Language in Education
— Ramesh Beeharry
“Only education is capable of saving our societies from possible collapse, whether violent or gradual.”
— J. Piaget
Although each child is different, there are aspects of character that are common to all of them. Perhaps, the crucial one is the ability to grasp sounds, ergo spoken language. Writing and reading follow only when the child has mastered enough of those sounds. But, what language to use for teaching our kids? If Dev Virahsawmy et al have it their way, we would end up with Creole as the language of instruction; and that with their awful Grafilarmoni version. I am not sure what their agenda is, but it seems rather naïve — even subversive — to suggest that by just switching to Creole, we can resolve the problem of low pass rates among certain sections of the population.
Paramount Parental Interest
Consequently, their kind of argumentation is likely to build up a sense of false, misplaced aspiration in the less successful groups, with the risk of serious backlash in future. Inter alia, it suffers from feigning that Creole has become the lingua franca of all Mauritian children. And that it is already — and has been for generations — used as a medium of instructions in most situations at primary level. To suggest in this day and age that any particular group is disadvantaged by not having Creole as the teaching language is really looking at the problem from the wrong end.
The explanation for the failure rate (a staggering 30 percent at primary level!) has to be found elsewhere. And, Paramanand Soobarah in his article entitled “The Issue of Languages in our Education System” (MT 22-Jan-10) hits it right on the head…parental interest and involvement in a child’s education. This is paramount.
Every time I go town, it never ceases to amaze me to find school-age kids begging or doing odd jobs and wonder if they are there with their parents’ connivance or if they are playing truant. With government providing free transport and learning material at primary level, there is simply no excuse for children to be away from school.
And, having brought the child in the world, it is high time all parents took their responsibility of parenting seriously, which includes making sure their offspring attend school and get a decent education. We cannot expect the child to succeed in his education if we do not assure this basic minimum.
The Way We Were
Like every child from the countryside, I joined school aged 5. Up to that time, the only language I knew was Bhojpuri. And, guess what? Like me, and without exception, all 30-40 pupils in my class spoke only that language, so we had a double handicap. You can imagine the shock when our class teacher, Mr Permaloo stood in front of us and started to address us in Creole. Fortunately for us, he was from a rural village in the North and, observing the blank expressions on our faces, explained it all in Bhojpuri. What a relief!
In those days, it was customary for families to have one meal seated together and convenience dictated that it should be the evening dinner. Of course, the topic of conversation on that first day at school was centred on it. I recounted my day, the friends who sat next to me, the sweets we had shared and, of course, the difficulty with this “foreign” language called Creole.
My dad looked at mum and gave a hint of a smile. “Well, don’t worry, as from tomorrow, we will learn your foreign language,” he simply said. He had himself only studied up to Standard IV, but could read the newspapers and write simple letters in English, French. On the other hand, he was a dab hand with Hindi, which he had learnt from granddad. As a toddler, I can still remember the long letters he used to send his younger brother while the latter was serving as pionnier somewhere in the Middle East.
So, from that first day at school, began my education in the three languages used at school: English, French and Creole. To begin with, dad sat with me every evening, changing to three times a week as I got more confident. Thus, he became my very own private tutor at primary level and only stopped when I joined secondary school, which was too advanced for him. Even then, he always made sure I did my homework regularly. A strict, but loving father, he inculcated in me a sense of discipline that has served me well throughout life.
On the other hand, like most girls of her generation, mum regrettably never went to school and she never ceased to reproach nana for his lapse. Illiterate she may have been, but she wanted so much for me to have an education. In spite of a tight schedule, she would get me ready and wait for Aneerood (the neighbour’s eldest son) to take me to school. Truancy is not a word we had heard of in those days.
Although unread herself, she took a keen interest in my books and drawings and would patiently listen to the little stories I read out aloud in my attempt to show off my Anglais-Français. Sometimes, she would ask me to translate them for her. Any time I felt discouraged, she was always there to egg me on with “saboori kar beta, saboori ke phal bahout meetha ho la.” I came to realise the true significance of her saying much later in life.
Creole: The medium
I recount this not because it is anything extraordinary or unique. In fact, the scenes I describe were repeated in the homes of most of my contemporaries. In some cases, elder siblings assured home help and support with the result that, when we finished our classe la bourse, 95 percent successfully got through the Primary School Leaving Certificate (PSLC), the equivalent of today’s CPE. Unfortunately, secondary education needing to be paid for in those days, the education of most ended with the PSLC.
But, with the keen interest and close involvement of their parents, they had overcome the difficulty of Bhojpuri speakers, graduating to English and French via Creole. And had done well as far as it was possible in the circumstances. The Creole speaking kids of today, which are the vast majority, should have relatively little difficulty in normal circumstances. Provided they get the necessary parental support and motivation!
Creole: Our language
As for Creole as a language, we can begin to teach/learn it once the necessary logistics have been put in place. With all our differences of ethnicity, religion and culture, it is the unique binding factor that gives Mauritianism a real meaning. It is, therefore, only right and proper that it should be given its due importance.
But, pleeeeeeze! For goodness sake, spare us the tongue-twisting, mind-numbing Grafilarmoni version. It is an undeniable fact that Creole owes its origins to French. So, where a French (or any other) spelling already exists, do let us make use of that. When somebody has legated us with a perfect, round wheel, there is absolutely nothing to gain from pretending to reinvent one.