Teaching of Oriental Languages

Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago

By Somduth Bhuckory

The Education Department issued a circular last September signifying its intention of employing 13 Hindi, 6 Urdu and 6 Tamil teachers. That circular has now been followed by a change of policy in the recruitment of teachers of Oriental Languages.

A notice has been published in the press inviting applications from candidates who want to qualify for posts of Oriental language teachers. A special course of training is due to start in December 1956. The course will be held on week days during the forthcoming summer holidays and on Saturdays only from January to June 1957. Applicants should have passed the G.C.E. or equivalent examination in (i) Hindi, Urdu or Tamil, and (ii) English. No allowance will be paid during training.

There has been a departure from established policy in the sense that it is for the first time that the standard of oriental language has been set as being that of G.G.E, and a knowledge of English of the same standard is required. Up to now attention was paid only to the proficiency of candidates in the languages which they were expected to teach. No qualification was exacted from them, but they had to undergo a test conducted by the Officer who is in charge for the teaching of Oriental languages.

This change of policy has caused a great dismay and has produced a lot of discontent. We agree that a knowledge of English would be an advantage to any teacher of Oriental languages. But why should it be of a G.C.E. standard compulsorily, we can’t understand. By asking candidates to possess a pass in Hindi in G.C.E. the authorities are closing the door to many candidates, proficient in Hindi and who could be good teachers.

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We are driven to the conclusion that this change of policy has been made hastily without paying due regard to local conditions. It has to be revised. For the present we can’t think of anything better than the test and interview organised by the Officer in charge.

As the standard of Oriental languages is quite low for the G.C.E., people have also been wondering whether the new move is not meant to sabotage the teaching of those languages in schools.

If one casts a glance on the results of the G.C.E. examination, one finds that only a few pass in English and next to nobody passes in English and in any of the Oriental languages. At G.C.E. examination held recently only one candidate passed in English and Hindi.

And what will happen if candidates with the required qualifications are not found? It will surely be said that teachers of oriental languages do not exist in Mauritius! People will be made to infer that the teaching of oriental languages has made so little progress in our colony that it is impossible to get proficient people to teach in elementary schools.

People in the Education Department should know better. They ought to know that there is a tremendous awakening among people speaking oriental languages. They should know equally that among the Indian masses there are hundreds of young men and girls who have passed examinations in advanced Hindi conducted by educational institutions in India.

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As far as we know, the first and last batch of full-time teachers of Oriental languages was taken in 1950. Before that time there were some part-time teachers. Those teachers were made full-time teachers. Today there are no part-time teachers.

From that time it’s only now that the Education Dept has decided to employ a few more teachers. Six years later! And how many are going to be employed? Only 25! If that is not official apathy, what is it?

Don’t think that the situation is causing any anxiety to Government. Anything that is being done today for the teaching of oriental languages seems to be done with the utmost reluctance.

During the debate of the budget of the Education Department for the year 1955-56, upon a suggestion made by a deputy that the number of teachers of oriental languages be increased by twenty-five, it was decided to reconsider that item. The financial year came to an end and yet the matter was, to use the official cliché, still under consideration. Pressed by public opinion, Government had to accept the inclusion of 25 additional teachers in the 1956-57 budget.

Of the batch trained in 1950, we understand, 4 Hindi, 6 Tamil and 6 Urdu teachers have not been employed up to now. Government has accepted to employ them on condition that they follow a refresher course. Poor teachers! They have had to wait for such a long time that rust has set on them.

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It can be said without any fear of contradiction that a lot remains to be done for the teaching of oriental languages in schools. There are many schools where no oriental language is taught at all and where the languages are taught it is not infrequent to find teachers in charge of too many pupils.

We have seven Oriental languages here: Hindi, Tamil, Urdu, Gujrati, Marathi, Telegu and Chinese. Out of these only the first three are being taught and that also with so much reluctance. What will happen when the Gujrati, Marathi, Telegu and Chinese communities start pressing for the teaching of their languages?

We know that there is a secret fear at work in some quarters. Some persons think that if the teaching of oriental languages is encouraged, a fatal blow will be given to French. To avert that blow, as little importance as possible is given to oriental languages.

There is the famous treaty of 1810 for the preservation of French, it is said. Others have no such treaty to protect their languages. Should they wage a war and achieve what others are achieving by their treaty?

There is no force like the will of the people. It will assert itself sooner or later. People whose mother tongues are oriental languages are taking more and more to their languages. French cannot be thrust upon them as a compulsory language all the time. A time will come when French and Oriental languages will be on the same footing — optional. We hope that soon. It will be realised that the preferential treatment given to French is an anachronism which is producing palpable injustice in general and in scholarship examinations in particular.

Friday 16th November 1956


* Published in print edition on 17 May 2019

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