The Education Bill

Who Rules? Minister or Director?

By Peter Ibbotson

We now have a ministerial system in Mauritius. No one would, however, think so after going through the new Education Bill in which we read “There shall be a Department of Education, the head of which shall be the Director of Education who shall have control of the educational system of the colony and shall be responsible for the general progress and development of such system.”

Surely the Minister of Education is the person who should be in charge of the general progress and development of the educational system and who should ensure “the effective direction, development and co-ordination of all educational and co-ordination of all educational activities in the Colony”? I have in mind the opening of the 1944 Education Act which governs education in England and Wales: “It shall be lawful for His Majesty to appoint a Minister… whose duty it shall be to promote the education of the people of England and Wales and the progressive development of institutions devoted to that purpose and to secure the effective execution by local authorities, under his control and direction, of the national policy for providing a varied and comprehensive educational service in every area.”

Yet everywhere throughout the new Educational Bill we see references to the Director being granted the power to do this, that or the other. All these references should be to “the Minister”; the Minister of Education and Institutions is now the head of the education service, and this fact should be recognised in the legislation affecting his department. It is, of course, the minister of Education who is responsible for the development and initiation of policy; it is the Minister Education who is responsible for all that happens in his department. Legislation should make clear the actual state of affairs.

Success of MT Campaign

One part of the new Bill is a reform for which the Mauritius Times has for a long time been asking. I refer of course to the proposed Part III in which are detailed certain steps which are designed to ensure that at least minimum standards obtain in all schools. All schools which are not Government schools must be registered; and their managers and teachers must also be registered. Clearly the operation of this section will have an important and beneficial effect on the many private schools which are to be found all over the colony.

There are now 76 private secondary schools in Mauritius; not all are blameworthy, but equally not all are praiseworthy. In Central Flacq, where there is only one primary school, there are three private secondary schools; this state of affairs leads to cut-throat competition which is not in the best interests of education.

In so far as the proposed Part III deals with the control and inspection of private schools, it appears to be modelled on the English 1944 Education Act; the relevant sections of that Act are the result of a Ministry (then Board) of Education enquiry in 1931. Only this year, 13 years after the 1944 Act became law, has it been found possible to put into effect all the provisions relating to the control of private schools in England and Wales; let us hope that the proposed Part III will be put into effect at once after the bill becomes law.

For this Part, I repeat, I have every praise; especially as I have written on the subject on several occasions in the Mauritius Times and have called for action similar to that now contemplated.

Flaws in the Bill

Not all the provisions of the Bill are good, however; and this is unfortunate. It means that opportunity is being lost — unless the Bill is amended on its passage into law — to redress a number of aspects in which the present education system is falling.

In the First Schedule to the Bill, for example, we read (at paragraph 9) that “The Director may, in consultation with the appropriate Education Authority, second or transfer any teacher from a Government to an aided primary school” or vice versa. A teacher may even be transferred from the service of one Education Authority to another (whether only on a change of religion, or for other reasons, it is not stated). Yet there is no provision made for the creation of a common seniority list, despite the fact that there is at present no equity in the arrangements for the promotion of teachers in Government and Aided schools. The common seniority list is needed at once; the existence of two separate lists (as Kipling did not say “For Government is Government and Aided is Aided, and never the twain shall meet”) is not conducive to professional harmony among the teachers.

We read details, also in the First Schedule, of the Junior Scholarships. The number to be awarded annually is to be increased to 120; these scholarships are awarded on the results of a written examination to be held at the end of the school year. Among the conditions of eligibility for entry are that candidates shall have obtained the primary school leaving certificate examination passes in English, French and Arithmetic. Candidates must not have obtained less than 50 per cent marks in each subject; or they must have obtained not less than 66 per cent in one subject, 50 per cent in another and 33 per cent in the third.

These provisions are objectionable on several counts. First, there is the continuance of French as a compulsory language in the primary leaving examination, hence as a qualifying subject for entry to the Junior Scholarship examination. A reform is overdue here. We have urged in the Mauritius Times, on more than one occasion, that French should not be a compulsory subject. If it is desired to examine the candidate in a language other than English (and English should be sufficient since Mauritius is — and Mauritians are thankful for it — a British and not a French colony) then I submit he should be examined in his mother tongue, whether that be Hindi, Urdu, Telugu, Tamil, French or Chinese: or any other tongue.

Wrong System

The system of promotion to secondary education by means of a once-for-all competitive examination, entry to which depends on passing a previous competitive once-for-all examination, is wrong. It is utterly contrary to enlightened educational practice and development in such a country as England.

It is contrary to practice in such forward and highly developed countries as the USA and USSR where secondary education is open to all and where there is no qualifying barrier to be surmounted before the pupil can pass from the primary stage to the secondary. In England, there are 146 separate education authorities, and there are virtually 146 separate methods of qualifying for different types of secondary schools maintained by the authorities: grammar, technical, modern or combinations of these types. But over the past few years, it has become more and more realised that a once-for-all examination is not a fair way of testing a child’s aptitude and ability to profit from a particular course of secondary education.

More and more, educationists are realising that the child’s whole scholastic record is important. In many areas, the child’s record throughout the primary school is taken into account in determining what sort of secondary school he shall go to. This should be the case in Mauritius. The old, once-for-all examination should be scrapped as the only means of determining the child’s fitness for a secondary school (most of the secondary schools in Mauritius are of the type which in England we know as “grammar” schools.

If an examination must be held (and if it is, I repeat it should be taken into account in conjunction with the child’s primary school record) then it should not be of the type now held. The present examination papers in Mauritius are of the type known as “traditional”, and research into similar examination papers used in some, but not any, parts of England, has shown that these “traditional” papers are less reliable as prognosticators of fitness for secondary educational of a particular type than papers known as “standardised tests”. These tests should be introduced into Mauritius in place of the present kind of papers; and the Intelligence Test should be introduced as well. The intelligence test is useful since its results are less able to be influenced by persistent coaching than the traditional types of examination paper. The standardised test papers, too, are less susceptible to the effects of persistent coaching, and using the primary school record as one criterion for fitness for secondary education offsets the effects of a year segregated in the special scholarship class.

The new Bill contains no provision which will make it impossible for a few urban primary schools to continue their special scholarship classes. The children selected for these classes have an immediate advantage over their rural-dwelling fellows; and over their fellows at town schools where there is no scholarship class. The scholarship classes and the present set-up of the Junior Scholarship examination favour the chances of success of the town-dwelling boy against the village-dwelling boy; of the child whose mother-tongue is an Oriental language.

One condition of entry to the Junior Scholarship examination which is not written into the Bill, which ought to be there, is a condition that candidates must have spent at least two full school years in attendance at a Government or aided primary school. This will help to curb these well-to-do persons who send their children to the fee-paying junior departments of the secondary schools and thus, by being able to afford fees at so early a stage in the child’s school career, virtually ensure that he will win a place in the secondary school. (Compare the free-paying direct grant grammar schools in England — this last sentence is especially for the benefit of the Director of Education and expatriate secondary school teachers).

As regards a common seniority list and a reform of the Junior Scholarship system a great opportunity has been lost. We can only hope that MLC’s interest in educational reform and in securing equality of educational opportunity for all will take the chance of moving amendments in Committee. But as regards the inspection and control of private schools, a great stride forward is to be taken. On this, we congratulate the Department.

Mauritius Times – Friday 29th November 1957
4th year – No 173

* Published in print edition on 28 September 2021

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