Primary Scholarships

Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago

By D. Napal

In a Memorandum addressed to Sir Christopher Cox, the Educational Advisor to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, during his visit to our Island in January 1955, we have drawn his attention to the way in which Primary Scholarships are granted to our children. In fact the present system favours the upper and well-to-do classes and is detrimental to the interest of those who are poor and have not got the advantages of a good surrounding. It is no secret to our readers that in our villages there is no school where children can be taught for the primary scholarships whereas in our towns we have got both the school and the best material among teachers to coach the children for competitive examinations. We do not know the gist of the educational code which is still in the making, but we hope Government would think twice about our poor children prior to coming out with the Code.

In French times it was a custom of the government to provide secondary education free to twenty pupils recruited from the families of the old inhabitants of the colony. Upon the capture of the island, it was stipulated that the laws and customs prevalent in the island before the conquest should be respected. The conquerors, faithful to the Capitulation Treaty, decreed in 1815 that the custom of giving secondary education free to twenty pupils should be continued with the proviso that one third of the pupils should be children from English families. It was in the same year that the annual award of two scholarships was granted to the two best pupils of the Royal College. This practice was soon after discontinued due to the indifference of the inhabitants to profit by it. In 1839 the system of scholarships was revived, this time for only one scholar and was extended to two scholars in 1854. As was natural from the nature of these early scholarship, the middle and lower classes could in no way be beneficiaries. More than half a century was to elapse before anything was done for them.

It was only in 1870 that were instituted scholarships for boys from primary schools — two of the best boys from the government schools were granted annual scholarships with yearly payments of £10 each. Girls could benefit from scholarships for the first time only in 1894 when two of the best girls from the primary government or aided schools were given the benefits of a free secondary education. The number for boys as well as girls was increased to four in 1900. It is striking to note that there was such a long lapse of time before scholarships were instituted for which children could apparently compete irrespective of their creed, caste and colour. The bare truth, however, is that only privileged students could benefit from the scholarships. The scholarships were always carried away by the same few schools. We have come to this conclusion, after having patiently gone through the Educational Reports in what concerns the scholarships.

Other changes occurred in 1903. In that year, to carry out the provisions of Ordinance No 33 of 1899, dealing with primary education, the Education Department put into force its Code B which was framed by the Committee of Primary Instruction. En passant, be it noted that this Code made provisions for the teaching of more French than English up to Standard III, on the plea that the pupils could more easily learn their French than their English.

In accordance with the provisions of the new Code, 6 scholarships and Exhibitions were instituted for boys all tenable at the Royal College, till the holder was twenty years old. The scholars were also entitled to the payment of Rs 100 annually for a period of four years. At the same time four of the best girls from both primary government and grant in aided schools were given a three years scholarship to be tenable at any girl’s secondary school aided by government. The girl scholar received the payment of Rs 100 and her school fees were paid by government at the rate of Rs 144 a year for a period of three years.

There were some changes which were brought about for the scholarship examination to be held in 1922. The causes of these changes as published in the 1921 Report were: “The small number that pass the Preliminary Test compared to the large number who enter is accounted for by the fact that hitherto many boys enter who are wholly unprepared for the examination, especially from country districts, while a considerable number compete who do not directly come from the school.”

It was enacted that the boys taking part in the Scholarship examination had to be not more than 13 years old. They were required not only to have passed the 6th Standard examination in the schools which presented them for the Scholarship Examination but they were ineligible unless they scored 50% of total marks in English and French Dictation and Arithmetic. Those eligible for the Scholarship Examination were examined on the standard VI curriculum of studies. The advantages of this system were enumerated in the 1921 Report. They were the following:

“(1) A boy holding a bursary will have five years instead of three at the Royal College. He can enter Class I at once and so take up either side — Classical or Modern.
(2) As the primary school ends at Standard VI, the best boys will now be able to pass out with these bursaries to the Royal College for the higher study, whereas formerly they had to study in their schools till 15 years of age. Clever boys in country districts had little chance previously in competing for these bursaries on the old programme, the schools being so small and few qualified teachers being available to give the necessary advanced instruction: now the examination is held on Standard VI programme.

(3) Boys not up to Scholarship Standard previously remained in so-called “Bursary Classes” for two years, whereas now instead of being crammed for two years they may, after Standard VI, enter a trade or technical school.

(4) The new Bursary Examination will be a far better test of the work of the primary schools, for only the best boys from the schools in the island who have passed Standard VI Preliminary Test, will be selected for the examination in December.

(5) For the next year 1922, 2 scholarships and 2 Exhibitions in addition to the other scholarships will be opened for the competition to boys between 13 and 15 years.”

It was found in 1925 that a boy who left school after failing to obtain a Scholarship or Exhibition had not the requisite knowledge to earn his living. Accordingly it was decided to establish a higher class with a two-year course of studies and that on the results of a competitive examination, for senior scholarships and for senior exhibitions were to be granted entitling the holders to free tuition at the Royal Colleges for the period of five years. The Scholars were entitled to the payment of Rs 120 annually during the period of the tenure of the Scholarship. The Scholars and Exhibitionists were to join the Royal College in the lower middle class.

After 1925 we do not find any changes worthy of note until the coming of Mr Ward, who, it can justly be said, overhauled the whole educational system in the island.

Friday 22nd February 1957

* Published in print edition on 22 November 2019

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