This year’s Speech from the Throne contains a reference to the revised Education Code which it is hoped will be published later this year. I see that a number of private members’ motions have been tabled on the subject of education.
The revised Code will, one supposes, take account of Dr Harlow’s report on technical education and any views expressed by Sir Christopher Cox following his visit in 1955. There are several aspects of educational administration and organisation which need attention, and it is to be hoped that the Code will meet many of the valid criticisms that have been made in the past few years.
Rightly, people are concerned about the disparity between the number of scholarships awarded to children from village schools and from town schools. As it is at present organised, the primary schools scholarship examination favours candidates from town schools — for example, in 1954 only 3 out of 70 scholarships went to village children. What is the cause? To some extent, the compulsory paper in French, which to most town children is an examination in their mother tongue, whereas to village children it is an examination in a foreign language. And the standard of the French paper for the scholarship exam is very little lower than the level of the Ordinary level paper in the G.G.E., which is not to be taken till four or five years later! This is one matter which needs attention, and it will be good that Mr Venkatasamy will draw attention to it in his motion.
Children in the rural districts are denied the opportunity to be trained for that examination. Almost all scholarship classes are held in town schools. While the Education Authorities find it difficult to cope with the problems of space and lack of trained teachers for new entrants they are favouring about a dozen urban schools with well-equipped classes and well-trained teachers to coach pupils for their scholarship examination to the detriment of children of the rural districts who could have been successful had they been given same opportunity. Is there any earthly reason to grant 20 scholarships to secondary schools and even to private pupils? In the lists of examination results we can find the names of such pupils whose parents are mill owners, sub-heads of Government Departments, big businessmen who can not only afford secondary education to their children but university education too.
There is a lack of secondary schools apart from the Government and aided secondary schools which are all of the grammar school type. Mr Ward’s vision of schools producing all-round citizens is as far away as ever; Mauritian secondary schools are still geared to producing white collar citizens. And who can blame them? The better jobs go to those with the better paper qualifications, and only by attending a grammar school can those better qualifications be obtained. The Government and aided secondary schools are supplemented by a number of private secondary schools, some of which are good, some of which are not good. Will the revised Education Code provide for a system of inspection of private schools, with the Government being given the power to close schools found to be deficient in educational standards?
But many children are not fitted to the type of academic education provided at the present secondary schools. Are there to be facilities provided for technical education, as Dr Harlow suggested? If not, cannot the Sugar Industry Labour Welfare Fund provide money to build technical and farm schools whose end would be the improvement of agricultural techniques through agricultural education? I am sure that UNESCO would co-operate with the S.I.L.W.F. in running such schools as a field project. (The UNESCO report on education in Libya shows the value of agricultural and technical education in promoting social and economic welfare).
However, the provision of separate technical and grammar schools means that children will have to sort out on leaving the primary schools, and allotted to one or other type of school. And for the rest — for those who are not chosen for either a technical or a grammar school? What for them? As far as they are concerned there is a gap in the education system which needs filling; and filling quickly. They must not be left to walk the streets. Education must be provided for them as well as for the others. This is where Hon Chadien’s suggestion is particularly valuable. He asks for a system of comprehensive schools. These are schools to which children go automatically after leaving their primary schools. There is no scholarship examination. All the facilities are provided for children to follow grammar school courses, technical school courses, and general educational courses. A child follows the particular course for which he is best fitted; and it is not an examination, but the child’s own abilities and aptitudes as revealed already at the primary school, which determine what he does at the comprehensive school. The main point is, however, that all children are afforded equal opportunity to profit from the education facilities offered. No one pretends that all children should have equal capabilities; what is demanded is that all children should have equal opportunity to develop their unequal talents. The present educational system in Mauritius (or even in England for that matter) does not guarantee this equal opportunity. The comprehensive school system is the way in which, however, it can be guaranteed; and in certain parts of the U.K. comprehensive schools are already in existence so that the children of some areas have equality of opportunity.
Hon. Chadien’s motion asks for an educational revolution in Mauritius. He will be opposed by the vested interests of the present secondary (grammar) schools. He will be attacked by the vested interests of the reactionaries whose power rests on the ignorance of the masses. He may be opposed by the big-wigs at the Education Department; for the educational background of those big-wigs conditions them to seeing the present set-up as normal, and any change is therefore anathema. But despite all the opposition that will be ranged against it, Hon Chadien’s is the motion which, as far as education is concerned, holds most hope for the future of Mauritius and Mauritian children.
But educational facilities are useless unless there is a sound social system to back them up. Educational facilities are useless if the material and physical environment of the pupils is such that they cannot profit adequately from the facilities provided. Poor homes, under-feeding, lack of adequate clothing — all these are things which hinder a child’s ability to profit to the full from his schooling. Many Mauritian children go off to school without anything to eat; they get only one meal a day at home. How can they benefit from the facilities at school? How about the boy, one of the more fortunate ones, who goes off to school having breakfasted off a small loaf and a small-size Coca-Cola bottle of tea without milk? Can he benefit from his schooling? The children of those pauper parents who wait at St Antoine’s Chapel on a Friday for a loaf or some money — can they benefit properly from their schooling?
Alas, no. The squalor that exists all over Mauritius (except in the reactionaries hidey-holes at Curepipe) must be eradicated. The misery and want must be ended. This is why the motion tabled by Dr Ramgoolam asking for unemployment benefits and family allowances must be supported and put into effect; why Hon Rault’s motion is to be commended (he too asks for an unemployment benefit scheme); and why Hon Chadien’s suggestion of a land settlement scheme to combat unemployment is so good. Help to provide economic security for the masses, and provide educational facilities for them too. Education and economic progress are interdependent; but there must be the educational facilities first.
Let us hope that the new Education Code will point the way to educational advance, and through it to social improvement.