Scholarship Examination

Mauritius Times – 60 Years

By Peter Ibbotson

On February 3, 1956, over three years ago, the Mauritius Times published a letter from an aggrieved parent: “We gather from reliable sources that the niece of someone who typed the question papers for the last Primary Scholarship Examinations has won the scholarship. That successful candidate and the typist bear the same family name.” The aggrieved parent went on to suggest that people in the Education Department should keep clear of examination papers if they have young relatives due to sit for the examinations in question.

Recently there have been persistent rumours about leakages with regard to the last Primary Scholarship Examinations. The Mauritius Times has referred to these rumours more than once.

If the scholarship examination is to be trusted, it is vital that there shall be public confidence in it. The necessity of public confidence is twofold : the examination must be seen to be fair as between every candidate who sits for it; and there must never be any suspicion of leakages of questions. I have dealt in previous issues with aspects of the scholarship examination which detract from its absolute fairness to all candidates: the compulsory French paper, for example; and I have suggested measures which might be adequate to make the examination more fair all round: a commission of enquiry into methods of selection for secondary education. But how can we get rid of the suspicion of leakages of questions?

The Minister of Education in his press conference gave a pretty broad hint that he has something up his sleeve to make the public have confidence in the fairness of the examination. He did not go into details, so we still do not know what those steps are. However, I have some knowledge of what goes on in other colonies where there are primary school scholarship examinations, and it may be that Mr Beejadhur has in mind a practice which has found favour elsewhere.

Recently I was discussing various educational problems with an educational administrator from Trinidad. There, and in other West Indian islands. they meet with the same problem as in Mauritius: leakage of questions. At least, they used to, when the examinations were conducted wholly by the Education Department. But a new system was introduced which had excellent results and restored public confidence in the scholarship examination. The questions were set by a panel of examiners drawn from the head teachers of the various secondary schools; and the papers were marked by the assistant teachers of the secondary schools.

The argument was that since the secondary schools used the examination results to determine their entrants, it was only right that these schools should set and mark the examination papers. (The papers were printed in the UK). While it is possible to conceive of such a procedure being followed in Mauritius, the same reasoning underlying the argument does not apply: in Mauritius, the secondary schools do not rely on the primary schools scholarship examination to determine their entrants. The examination is used only to find out who shall have Government scholarships; to find out who shall be fee-paying pupils, the secondary schools hold their own private entrance examinations.

In Trinidad, there is the multi-lingual difficulty which occurs in Mauritius. English is the official language; but there are large communities whose mother tongues are Spanish, Chinese, or an Indian language. There is, on the other hand, no lingua franca such as Creole.

English is the medium of instruction; and the scholarship examination consists of three papers: English, arithmetic, and geography-with-history. (The history is that of the West Indies with special reference to Trinidad). It will be noted that the Trinidadian child of 11, unlike the Mauritian, is not subjected to an examination in a second language; my Trinidadian friend was horrified to learn that French was compulsory in the Mauritius scholarship examination.

The second alternative, which has been adopted by some colonies, is for the scholarship examination to be taken entirely out of the hands of the Education Department. Instead, the papers are set by a panel of examiners in the United Kingdom, printed in the U.K., sent to the colony concerned by airmail, sent back to the U.K. by air-mail after the candidates have sat the examination, and marked by a specially recruited panel of markers. The results are then communicated to the Education Department of the colony concerned. By this means, no-one in the colony has any foreknowledge of what the examination papers will contain; no-one in the colony can in any way influence the marking of any particular candidate’s papers.

This second alternative is a compliment to the various examination panels and boards in the U.K.; but it reflects little credit on the Education Departments in the colonies where such a method has to be adopted. But such is the degree of lack of public confidence in the way in which the Mauritius Primary Schools Scholarship Examinations have been conducted in recent years, that I feel that it will be unavoidable, for the Minister to have to introduce this method. It will be no discredit to his Ministry: on the contrary, it will be to his credit that as soon as he had the opportunity to deal with the widespread lack of public confidence and allay people’s suspicions and the rumours, he did so. The discredit will lie at the doors of those high-up administrators in the Education Department who could not fail to know what was going on in their department, yet who were either powerless or unwilling to stop it.

The cardinal principle of British justice is that not only shall justice be done, but it shall be seen to be done. Mr Beejadhur appears to have taken as his guide for the scholarship examination that not only shall the examination be fair, but it shall be seen to be fair. If he follows that precept, he is assured of the support of the Mauritius Times. If he is frustrated by some or other departmental myrmidons, we shall be interested to see revealed the identity of the saboteurs of educational justice. We have our suspicion already; the success of Mr Beejadhur’s determination depends in part on how firmly are those potential saboteurs entrenched, partly on how confident of themselves they feel.

If, in the upshot, heads start to roll, they won’t include Mr Beejadhur’s. The cleaning-up process has begun, and not only in the Education Department.

And a far healthier future is looming.

6th Year – No 265
Friday 11th September 1959

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