What is now required is a real paradigm shift where the emphasis is not on the examination but on the exit profile of the student who leaves school
As 2014 draws to an end and a new year starts with a new Minister of Education and an electoral programme that many ministers have already started delivering upon, we would like to highlight one aspect of the programme that was announced in the last government’s budget speech, namely “poursuivre la réforme de l’éducation en mettant l’accent sur une révision du cursus scolaire, le taux de réussite, l’orientation et l’accompagnement” and “remplacer le CPE par un examen de fin de cycle primaire moins stressant et introduire le ‘nine-year schooling’”, amongst others.
Education reform obviously has no universally accepted meaning. Reforming anything goes far beyond improving it because reform demands fundamental change, not mere tweaking. In Mauritius, many changes that were bound to happen have been termed as “reforms” by those involved in these changes.
Yet, if we were to look at what has changed in our schools between the late 1960s when the country became independent and now in early 2015, we find that not much can really be termed as fundamental change. My view is that over the last years, we have in fact tweaked with the system, bringing about some minor changes in the curriculum at the primary education level, replacing the Junior scholarship with the CPE, introducing some new examination subjects, a poor attempt at educational autonomy and regionalisation. Fundamentally nothing much really changed.
Past educational plans and reforms
It goes to the credit of the MSM governments that it produced some of the major ground-breaking reports that have influenced educational reform in Mauritius since the country became independent, namely the White Paper for Education in 1984 and the Master Plan of Education in 1990. Already the report of the Commission of Inquiry in 1984 and the White Paper for Education in 1984 outlined the following:
The education system was not relevant to the changing needs of the economy, given the practical orientation and technical skills that were required to service the EPZ sector.
There was low internal efficiency and lack of equity in access to educational resources.
The quality of education needed to be enhanced through improved instructional materials and teacher training.
The competitive nature of the CPE examination and the number of children who actually pass the examination were causes of concern.
The level of dropouts from the primary cycle was too high.
There was no monitoring of the resources used to ensure that every rupee spent on education was effectively benefiting children.
The recommendations of the 1984 White Paper were still the same that were discussed at the last ‘Assises de l’Education’ that was held from October 14 to 17, 2013. Those present at the ‘Assises’ raised the same issues of relevance of the education system to the changing needs of the economy and employers raise this issue every time they get an opportunity to talk about the educational system. Lack of equity and poor quality also dominated the discussions. “There are many aspects to look at before extending the basic education schooling to nine years. That does not necessarily mean that CPE will be abolished. We have to also decide if the schooling will continue in the same institution or not,” pointed out Vasant Bunwaree.
The genesis of the Nine year Schooling
The Master Plan of Education published in the 1990s laid the basis for many reforms. One of the major reforms proposed in the Master Plan was the introduction of the nine-year schooling. A Green paper, prepared on the nine-year schooling system, stated that though our primary education system had ensured primary education throughout the country equally for boys and girls there were serious gaps in the system.
Unfortunately the nine-year schooling system never materialised. Later Ministers of Education, like James Burty David or Dharam Gokhool, after Minister Kadress Pillay did not make any major intellectual contribution to the development of the education system in terms of serious reform. Kadress Pillay came up with his middle school concept and though he went on a pilgrimage to sell his product, the middle school concept did not take root. Steve Obeegadoo tried to bring about a real effort at regionalisation but his plan was foiled by those who did not really want the CPE to disappear.
When I was working at the Regional Office of UNESCO in Dakar from 2004-09, the necessity of the provision of basic education of at least nine years was one of the dossiers that was entrusted to me. The rationale was simple: when the goal 2 of the EFA movement that started in 2000 would be accomplished, there would be a real need to provide at least 3 more years of education to children who left school after primary education at the age of 11-12 because they were not of age to start working. On the other hand it was clear that six years of primary education was not enough to provide the African developing countries with a reservoir of skilled labour that they needed. Thus the need to provide at least 9 years of compulsory basic education that is continuous, uninterrupted and that prepares students to enter the world of work if they decided not to continue higher education at the age of 15.
Can the nine-year schooling really make a difference?
When the CPE was conceived, it was primarily a system that served a selective purpose. All stakeholders, including parents and teachers, were interested primarily in the rat race to be among the top 100, 1000 or 2500. All CPE teachers, starting from standard four, geared their teaching to the test.
What is now required is a real paradigm shift where the emphasis is not on the examination but on the exit profile of the student who leaves school after nine years. The system should be clear about what knowledge, skills, competencies, attitudes and values will he/she have on leaving school.
The nine-year schooling can be an exceptional opportunity for the new Minister of Education and the new government to make an imprint on the educational scenery of Mauritius. If properly conceptualised, developed and implemented, the nine-year schooling will serve to re-conceptualise primary and lower se-condary education and other skill-
oriented post-primary programmes (such as prevoc), building upon a reformed, higher quality and more equitable and inclusive basic education at primary and early childhood education level. It will also challenge the Mauritian government to utilise, democratise and improve all existing learning opportunities, including those run by communities, civil society and private sector, whether they are school-based or work-based.
The expansion from six to nine years provides the challenge of a comprehensive curriculum reform so as to align curriculum structure, content, pedagogy and assessment to the re-defined objectives of basic education and the changing profile of learners. The emphasis would lie on the achievement of a range of relevant learning outcomes that would prepare all learners for life, for citizenship, for work and for continued learning, regardless of mode of provision.
The nine-year schooling will provide the ‘right to-education’ (including the right to complete the entire cycle); lifelong and life-wide learning; inclusive education; the centrality of quality and relevance; an emphasis on skills and competencies as learning processes and outcomes; the demo-cratisation of access and participation in education, as well as of participation in decision-making; taking a holistic approach to basic education development; and the importance of ‘equitable diversity’.
Here, entrepreneurship education and its various modes of delivery (right from early childhood) to prepare young people for life and work are being conceived as an overarching approach to foster those principles throughout all levels of education systems. These together facilitate an integrated approach to the achievement of all EFA goals.
With the nine-year schooling, curriculum (along with its assessment) will be the heart of basic education reform and that thus its review will constitute the core of its work, there is a range of other components of basic education which may well need adaptation in order to ensure its success. These include teacher education reform, attention to learner support materials and ICT, the move towards diversified modes of provision, whole school improvement, issues of governance and management, the linkages with community and labour market, and inter-sectoral collaboration at national and local levels.
With primary school teachers getting better qualifications, salary scales increasingly aligned on those of secondary school teachers, the nine-year schooling will provide opportunities to enhance the contribution and competence of the present primary school teacher. The curriculum will highlight the skills that a 15-year-old student needs, should he/she decide to stop school. It will also be a great opportunity to channel students to different streams of study, at the age of 15 or so.
Implementation of 9 year schooling
I am pretty certain that when properly explained, nine-year schooling will be seen as the most desirable change reform that the country will benefit from.
However, major corporate change efforts fail due to resistance. There is a tendency amongst managers to approach change with a simple set of beliefs that end up exacerbating the problems that arise because they fail to understand them in any systematic manner. Change management is a systematic approach to dealing with change, both from an organisational and personal level. Change management is the process of developing a planned approach to change in an organization. The objective is to maximize the collective benefits for all people involved in the change and minimize the risk of failure of implementing the change.
The failure of the introduction of tablets in secondary schools illustrates the fact that if change is not properly initiated, properly explained and if the different forces that resist change (rational, non-rational, ma-nagement or political factors) are not sufficiently assessed, it will result in failure. Most of all the implication and commitment of teachers are pre-eminent. The introduction of nine-year schooling will require systematic effort to manage resistance and pursue the change effort.
We sincerely hope that the new Minister will be able to steer the nine-year schooling project in a very efficient and effective manner. Effective change requires good and sustained leadership at all organisational levels, not just the Minister’s only. Commitment, vision and direction from the top of the organisation is critical: senior managers and leaders play a vital role in selling the vision for change, and in establishing and arti-culating clear and achievable paths and methods towards the new future. The words and actions of change leaders must personify the intended culture. Direction for the change needs to be established by the senior leadership of the organisation with clear articulation of goals, timelines, expected achievements and review points.
Above all the Minister and her top officers of the Ministry need to listen to the views and concerns of all the population. Education is a matter of interest to all people, not just the education stakeholders. The new Minister should not listen only to what the top officials, the direct stakeholders and other vested groups want to say. True consultation will require the leaders to hear, ponder over and act upon even the most virulent of criticisms. That is the best we can offer to the new Minister. We sincerely wish the new year to be a new dawn for education in Mauritius. Happy new Year to the education family.
Teeluck Bhuwanee recently retired as a UNESCO Head of Office, after having been the first Registrar of the UTM, Senior Lecturer at the MCA, Lecturer at the MIE and Rector in state secondary schools since 1975. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
* Published in print edition on 2 January 2015