Philosophising on Education for Life


Why can’t those who have other skills become torchbearers who will put their skills at the disposal of a new Mauritius. We need to harness all their aptitudes


What is Education? Different people will probably give you different answers to this question. But it is not possible to describe it in one word, or even in one sentence. It encompasses all the elements for the development of a person: intellectual, physical, aesthetic, moral, cultural and for the world of work.

Before the political independence of Mauritius most people would only consider obtaining a school certificate or a university degree. This is understandable as the labourers and the artisans would like their children to be successful at established examinations and obtain certificates which would be essential to obtain a good job such as a clerk in the public service or as a primary school teacher.


“As a young 50-year old nation, we have to learn both from other nations as well as from ourselves. Mauritius has been built with the sweat and tears of all its inhabitants, challenging the prophets of doom who had painted a sombre picture of Mauritius after it won its independence. Education must encourage people to live together…”


This craze for academic certificates was understandable and useful at first, but it was not education, except perhaps for those who were going to be primary school teachers. They had to ‘educate’ young children in the three Rs (the foundations of a basic skills-oriented education program in schools: reading, writing and arithmetic), which is more a question of instruction rather than education.

We have been burdened with this idea of education for too long. It was realized that the main culprit is the highly selective CPE examination, which prevents a healthy approach to the education of young children, and perverts the idea of real and comprehensive education.

A first big step was taken by the MSM-MMM government of 2000-05 , with Steven Obeegadoo as Minister of Education. More than 30 new secondary schools were built with the best infrastructure across the Republic of Mauritius to ease access to secondary education. But the government that came to power in 2005 took a backward step, and made the children return to a bookishly crammed ‘education’.

Another well thought reform is now in place with Mrs Leela Devi Dookun-Luchoomun at the helm. This new reform project is very comprehensive and has in general been well received by the public. This time it is the curriculum and the mode of assessment that are being reviewed.

What is the philosophy behind the reform? As I mentioned at the beginning, our education system was initially geared towards the obtention of certificates which will help the children get a foothold into the public service. But the world is fast changing and we have to adapt to the new challenges, failing which we will leave a large number of our children by the wayside. Why can’t those who have other skills become torchbearers who will put their skills at the disposal of a new Mauritius which needs them. We need to harness all their aptitudes, with each child having specific skills.

A major step has been taken with the setting up of three polytechnics last year. In Singapore 40% of the students are channelled to polytechnics with only 25% going to universities. Countries like Singapore and Germany are showing us the way forward.

But nothing is clear ahead. The world of work is in a constant flux, with existing skills fast becoming obsolete. Children as well as adults do not know what is in store for them in the future. They take to drugs to forget about the reality. In the USA the life expectancy has dropped, with alcohol, drugs and suicide to blame for it.


“The world is fast changing and we have to adapt to the new challenges, failing which we will leave a large number of our children by the wayside. Why can’t those who have other skills become torchbearers who will put their skills at the disposal of a new Mauritius which needs them. We need to harness all their aptitudes, with each child having specific skills…”


What is the answer? 20 million Americans are doing yoga and meditation every day. Stress has taken its toll, and we have to educate children on how to lead a happier life. Bhutan, a small country in the Himalayas, prefers to talk about Gross National Happiness (GNP) instead of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The Minister of Human Resources of India has only last week said that the national curriculum body (NCERT) has to reduce the crammed curriculum by 50%, leaving children with more time to concentrate on life skills.

As a young 50-year old nation, we have to learn both from other nations as well as from ourselves. Mauritius has been built with the sweat and tears of all its inhabitants, challenging the prophets of doom who had painted a sombre picture of Mauritius after it won its independence. Education must encourage people to live together. We are very much aware of the damage that intolerance and violence are doing to peace-loving people all over the world.

It is time for each person to feel that that whether he is a policeman or a teacher, an electrician or a car mechanic, a labourer or a cleaner, he is being considered with respect for the skills and services he is providing to society. Give everybody their dignity as human beings with the salary they deserve for the work they are doing. The Minimum Wage Act, passed by Parliament last year, is a historic landmark decision. This is also, lest we forget, part of the encompassing nature of education, an important part of education for life.

 

* Published in print edition on 9 March 2018

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