Education Reform: ‘Tail Wags Dog’ policies set to come back

Iconoclasts also love the country

I read MT contributor U.C.’s article “Getting it right” (in the issue of 7th August 15) with great interest, but regret to say that I cannot share his optimism. I certainly agree with his appreciation of the Minister’s enthusiasm and capabilities, and believe that she is a bright, rising star not only in her party but also in the nation as a whole. But given what is expected of her by the vociferous majority, and the likelihood that she will try to satisfy or pacify them all, there is little chance of any real, performance-improving reform coming about.

Reforms there will be – so we are told. They may even be earth-shattering, much like the MMM reforms of the last decade. For many honour will be satisfied. But I have yet to see a serious proposal that is likely to affect, for the better, our national performance at the School Certificate level. Without significant improvement at that level we are likely to run short of manpower for the proposed Knowledge and IT hubs. The secondary education system is not producing qualified youths in sufficient numbers to meet our needs. That is where reforms and improvements are needed.

The performance of our secondary education system should not be judged by the outstanding results of the attendees of the QEC, the Royal Colleges and other star schools alone. The percentage of our annual cohorts that score 4 or better in subjects at the SC exams is a much better guide.

The nation, and the Minister, must take note of the pass figures in the Table: ‘Mauritian students’ results at Cambridge SC Exams…’, which sets out the numbers of examinees scoring 4 or better in some important subjects in 2005 and 2014, the last years of MMM-MSM and Labour rules respectively. Corresponding figures for the year 2000 would also have been helpful for comparison purposes but they are not currently available on the MES website.

The table shows that far too few of our youngsters achieve good grades in any subject, and far too few are oriented towards Computer Studies. While they are all obliged to offer Mathematics, far too few achieve good grades in this subject either. In my view also far too few students are oriented towards the science subjects, and fewer still succeed meaningfully. The 2005 SC batch have now emerged from tertiary studies and are already in gainful employment or are looking for jobs. The table explains why our current crop of graduates are weak in spoken and written English and why there is a shortage of IT expertise in the country, a matter which is seriously handicapping our national development.

The table also shows that our education system made significant improvements in the teaching of English under the nine years of Labour rule, with cohort percentage in the subject jumping from 15% to 23%; but even that is not good enough. In practically all other important subjects the national trend under Labour has been more or less static or has even in some cases declined.

The table also reveals the lack of interest of our student population in Literature, History and Statistics. We believe that this comes about through no fault of the students, but of the teaching community. The latter are not sufficiently prepared to teach these subjects, and never speak about them to their classes. Their masteries of subjects are frozen around certain areas, and they do not wish to engage in the effort required to learn to teach new subjects. One is reminded of the parallel situation arising in the fuel distribution industry, where it is very difficult to change from petroleum products to ethanol because of the existing investment in petroleum-dispensing filling stations. But change must come!

Under your stewardship, Madam Minister, we expect the situation in our Secondary Education system, as summarized in the table, to improve, and in any case not to worsen. On you rests the responsibility for meeting the future requirements for qualified manpower for our industries and our national development in general. An equally important concern should be to improve the linguistic, reasoning and cultural competence of the nation. Please ponder before taking any hasty, ideology-driven steps.

We believe that the present “parlous” state of our secondary education is due to the excessive attention given to misdirected efforts to improve the lot of the 30% who fail the CPE at the primary level, which is undeniably an important, even sacred, duty of the government. Please find other ways to achieve that goal. For the long-term survival of the nation, it is important to attend as assiduously as possible to the 70%. All priorities are relative. On board a flying aircraft, in “the unlikely event” of a case of decompression requiring the wearing of oxygen masks arising, a parent is directed to wear his or her own before trying to fit his or her child’s.

The problems facing the nation in its desire to develop and become an advanced nation like Singapore, for instance, are, firstly, to improve the quality of primary education to reduce the 30% failure rate at the CPE level to, say, about five percent, secondly, and more importantly, to improve the quality secondary education – not just to supply future manpower to industries but also to make the nation more fluent in spoken English and French (oracy), to improve its level of undertanding the meaning of numbers (numeracy), its level of reasoning (thinking skills) and its general cultural level through greater acquaintance with elements of world literature, world history, general science, philosophy, etc – with a view to raising the level of general education and culture in the country.

The principal problem to be solved in our education system, as long advanced by many, is to address the severe competition existing among children at the CPE level, the so-called “rat-race”. It was to address this sore that the MMM administration proposed the 11-year schooling, thereby compelling youths who are not interested in studying to stay behind in school and pester those who want to do so.

Minister Bunwaree’s declared intention to bring it down to nine years, while still keeping the CPE around in some disguised form, would have been a step in the right direction; we only wish he had gone one year further down to bring it to eight years. But we don’t know what Minister Bunwaree would have actually done had he still been around. While his intended plan would definitely have been an improvement upon the MMM plan, it would still have required children to be floating around until Form III.

To my knowledge, it takes a pupil three solid years of prepare for the option (science, economics, humanities, etc.) that he or she chooses to study for the School Certificate. My generation (late forties and early fifties) had to study both science and Latin in Forms I and II, but had to opt for the classical side or the modern side (Latin and Greek versus Chemistry and Physics or Biology) on entering Form III. Minister Bunwaree’s nine year schooling would have allowed one year less for concentrated preparation of the options chosen.

If it is found absolutely necessary to keep children floating around under the pretext of having to submit them to a post-CPE national examination, please hold the examination at the end of eighth year, to allow pupils the full three years they need for preparing for their School Certificate. In this particular regard, I must point out that the MMM 11-year schooling was better, as it permitted pupils the three full years they needed unharassed for studying their chosen SC options. Holding the national examination at the end of Form II will require special arrangements for those unable or unwilling to continue with academic secondary education beyond the eighth year, but these can be easily organised.

The acute competition (and the attendant “private tuition” industry) remains a problem to be addressed. It was to address this problem, I believe, that Minister Bunwaree was reportedly “thinking about” regionalising the laureateships. I assume that the number of laureateships in each region would have been proportional to the student population in that region. That would certainly have been a step in the right direction, provided that the regions were restored to what they were before the MMM meddled with them. The old division of the country into nine districts is still very valid in spite of the migrations that have taken place towards Plaine Wilhems in recent decades – except perhaps that the latter might have had to be cut into two, along the lines of what the Police Department has done – a Lower and an Upper Plaine Wilhems districts.

But I still doubt whether the Bunwaree regionalisation plan would have totally eliminated the acute competition and the primary level private tuition trade. I would like to mention here a plan that the Brindaban Linguistic and Cultural Genocide Watch Group (BLCGWG) had put forward to the MOE during the 2008-2020 education reform consultations.

In the analysis that the BLCGWG had made, we had come to the conclusion that the current competitive feature stems from the laureateship system. We had therefore suggested its abolition in its present form, and its replacement by one which rewarded co-operation instead. Furthermore, we believe that non-academic activities like drama, debating, singing, music, dancing, sports, and even some types of social work should be taken into account for the final awards. The awards themselves, under our system, would be made to a group and not to individuals. The group so elected would have to demonstrate that it has made the best effort at cooperating internally in all areas of activity that it has undertaken, including studying. The award would go to not the highest individual effort, but to the group that reaches a highest level in homogeneity of performance – the group with the highest average and the lowest standard deviation.

The groups (syndics) would have consisted of about eight to ten members, so that each class would be cut up into three or four of them. They would be officially registered as such at the beginning of Form VI studies. We were aware that a novel idea like this would demand considerable further discussion and elaboration, but we were confident that in the end its adoption would have increased the spirit of cooperation among citizens of the country. But all that, alas, is water under the bridge. We await the Minister’s new proposals with bated breath. Will they affect the performance of future SC cohorts for better or for worse? As the years go by, the results will be there for all to see.


  • Published in print edition on 21 August 2015
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