Who is responsible for education in Mauritius, the Director of Education or the Minister of Education and Institutions? It is clear on reading the Education Ordinance recently published that the Director wields powers he ought not to have under a ministerial system. For example, it is the Director who “shall determine the qualifications and conditions for admission to the Teachers’ Training College”. Only those primary schools will be entitled to grants in aid which will comply to conditions (enumerated in the Ordinance) to the “satisfaction of the Director”.
It is again the Director of Education who shall determine who are qualified to teach in the secondary schools. Be it noted that in certain sections of the Ordinance we read of the Director empowered to do things “with the concurrence of the Minister”; we owe this addition to Hon. Chadien, who tabled a motion to that effect when the Bill was debated in Council on the 6th December. We all know that the grant of scholarships is a matter of great importance. Yet the Director of Education is given sole authority to decide on the schedule of studies of the scholarship examination as the following testifies: “Clause 22, section 3: The schedule of studies for each of the scholarship examinations mentioned in regulations 19 and 20 of these regulations shall be such as the Director shall from time to time approve.” In these circumstances, what is the role of our Education Minister?
What is more strange is that the Education Ordinance leaves scope for a state within a state in the Education Department. We mean the Education Authorities governing aided primary and secondary schools. The Director cannot appoint in an aided school a teacher “unacceptable to the Education Authority concerned.” Promotions also in aided primary schools shall be made by the Education Authorities when the aided primary school are run by grants-in-aid from the general revenues of the colony, why should government not exert more control upon them? And the teachers who receive the same training and do the same work as the teachers of government schools are subject to the whims of the Education authority in so far as promotions and transfers are concerned. Favouritism and nepotism reign supreme. And the Education Ordinance makes provisions for their rule. For how long, we do not know. The expectations of thinking people that this archaic system would be swept away by the Education Ordinance have fallen flat.
Many a time we have protested in the columns of the MT against the injustice inherent in our primary scholarship system. Other contributors have done so. The MT has consecrated many editorials to this question. But all to no purpose. The Education Ordinance does not provide anything to allow children of rural areas to attend scholarship classes which are the monopoly of some schools in towns. We advocated the creation of central schools in the country districts affording facilities to potential scholars in rural areas.
The Education Ordinance ought to have revised the whole system of the grant of junior scholarships and not leave the village pupil with great disadvantages while competing with his fellows in the town. This is a serious omission. This is sheer squandering of public money on children of well-to-do families who can well afford secondary and even university education for their sons and daughters. The use of French as a compulsory language in the 6th Standard and the Junior Scholarship examinations is another glaring injustice with regard to the child whose mother tongue is an Oriental language and who on his first day to a primary school does not know even Creole. Only seven years later such a child is given to answer a compulsory French paper just as the child of the French speaking parents. What injustices are not committed in this island in the name of French!
In clause 43 of the Education Ordinance, we read:
“1. In the lower classes of Government and Aided Primary School 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”. (italics ours)
“2. In Standard IV, V and VI of the Government and Aided Primary schools the medium of instruction shall be English and conversation between teacher and pupils shall be carried on in English: provided that lessons in any other language taught in the school shall be carried on through the medium of that language.”
On paper the above clause appears to be an excellent solution to the language problem, apart from the fact that the Director is vested with absolute authority to decide on a question of which he may be quite in the dark. The Education Ordinance has been put into force since the 28th of December. The classes for 1958 have been resumed. Has the Director given his opinion on the medium of instruction?
We are led to believe that the medium of instruction is still French in all the primary schools in the island. Is it the opinion of the Director that the Indo-Mauritian child, dwelling say at Creve Coeur or Petit Raffray, knows French enough for him to consider it as a medium of instruction? But the unfortunate child does not know a word of Creole in many instances. To him French is as foreign as English. If it is impracticable to make his mother tongue (Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Telugu or Marathi) the medium of instruction, let him learn English right from Standard I. There are two strong reasons for doing so. The child will be better able to cope with the situation in Standard IV, V and Vl when he will have to converse with his teacher in English. And it will be the furtherance of the objective of the Education Department to ensure “the more effective teaching of English and the spread of the English language in the Colony”. As matters stand the child on reaching standard IV will be more conversant with French than with English. It will be a big handicap for him suddenly to switch over to English as a medium of instruction.
Oriental Language Schools
In Part I of the Education Ordinance, School means: “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.” It follows that all baithkas and maktabs fall within the denomination of ‘schools’. Many of these are in poor conditions. They have for years, in some cases for almost half a century, been the only places where rural children have been able to learn their mother tongue, be it Hindi, Tamil, Urdu or any other Oriental language. These schools are run thanks to the tireless and voluntary efforts of generous individuals or organizations — of people who take pride in their culture and their mother tongue. Language is the life-blood of a culture and yet Government has shown very little interest in the teaching of Oriental languages.
Now these schools are threatened to be closed “if the school premises constitute a dangerous building, or are structurally unsuitable to contain a school or are insufficiently protected against the risk of fire,” and if “the qualifications and experiences of the proposed teachers are not adequate to ensure the efficient conduct of the school and if the proposed school premises or equipment will not allow of efficient tuition in the subjects to be taught in the school” (vide Education Ordinance Clause 10 and 11). The threat of closing these schools is no less than adding insult to injury.
The solution to the problem is not closing down the vernacular schools and night schools but to help them to develop on healthier lines. It is a policy of setting the clock back. The irony of it is that we have an Education Minister who happens to be an Indo-Mauritian and under whose guidance the revised Education Code has been enacted.
All people of Asiatic descent should strongly protest against the insertion of that clause in the revised Education Code.
* Published in print edition on 28 January 2022
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