Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago
By Peter Ibbotson
The history of education in England shows that many good features have been imported from continental countries. England itself has contributed three things of importance to education: the so-called “public” school system (which is available only for those children from very wealthy families), the Boy Scout movement (which the jingoists have shaped from a youth movement into another buttress of imperialism and the establishment), and the system of organising secondary education in different types of schools.
Since there are three types of secondary school, this system is known as the tripartite system. It is under attack in England by many educationists, but it is unfortunately being exported from England to many colonies. The new Education Bill, to be brought before the Legislative Council early in the new Session, is based on this system.
What happens under the tripartite system of secondary education? Briefly, children are allotted to different secondary schools according to their ability; and their ability is measured by an examination. In England, this examination is held at the age of 11, which marks the end of a child’s primary school career. Those who do best in the examination are allotted to (or selected for) grammar schools; the second-bests are allotted to technical schools; and the rest are sent to what are termed “secondary modern” schools. (In some areas children are divided between grammar and “modern” schools at age 11 and sorted out for technical schools at age 13).
If we have a tripartite system in Mauritius, what (in present circumstances) would be the result? The grammar school children would go to the Royal College and other Government and aided schools. When Dr Harlow’s report is acted upon, and a technical school is in existence, the second-bests would have a technical school to go to. But what of the rest; who would (as in the Mother country) form the vast majority? At present in Mauritius there are no secondary schools for them; and for some time to come the Education Department’s building programme is committed to the provision of primary school places for all children of primary school age. So, with no schools to go to, they will still have (as now) to go on the streets.
While it is right and proper for the Council to prepare for the time that all children of primary school age can be accommodated, and to look beyond that time towards the day that secondary education for all (as well as primary) can be made compulsory, it is absurd to start to discuss secondary education for all when primary education for all is still not possible. And it is absurd to discuss secondary education for all when Education Authorities are prohibited from building new schools. Religious scruples must be respected, whether they be Anglican, Catholic, Hindu or Moslem; and if the Education Authorities can maintain primary schools, it is equally right and proper that they shall be allowed to provide and maintain secondary schools. But in the present state of legislation, they cannot build new schools; which means that they could not build secondary schools.
Any scheme for the organisation of secondary education for all must contain the right and power for the Education Authorities to build new secondary schools. The new secondary education system, whenever it comes about (and in my view it is a remote prospect), must not be entirely secular.
Children will be sorted out for various types of secondary school as the result of an examination. All the criticism that is in England levelled at selection for secondary schools depends on the unreliability and unfairness of the selection examination. In England, it has been found that village children have less chance of getting to a grammar school than town children. It has been found that girls do better than boys in the examination, so that (to keep roughly the same number of boys as girls at grammar schools) extra marks are awarded to the boys. It has been found that the ability to pass an examination depends not entirely upon intelligence or intellect, but partly upon the social class of a child’s parents — children from better-off homes doing better than children (of equal intelligence) from poorer homes.
All these criticisms will be found in Mauritius. Some of them have already been raised against the present Scholarship examination, in which the children — French speaking — from the towns do better than the children (whose mother-tongue is not usually French) from the villages. The present Scholarship examination is unfair and does not give all children the same chance of getting a scholarship. The same will apply to the selection examination for different types of secondary schools. On these grounds alone the new Bill ought to be resisted to the utmost by those who believe in social justice for the children; and that means, by the Labour M.L.C’s.
But what is the alternative? is a natural question. There is an alternative; and a simple alternative. It is to do away with any form of selection or scholarships at all. Have a non-selective system of secondary schools. Let all children go from their primary schools at the age of 11 or 12 to their secondary schools. Let all secondary schools take in, and educate, all kinds of children. In after-life, the children will have to mix as adults with all types of persons; let them start to do so at school. Let the secondary schools adequately reflect society and be a veritable microcosm of society. Only by having a completely non-selective secondary education system will every child have the same opportunity to develop his personality to the full; only in a completely non-selective system of secondary schools will it be possible to realise the aspirations voiced by Mr W.E.F. Ward (the best Director of Education Mauritius ever had; or is likely to have, unless the Colonial Office sends along to 100 Canonbie Road!) in his report on education in Mauritius, that every child leaving school should be an all-round person, with the academically-minded boy being able to work with his hands, and the manually-inclined boy yet able to read with delight and satisfaction a book, a political essay, or a selection of poetry.
The non-selective secondary education system is supported in England by the Labour Party and has been adopted in a number of areas, notably London and the Welsh country of Anglesey. The non-selective secondary schools are known as “comprehensive” schools, and it is on such schools that any future system of secondary education for all in Mauritius ought to be based. Every pupil has the opportunity to develop his talents; and every teacher can aim, like the great medieval educator Comenius, “at securing for all human beings training in all that is proper for their common humanity”; instead of under selective systems, educating a handful of children to become the future rulers and educating the rest to be ruled.
Friday 18th January, 1957
* Published in print edition on 6 September 2019