10 measures that should be taken to provide a nine-year basic education to all children followed by appropriate skills development without losing sight of the need for continuing lifelong education
We cannot have instant decisions in education, except things like free schooling or free transport announced on the eve of elections. How can we just have a postscript in the budget speech announcing 9-year schooling without a meaningful project? How can we say that in 10 months’ time the CPE Science and Maths papers will be in both English and French because many pupils are having difficulty in English? The reasons behind this difficulty have to be properly investigated before we jump to solutions that may present us with more problems.
The use we make of the CPE for admission to ‘star’ secondary schools vitiates our whole education system, with the CPE being seen as the be-all and end-all of education. If we really want to make children learn in a more conducive atmosphere to promote their all-round development we should not make cheap politics interfere with the objective of providing such an education to all our children for their own benefit and for the benefit of Mauritius. In the field of education particularly, politicians should work together in a non-partisan way to provide the best way forward for the development of the children who will be the human resources of tomorrow.
Education or Examination system?
Although it is necessary to have an evaluation of the child’s attainments, achievements and potential as s/he moves up the educational ladder, a cut throat competition with her/his peers at the primary school level is highly unhealthy and will impact on her/his overall development particularly if the competition is based solely on written examinations. We have in Mauritius unwittingly transformed our education system into an examination system. It is high time to have a worthwhile reform to promote a healthy system of education. Here are ten measures that should be taken to provide a nine-year basic education to all children followed by appropriate skills development without losing sight of the need for continuing lifelong education.
Nine-year Basic Education
One: Abolish A+.
Two: Abolish the Pass/Fail concept in the CPE and transform it into a comprehensive profile of the child after 6 years of primary education. We would have been far ahead today if we had not turned the clock back in 2005, relegating some important aspects of educational development to the history books. This will take some time to materialize but eventually the physical, aesthetic and social development of the child will become as important as her/his academic development, and will be important components to be reckoned with in the new CPE, by whatever name we call it.
Three: Use a grading system of A to E with E being the lowest grade and without an F or U grade. This system can be gradually extended to such areas as Health and Physical Education, Art and Craft and other non-academic fields.
Four: Keep the written papers as at present, but gradually introduce an element of school-based assessment (say, 10% of the total to start with, e.g. the oral aspect of a language). This will open the way for the new areas of education to be evaluated by the teachers with external moderation. It is important not to do away with written papers at the end of the primary cycle as these carry a greater degree of objectivity and acceptability.
Five: Carry out admission to Form I of secondary schools on a regional basis (6 to 8 regions) with pupils having learning difficulties being catered for in smaller classes (about 15 children per class). Admission should still be carried out on a grade aggregate basis, but one group of 15 students with learning difficulties will have to be reserved for them in a neighbouhood school without the pre-voc label being attached to them.
Six: Transform the perceived ‘star’ secondary schools into semi-specialized Upper Secondary Schools. They will admit students as from Form IV following the Form III Exam. Selection at this level is healthier than at the age of 11 and is necessary for orientation purposes. We should not be blind to the fact that competition is a fact of life and a degree of healthy competition is desirable.
Seven: Schools which had admitted students in Form I will be free to continue with Form IV and beyond depending on the student population and a cost effective use of resources.
Human Resource Development
What is perhaps more important is what happens after Form III. Statistics Mauritius has raised the alarm concerning employment among young persons between the ages of 16 and 24 in 2012. The highest number of unemployed is among those who have left school without an SC (35%) with those who have had a tertiary education coming close second (25%). It is therefore extremely urgent to review our skills development strategy, if we have one.
Eight: After the Form III National Examination students who are more competent in manual skills should be channeled to education and training institutions for two years to be trained in manual skills without losing sight of the need to improve their basic numeracy and literacy skills. The training centres of MITD and of the private sector need a complete overhaul to meet the new challenges.
Nine: Some of those who complete the School Certificate should be able to move to Polytechnics for a 3-year diploma in technological fields or middle level management (in Singapore they account for 40% of a cohort).
Ten: The rest will move on to HSC and then to University. The HSC Professional and HSC Technical are not an answer to the requirements of a fast changing technological world environment which requires specialized, bur flexible, human resources.
It goes without saying that mobility is an important fact of life in the modern world today. The possibility to move on should always be there and should be encouraged. A good student should be allowed to move from a Certificate in manual skills to a Polytechnic Diploma, and from a Polytechnic Diploma to a University Degree.
The above is just a sketch of what we should be doing in the best interests of the children and of Mauritius. But we have to put our heart in it and proceed after a careful planning. Otherwise we will fail our children once again.
* Published in print edition on 27 December 2013