An Appeal to the Leaders of the Alliance de l’Avenir
The issue of Languages in Education and in the country at large
— Paramanand Soobarah
The Brindaban Linguistic and Cultural Genocide Watch Group, established to arrest and to the extent possible reverse the decline of our Bhojpuri mother-tongue in the country, being a cross-section of Mauritian society, takes an interest in all aspects of social, cultural life in the country. But this appeal we shall limit to the issue of the teaching of languages in our education system and the practice thereof in the country at large, both of which are in a parlous state.We trust that the project of a Bhojpuri Speaking Union will be taken to its logical conclusion, and one will be established, along with those of the Creole, French and Chinese Speaking Unions. We also trust that the MBC and the authorities in charge of cultural matters, whichever ministry they are located in, will take positive steps towards the propagation of Bhojpuri language and culture.
We also trust the measures will be taken to highlight and officialise the importance of the Sanskrit language, similar to those for the Arabic language. Should there be a demand for Latin, we would urge the government to accept it, as it is the language of the Holy See.
While we are not averse to teaching in the Creole language, the fundamental objective of our linguistic education system must be the inculcation of the English and French languages in both their spoken and written forms. Generations of Mauritians have learnt these languages along with Creole, Bhojpuri and another Asian language without it adversely affecting their learning abilities. We can never agree that language teaching be restricted to Creole only even at the Primary level.
We would urge the government to set up a committee of teachers to consider advantages and disadvantages of introducing the script known as grafilarmoni, which we believe will inhibit the ability of our children to subsequently acquire French orthography. The task of devising an acceptable script for Creole must be carried through a process of wider consultation than has been the case so far. We believe it is possible to devise a script for the Creole language for didactic purposes that does not conflict with the basic principles of French orthography. The committee of experts assigned the task previously has operated without any regard for the effects of their output on the teaching of other languages; some of them were even known to favour the total abandonment of “colonial and imperialistic” languages. We have to live in a modern world where neither English nor French can be looked down upon as “colonial”. These languages are vital for our own cultural and economic well-being. (Note: The word “colonial” was slipped into our own article recently in the context of these languages by mistake; for that we express unreserved apologies.)
A mastery of just Kreol spelling as currently proposed cannot be a sufficient goal for the education of our children. While oral Creole is the common heritage of all Mauritian children, mastery of French, English and one Asian language or another optional language must be the objectives of the language teaching system of the country. With a suitable script we would have no objection to our children sitting for a Creole language exam paper. But it is our belief that those who have difficulty with French will have the same difficulty with Creole or Kreol: the latter is far from being the key to education that some think it to be.
The teaching of English has to be overhauled. Present teaching methods of the language are modelled on the principles of French phonology. In English all syllables of a word or sentence are not pronounced with equal force as in French or Hindi. While English mother tongue teachers speak of syllable stress, we have to speak of syllable reduction, because in the phonology of French or Hindi, our models, all syllables are equally stressed. We have to teach our children to reduce certain syllables – like the “a” in around, company or literature, the “ar” in standard or forward, the “e” in open or talent, the “ia” in Asia, the “ie” in patient, the “o” in original or factory, the “or” in forget or Oxford, etc. All these syllables are “reduced” to the “schwa”, which is the sound of the first letter of the Hindi or Bhojpuri alphabet. This sound is also the most common sound in English, and it is not possible to speak English correctly without it. Sadly, it has never been taught in our education system. It is time to upgrade our English teaching system.
We also have some observations on our French pronunciation system, which suffers from some adverse influences arising from Creole. As these are likely to prove controversial at this stage, we will provide details in a separate statement.
We take a particular interest in education in general, both in matters taught and the manner of doing so. Earlier generations learnt thinking skills through Euclidean Geometry; that has been abandoned with the introduction of New Maths. While the Theory of Sets could provide a replacement in at least as far as logic is concerned, it has not been exploited to that end, and the teaching of the skill of thinking has slipped between two stools. In the national interest, that is a matter that has to be addressed.
We are also concerned, like the rest of the country, with the excessively competitive manner in which all learning is carried out. We believe that it is possible to teach in a way that allows competition between classes while encouraging cooperation within classes. But this must begin with the practice of tracking (also called streaming or setting) which is anathema to left-wing sociologists. By the time we have accepted all their advice we will have ended up as a cultural desert of a country where all would be equally qualified to the level of the least qualified amongst us. Bye-bye Knowledge Hub.