Rethinking Education

Too much focus on economic development has probably led to the neglect of noble subjects, and consequently, to the impoverishment of minds despite the access to knowledge in the age of internet

By Nita Chicooree-Mercier

Broadly speaking, the educational system in quite a number of countries does not meet with the full approval of the public. In Germany, classes are held only in the morning and afternoons are devoted to sports and extra-curricular activities, a system which is aimed at striking a right balance in the development of children. Yet, parents are not satisfied with it.

French schools keep children from 8 am to 4 pm with two short breaks and a long break of one and a half hours for lunchtime at school canteen in primary schools. Children learn how to write, read and count only at the age of 6, which parents generally agree with because 5 is considered too young to start assimilating basic subjects. In fact, in the first year of proper classes at 6, children cover a two-year syllabus which is applied in other educational systems which start courses at 5. Education is compulsory and free, and free lunches are given to children from underprivileged sections of society. And yet, it remains quite a puzzle why about 30% of pupils leave schools without the required standard in writing and reading.

The idea of separate colleges for general education and vocational learning is anathema to the French public in the name of the republican value of equality. But paradoxically, contrary to England where technical schools are not looked down upon, the French tend to refrain from sending their children to such schools. However, the decline in the standard of French language and literature is most deplored. The modern method of teaching literature, which consists in studying extracts from books, is most deplored. Literature books should be studied integrally – not in bits and pieces. The command of language itself, both written and oral, is a determining factor which assesses the general level of pupils.

History and Philosophy are compulsory subjects which all pupils should take for the baccalaureate exam, an ambitious requirement which reflects the importance given to an adequate intellectual standard in French society. Still, the general standard required to get through the final baccalaureate exam is perceived as being less demanding. Mixed-ability pupils put together in same classes for the sake of equality is increasingly seen as another factor for the general decline in standard.

China has pretty much the same cut-throat competition as in Mauritius with private tuition and all, which parents think is not the best system but they go along with it. Competition entails distorted unhealthy social attitudes which everyone is aware of. It is probably why the Indian PM in his monthly Mann ki Baat address to the public exhorted students to compete with themselves, not with others. Children started to relax and parents got angry. What has been experimented at Sri Aurobindo Ashram schools, which favours a holistic approach to education and where no exams are held yet students obtain admission to universities, can hardly be applied at the national level.

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It seems that a utilitarian approach to education has gained wide acceptance and many have stopped complaining about the little importance given to the Humanities. And yet, it should be a serious concern for us in Mauritius. Degree holders in History, Languages and Literature can take up alternative jobs to teaching. It is wrongly assumed that jobs in private companies absolutely require skills in Maths and Economics. What specialists at the Ministry of Education think about the exclusion of basic knowledge of world history in the college curriculum should be known to the public. At least, students should be acquainted with general key elements of world history which may instil curiosity and the thirst for more knowledge later on in their adult life whatever be their choice of career.

Poor knowledge of history leads to sheer ignorance, and ignorant crowds are easily manipulated and brainwashed by those who claim to speak in their names and who are themselves deeply ignorant of historical facts and are unable to think rationally. Ignorance of history is a tragedy indeed! Not only it is an indispensable tool to comprehend the contemporary world but it enriches and liberates minds, and facilitates the quest for Truth in all fields. History is a noble subject. Basic knowledge of ancient history and the contemporary world is a priority in any society which aims to bring progress to the public. History encompasses politics, economics, arts, science and the development of ideas.

It has been said that fiction is often closer to the truth than the lies around us. Reality is best reflected in works of fiction, and an adequate command of languages is a basic requirement for anyone who endorses the task of narrating society, life and the world around to the public at large. Literature is important in helping students to think for themselves, develop a critical mind and become free-spirited. Be it in poetry, prose or poetic prose, it helps to deepen the quest for beauty, verbal elegance and mental refinement.

Reading beautiful pieces of literature provides pleasure to readers away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The quest for pleasure and the joy of reading is best transmitted by teachers in secondary schools. Factual narratives and fiction tell you something about yourselves, humanity, life, the society you live in and the world around you. Reading raises awareness and jolts you back to reality and truth.

Too much focus on economic development has probably led to the neglect of noble subjects, and consequently, to the impoverishment of minds despite the access to knowledge in the age of internet. Lest we forget, being educated in ancient times meant being well-versed in Poetry, Philosophy and knowledge of Physics.

British schools have introduced meditation to help students focus on studies. Breathing exercises in classes are another means to calm down restless minds and mobile phone addicts. Maybe one among other solutions to get SC students back to work!

* Published in print edition on 8 February 2019

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