The current revision of the Education Code affords the opportunity for justice to be done to the teachers of Mauritius. As a matter of equity and principle, all teachers should enjoy the same conditions of service and the same opportunities, whether they teach in a Government or an Aided school.
At present there are 76 Aided schools: 52 Roman Catholic, 17 Church of England, 5 Hindu and 2 Muslim. That means there can be only 76 head teachers; and the present policy of the Government prevents the Education Authorities from building any new schools. So the number of head teachers in Aided schools is fixed at this total of 76.
Only the Government can build new primary schools. A big (and let me remind readers, long overdue) programme of expansion in educational building is under way. That means the number of Government school head teachers will steadily rise as new schools are opened. The Government Gazette announced on June 29 that from July 1, the establishment of Government school head teachers would be raised to 109, and this number is provided for in the Estimates 1957-58 (see Appendix E) as against 95 the year before. The same Gazette announced the increase from 190 to 226 in the establishment of First Class teachers in Government schools; while from 1956-57 to 1957-58, the establishment of Second Class teachers has gone up from 874 to 1090, and the establishment of Third Class teachers from 425 to 566. Yet the total increase in the staffs of the Aided primary schools is only 9 – from 1133 to 1142.
In other words, increased opportunity for promotion is given to teachers in Government primary schools, while for Aided primary school teachers the status quo is maintained. Naturally, this is leading to much dissension among Aided school teachers. They have to wait long years for promotion to First Class teacher and then to head teacher; but their colleagues in the Government schools, perhaps junior as regards seniority and perhaps also less efficient teachers, have not so long to wait for promotion. There are teachers in the Muslim schools with over 25 years service who are stagnating; promotion is passing them by. At the same time, there are Government primary school teachers who have been promoted First Class teachers after only 7 years’ experience.
Teachers are governed by the same Government Orders as regards pay, leave, sickness, pension, discipline, etc. Why on earth cannot they also be governed by the same orders as regards promotion?
The Education Code, when it is being revised, ought to try and settle the discontent that is rife among the primary school teachers; especially among those who, not having been sponsored by the Education authorities, have none the less been posted to teach in Aided schools. Many of such teachers are asking to opt for Aided status; they can surely be afforded justice without having to take this drastic step.
I suggest that the new Code should provide for the best teachers, irrespective of the type of school (Aided or Government) in which they teach to be promoted. The corollary would be for a safeguard that teachers would not be posted to a school where the Education Authority had objection on religious grounds. Such a scheme would help to unify a profession which is still disunited despite the efforts of the Primary Teacher’s Union to awaken its members’ consciousness to the need for one united profession.
Another advantage would be the elimination of the dual handling of teachers for promotion; at present there is handling by the Education Department and the Education authorities; the Public Service Commission interviews Government teachers seeking promotion, and the Education Authorities Promotion Board sees Aided school teachers due for promotion. There should be a common promotion list, drawn up and handled by the Public Service Commission, a body whose impartiality is respected by teachers and public alike.
Another facet of education in the Aided schools also deserves attention in the revision of the Education Code – the matter of religious instruction. At present, all children attending Church of England primary schools have to undergo religious instruction according to the tenets of the Church of England. All children – whether Christian, Hindu or Muslim. There is a syllabus of instruction and an annual examination. The examination consists of two parts: written and oral, and all pupils must sit this examination. The new Code should provide for parents of non-Christian children to be able to withdraw their children from the periods of denominational religious instruction, and to withdraw their children from the annual examination, of course. This power of withdrawal exists in the U.K., of course, for the Education act of 1944 expressly states (remember that in the U.K. a “county school” corresponds to a Government school in Mauritius, and a “voluntary school” corresponds to an Aided school) that “If the parent of any pupil in attendance at any county school or any voluntary school requests that he be wholly or partly excused from attendance at religious worship in the school, or from attendance at religious instruction in the school, or from attendance at both religious worship and religious instruction in the school, then, until the request is withdrawn, the pupil shall be excused from such attendance accordingly.”
Where a pupil is withdrawn from religious instruction, he can (providing certain conditions are fulfilled) be excused from the school during such periods as are reasonably necessary for purpose of enabling him to receive religious instruction of a kind acceptable to his parents.
Such a provision in the new Education Code would satisfy the parents of those non-Christian children who for any reason attend a Christian school where religious instruction of a particular Christian denomination is compulsory.
I have known personally of the right of withdrawal being exercised by Catholic parents whose child attended a county school, by Jewish parents of children attending county schools, and by Methodist parents of children attending Church of England schools.
65 years ago Mauritius Times was founded with a resolve to fight for justice and fairness and the advancement of the public good. It has never deviated from this principle no matter how daunting the challenges and how costly the price it has had to pay at different times of our history.
With print journalism struggling to keep afloat due to falling advertising revenues and the wide availability of free sources of information, it is crucially important for the Mauritius Times to survive and prosper. We can only continue doing it with the support of our readers.
The best way you can support our efforts is to take a subscription or by making a recurring donation through a Standing Order to our non-profit Foundation.