The Education Bill received its first rea-ding at the meeting of the Legislative Council last Tuesday. To show its scope and bearing we can’t help quoting the following from the Bill itself: “To promote education in the Colony, and to consolidate and amend the law relating to education, the supervision and control of schools, the teaching therein, and for purposes connected therewith.”
We had been hearing about the revision of the Education Code for a long time. Those interested in the educational problems of our island will at least know now what the government intends doing. After going through the Bill, we feel that it will not meet with general approval – some will criticize it for selfish ends while others for sound principles.
The Bill is divided into five parts the contents of which are clearly set out in the “Statement of objects and reasons”. Part I is preliminary: It defines certain words used in the Bill. Part II deals with the establishment of the Department of Education and an Advisory Board on Education and with the recognition of Education Authorities. It is the old Education Committee that will become the new advisory Board. Part III contains something new. It deals with the registration of schools, managers and teachers and the certification of teachers. Part IV refers to the award of scholarships and grants-in-aid. Part V provides for the closing of schools in cases of emergency, and compulsory attendance at school when practicable.
We hasten to deal with the innovation introduced in the proposed legislation, namely, the control and inspection of schools. “Every school shall be registered,” says the Bill in one section, and “The Director or any officer of his Department authorized by him in writing, may, with or without notice, visit any school,” in another. The definition of school is given as follows: “Any assembly of not less than ten pupils for the purpose of receiving regular full-time or part-time instruction, and includes vernacular schools and night schools.”
There is a strong case for the control of private secondary schools, usually called colleges, which have sprung up lately and which number about seventy-five. We have already advocated their control. But we think that at this stage it would be better to leave out the vernacular schools which in the face of adverse circumstances are doing so much to foster literacy in the oriental languages.
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Next, we want to deal with scholarships. Let us first of all see what scholarships the government proposes to give.
There are the English Scholarships, six in number, to be awarded every year and the winners of which will be called laureates. Then there are the Junior Scholarships. These will be awarded every year to pupils of primary schools and secondary schools and their number must not exceed one hundred and twenty in any one year. Senior Scholarships not exceeding six are intended for candidates of the Cambridge Oversea School Certificate examination.
Leaving aside the English and the Senior Scholarships there is a lot to be said on the Junior Scholarships. At pre-sent 70 such scholarships are being awarded every year – 40 to boys and 20 to girls of primary schools, and 10 to pupils of non-primary schools. They are awarded on the results of a special examination, the Junior Scholarship Examination. And there is only a very small number of schools where scholarship classes are held.
The increase in the number of scholarships will be welcomed by everybody, specially if it could take effect as from this year. But as a general rule to distribution of the
scholarships is not fair and equitable. We therefore suggest the following:
(a) That the Junior Scholarship Examination be abolished and the scholarships be awarded on the results of the VI Standard examination. By allowing scholarship classes to be held in a few schools only, the government puts the pupils of schools where such classes are inexistent in a disadvantageous position. This official scandal must stop.
(b) That the scholarships be awarded on a regional basis. Let every district have its quota of scholarships.
(c) That no scholarship be given to pupils of non-primary schools. It’s wasting good public money on the children of well-to-do families who do not need scholarships to pursue their secondary education.
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Lastly, we should like to dwell upon the question of languages. The Bill as a whole does not tackle this problem boldly. The Gordian knot remains to be cut.
About medium of instruction and teaching of languages, the Bill has the following:
“(1) In the lower classes of Government and aided primary schools up to and including Standard III, any one language may be employed as the medium of instruction, being a language which in the opinion of the Director is most suitable for the pupils.
(2) In Standards IV, V and VI of the Government and aided primary schools the medium of instruction shall be English, and conversations between teacher and pupils shall be carried on in English: provided that lessons in any other language taught in the school shall be carried through the medium of the language.
(3) The Director may make provision for the teaching of languages other than English which are current in the Colony, and for their study in any Government and aided primary school, and may require an Education Authority to make arrangements for such teaching in any of the primary schools under its control.”
It is stated that one of the main duties of the Director of Education will be to ensure “the more effective teaching of English and the spread of the English Language in the Colony”. Better late than never.
The Bill seems to suggest that English will be paid a particular attention and all the other languages will be on the same level. No special mention of French is made. Too good to be true, isn’t it?
To qualify for the Junior Scholarship Examination, a pupil must have obtained a pass in English, French and Arithmetic scoring a certain percentage marks. The subjects for the Junior Scholarship Examination are not given as the subjects for the English Scholarship examination. But is there any doubt that French will remain as a compulsory subject?
We have said many a time French should become an optional language. We have also emphasized the need of paying more attention to the Oriental languages. Will the new legislation leave these two aspects of our language problem in a fluid state?
* Published in print edition on 14 September 2021
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