Some Thoughts on the Scholarship System

Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago

In England and Wales, fees are charged at the ‘direct grant’ schools, but they also receive financial aid from the state. In return for this aid, they have to provide half their places at the disposal of the education authorities

By Peter Ibbotson

Primary education at Government schools in Mauritius is free. However, fees are charged at the secondary schools. But every year scholarships are awarded so that pupils may go to the Government and aided secondary schools free, with free transport and textbooks in addition. The scholarships to secondary schools are valuable prizes for an eleven-year-old to win.

But there are also primary departments at the aided secondary schools, which pupils can attend, and at which fees are charged. Pupils from these primary departments are eligible for scholarships; and there is a suspicion in many people’s minds that these pupils are favoured in the scholarship.

Why, it is asked, why should children get free education at the secondary schools when their parents can afford to pay for it? Especially if their parents have paid for their primary education? As long as there is no compulsory secondary as well as primary education in Mauritius, there will be such questions asked. The scholarships, as long as secondary education is not free and compulsory, ought to be reserved for those children who would not otherwise be able to have a secondary school education because their parents could not afford the fees demanded.

In England and Wales, secondary education in the state schools is free. There are, however, many secondary schools which are completely outside the state system and which charge fees. Very few children attend these schools, at the expense of the education authorities, although some do. However, there is another category of secondary school: the ‘direct grant’ school. At these schools fees are charged, but they also receive financial aid from the state. In return for this aid, they have to provide half their places at the disposal of the education authorities, who send children there free of charge to the parents. Thus these ‘direct grant’ schools are comparable to the aided schools in Mauritius — receiving state aid and taking pupils without cost to them. Now in England these direct grant schools enjoy a status superior to that enjoyed by the state grammar schools. Whereas, therefore, the state grammar schools are open to children no matter what primary schools they have attended, no child can attend a direct grant school at the expense of the education authority unless he (or she) has spent at least two years previously in a state primary school. So, the many pupils in the lower (primary) departments of the direct grant schools — where they have to pay fees although primary education is of course free in the state schools — have to go to a state primary school for two years if they wish to have the chance of attending the direct grant grammar school as a non-fee-paying pupil.

It would be only fair to introduce a similar condition in Mauritius. No child should be eligible for a secondary school scholarship unless he (or she) has spent at least two full school years in a Government primary school. And much as I dislike ‘means tests’ — i.e., investigations into people’s financial affairs before granting them state financial aid in some form or another — I would further suggest that no scholarship be awarded to children whose parents’ income is above a certain level. Children whose parents have an income above the level prescribed could be awarded honorary scholarships which would entitle them to attend secondary school, but which would not count as one of the 118 scholarships awarded annually by the Government. There is a precedent for this in the U.K., too. Students eligible for university education may apply to their local education authority for financial assistance towards the cost of their course. The exact sum awarded to successful applicants depends on the exact financial status of the parents. Under a certain income, the student receives the maximum assistance, which means that he can attend the university without cost to his family. The maximum is scaled down as the parents’ income increases. Some such system in Mauritius, applied to the secondary school scholarships, would go far to removing a cause of grave disquiet among primary school-children’s parents, where those parents are of the working-class who cannot afford for their children to go to a secondary school as a fee-payer, yet who see children admitted as free scholarship-holders with parents who can easily afford to pay the fees!

The Education Department may retort that it is not part of its function to say whether a child shall or shall not, on the basis of his parents’ income, be eligible for a scholarship. To that, I would say: up to 1907, no grammar school in England offered any free places. In that year, the Board of Education instituted the free place arrangement, which awarded free secondary education to children over 11 on the basis of a scholarship examination. (Just, in fact, like Mauritius today). And what was the intention of the Board of Education in instituting these arrangements.” I quote the Board’s Report for 1912-13: “The intention was to bring the advantages of higher education so far as the limited funds of the Board of Education would permit within reach of children of the poorer classes and to place them on the same footing as pupils whose parents were in a position to pay the school fees.” In other words, those who could pay, should pay; those who couldn’t, tried for a free scholarship.

But if that doesn’t satisfy the Education Department, and it is a characteristic of government departments that they are seldom satisfied (this being partly due to the education of the senior officials usually being gained in an atmosphere completely divorced from the life of the ordinary man), then I would not go so far back. Only to 1931, indeed. In that year, the Board of Education — as an economy measure — abandoned free places at secondary schools and instituted instead ‘special’ places, according to which pupils paid school fees according to their parents’ income. Many continued to pay no fees; others were educated at a fraction of the full fees. Thus there is no good ground for the Education Department to plea that it could not sort out scholarship candidates and award free secondary education only to those children whose parents could not afford the fees.

It would be interesting if the Education Department were to publish certain statistics, covering the last ten years. These statistics should show, for each year, the following:

  1. Number of children of scholarship age at government primary schools.
  2. Number of children of scholarship age in primary departments of aided secondary schools.
  3. Number of scholarships awarded to children in category 1 above.
  4. Number of children awarded scholarships in category 2 above.

My own guess is that the proportion of children from category 2 awarded scholarships would be greater than the proportion from category I. This would tend to show that education in Mauritius has a social, class-conscious, bias: favouring the moneyed middle and upper classes, discriminating against the poorer working class.

* Published in print edition on 16 November 2018

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