through foreign languages sounds quite unnatural and counterproductive and may inhibit children’s natural curiosity to learn more. Unsurprisingly, in some quarters primary school children develop a deep allergy to French and English.
Active participation of pupils in role-plays, sketches, dialogues and story telling enhances their interest in acquiring the fundamentals of a foreign language, its grammar, syntax and structure. One such instance was the teaching of French to seven-year-old kids at the primary school of Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry. The teacher, a French woman who is also a disciple at the Ashram, sat on the floor amid the children. So a few children lifted up their hands to relate a personal story: an incident, a dream or some other item in French.
One boy related the dream he had the night before, trying his best to express himself in French as much as possible despite the natural recourse to Bengali and English words. The teacher occasionally helped with some French vocabulary but did not interrupt to correct mistakes. The other pupils listened with a cheerful smile on their face. The boy was self-confident and relaxed. The teacher wisely prioritized the free flow of words and avoided useless intervention which might dampen the enthusiasm of the pupil. Right then it did not matter whether ‘j’ai eu peur’ should have been used instead of ‘j’avais peur’ .
Free expression, active participation and self-confidence are essential tools in language learning.
As everybody knows, there is no exam at the Ashram from the age of four till the last year which is equivalent to our Upper Six. Besides Sanskrit, Indian languages, English and French, Arts, Technology and Science subjects are taught. Much freedom is given to pupils as regards their choice of subjects.
A fourteen-year-old Tibetan pupil there showed more interest in Mechanics and spent hours studying the engine of a car in a garage belonging to the Ashram. Practical experience in Agriculture is considered a necessary skill. All pupils are educated on the tenets of Hindu philosophy. Drama is a core activity.
The Ashram has an agreement with the Indian government and foreign universities whereby admission of their pupils is granted without them obtaining a formal school-leaving certificate. And they do succeed in India and abroad.
But then, it is a special context where the spiritual development of pupils is also attended to. There is no sense of inferiority or superiority attached to the choice of subjects and careers. Western-style education focusing on the sole development of the intellect, thus promoting a materialistic and rationalistic type of civilization is a real calamity.
Classifyling people in social classes based on intellectual achievements and financial status is a hapless legacy of a colonial past which is still undermining the way we regard ourselves, view and relate to others in Mauritius. Being addressed as ‘Sir’ is seemingly an ultimate social recognition of their worth for some of our one meter sixty-five tall men in our small island, especially if you meet them in the neighbourhood of Pope Hennessy Street and Parliament House. Oh sorry! There are also the equivalents of OBE and MBE as the highest rewards awaiting worthy people.
How does any reform help to decolonize minds and promote self-confidence in our common values is another key question. How do ‘educated’ people occupying specific functions exert authority and power over their peers and the general public? Judging from the unconscious predator instinct that prompts the civil servant at the CWA to prolong your agony by a tardy response to your requests and ministers’ sadistic humiliation of directors of parastatal bodies and random transfer of teachers and policemen (not to mention the wild fees that some private clinics and lawyers try to extort from you), there seems to be a Hannibal Lecter (main character played by Anthony Hopkins in the film ‘Silence of the Lambs’) personality lurking in many of our educated people!
In other words, we are interested in the end result of education – whatever be the forthcoming reform – because in the long run, what ultimately matters is the way we do our jobs and relate to others.
As regards subjects taught in secondary school curriculum and job prospects, recruitment policy seems more flexible in the UK. For instance, a degree holder in Languages or History can be employed in the banking sector for what is valued is the maturity higher education brings to young adults, and the skills in the specific job are acquired on ground experience, which sounds fair enough.
The declining appeal of Arts section is quite alarming. It widely depends on how teachers and parents view the relevance of the Humanities. Formerly, Arts students were even allowed to take up Medicine. How literature and poetry have been sacrificed in many countries is a real tragedy causing heavy casualties on minds and hearts.
The content and requirements of the CPE can be reviewed and be less demanding. But it is questionable that the exam itself is an issue. What is certainly a big issue is the number of pupils per classroom. Teachers cannot give individual attention and teach properly in overcrowded classes of 40 pupils. The issue is that this situation hampers the holistic development of children as it forces them to rush to private tuition and spend more time on the same subjects.
Children should have the time to develop physically, emotionally and spiritually. And above all, education should not classify children as ‘récalés’ or ‘failures’ but should promote respect and self-esteem and value everyone from the village idiot to the labourer and the airplane pilot for their different abilities and contribution in society.
- Published in print edition on 28 August 2015