On Secondary Education

Mauritius Times – 60 Years

By Peter Ibbotson

Suggestions for reforms in private secondary education have been put forward by a number of correspondents. One reader in Chemin Grenier has drawn attention to the low salaries being paid to the teachers in the private secondary schools; even some holders of the GCE (5 passes) or School Certificate are, he alleges, being paid as low as Rs 150 a month. Why not a minimum wage board for private school teachers? Another reader (E.W. of Port Louis) has asked. He says, “I hope the Labour authority will fix the teacher’s salary and keep an eye on the principals as it does on the shopkeepers.”

These references to the poor salaries being paid in private secondary schools are interesting; it is, of course, well-known that many such schools are catch-penny affairs, set up by people desirous of cashing in on the people’s demand for education; demands which the Government has so far not satisfied in the secondary field. Unscrupulous principals are establishing secondary schools, charging fees (and turning out the pupils if they fall behind with their fees), and not giving in return an adequate education.

In theory, the 1957 Education Ordinance ought by now to have begun to put an end to the undoubted racketeering that goes on in this field of private secondary education. Power has been given to the Director, with the concurrence of the Minister, to refuse to register any school if it appears to him that the premises are unsuitable, dangerous, insanitary or ill-equipped. Also, the qualifications and experience of the teachers must be adequate for the school to be conducted efficiently. Yet the complaints of correspondents of the Mauritius Times in recent weeks have concerned schools which, they have alleged, are deficient in these particulars.

A reader from Floreal declares that “year in and year out we have got new and young inexperienced teachers trying out their immature methods.” The principals, he alleges, often do not prepare proper schemes of work. As regards the premises in which the schools are conducted, the reader says: “The classrooms look like concentration camps. Seven or eight pupils have to sit on one bench of ten feet or so. There is no proper ventilation, and the amount of light is defective.” The lack of adequate ventilation is mentioned also by “A.A.” of Chemin Grenier who also declares: “Some of the buildings are not suitable for colleges. The manager when opening the institution just hires a house, previously a store or garage. After some insignificant improvements on the building, a signboard is affixed bearing the name of a college from Oxford or Cambridge and the garage becomes a college.”

If the allegations made by correspondents to the Mauritius Times are correct, then it is surely up to the authorities to act. If these private schools are really defective as regards ventilation, lighting, space, and qualified experienced staff, then they are clearly schools which are liable to have their applications for registration turned down by the Director. On the other hand, if they are running as schools without being registered, the owners, managers and teachers are committing an offence under the 1957 Ordinance and are liable to a maximum penalty of a fine of Rs500 and six months in prison. The same penalty attaches if registration of unsuitable premises for use as a school has been secured by means of false information in the application for registration.

In any case, it is up to the Education Department to take action; the power is there, why not use it? People pay their hard-won rupees as school fees every month in the hope that their child, at a private secondary school, will eventually pass the School Certificate or the GCE well enough to qualify for a Government post. And with the number of such posts being so low, and the number of potential candidates for them being at the same time so high, it is clear that the bare minimum of the five pass GCE or the School Certificate with no additional subjects will not be enough. Government, able to pick and choose, will tend to choose the best-qualified candidates for jobs, which means, very probably, those applicants with six or seven GCE passes or with School Certificate in seven or eight subjects. And we all know that even the best private secondary schools don’t often get very many of these better-qualified pupils.

Yet in return for these hard-won rupees, parents do not always get what they expect — a good education for their son. Time and time again, pupils go through their secondary schools getting good reports, but when the GCE comes along, they don’t get any passes at all; or perhaps they pass in French only. Why? Very often because the good reports are mere eyewash to keep the parents happy and to make sure that they don’t take their son away. The principals — not all, of course, but enough to warrant this allegation are concerned with their pockets, not with providing education. All over Mauritius there are mushroom colleges being opened, where often unscrupulous gentry sell education in inferior surroundings, as though education were just another commodity like detergents, toothpaste, or mono sodium glutamate.

The best private schools are good of course: the Triennial Report on Education, lists those few which have been approved or provisionally approved by the Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate as qualified to present candidates for the School Certificate. Only eight non-aided, i.e., private schools have received the accolade of the Cambridge Syndicate: of the other 40 private secondary schools known to exist, the report says “… as such schools did not come up to the minimum standard expected of secondary grammar schools with respect to teachers qualifications, physical conditions, equipment or curriculum, the quality of education they could give left much co be desired. But if that is what the Education Department feels about so many private secondary schools, why hasn’t it taken action against them under the Ordinance?

Action against the unsatisfactory private schools under the 1957 Ordinance would, the political opponents of the Labour Minister of Education will doubtless say, be restricting the opportunities of education available to those who do not get a scholarship or other entry to a Government or aided secondary school. There may be an element of truth in this allegation; but to take action against unsatisfactory schools would have these effects. First, those schools that were not proceeded against would all the time have to be on their toes to maintain at least minimum standards: the principals would know that if they didn’t, it would get round to their turn to be struck off the list of registered schools. And second, many parents would be protected from wasting their hard-won rupees on a travesty of secondary education; a travesty which benefits no-one but the unscrupulous principal who pockets the not inconsiderable profits.

And third, the principals of the Government and aided schools, as well as of the handful of reputable private schools, would welcome the disappearance of tinpot catchpenny back-room academies whose activities do nothing but evil to the cause of education in general. But will the Department act?

5th Year – No 226
Friday 5th December 1958

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