By Nita Chicooree-Mercier
Notwithstanding the economic prospect of doom and gloom prophesized by experts from misty London, and the no less hopeless future awaiting the ‘overcrowded barracoon’ depicted by V.S Naipaul, Mauritius managed to make its way up as a fairly successful post-colonial small country. Stable institutions, political goodwill and visionary politicians combined with the ambition and dynamism of forward-looking key businessmen contributed to diversify the basic pillars of the agriculture-based economy into various competitive sectors. Both the political class and private sector subscribe to the pragmatic observation made during a visit by a political analyst of Indian origin at the House of Lords to the effect that Mauritius can never afford to relax. With scarce resources, the country has to constantly adjust and find new ways to survive in an increasingly competitive world.
A few points are worth discussing as regards the future of the younger generation. The 5-credit requirement to qualify for the two-year HSC course has been amply debated. Concerns are raised over the necessity to repeat SC for candidates with 4 credits and high grades in subjects they consider taking for HSC. Does it not unnecessarily make it compulsory for them to repeat a class and waste one year? Is it fair to put an end to further education of quite a high number of 15 year-old students? The system deprives others of basic general knowledge which Genaral Paper (GP) provides HSC students. Many of them have no wish to join Ecole Hôtelière Sir Gaëtan Duval and make a living in the hotel industry; neither are they dreaming of working in factories. So the low percentage of students qualifying for HSC in the present system is quite worrying.
It should also be of great concern that scarce room is made for History in the GP syllabus. HSC holders start off on their own as young adults with bare knowledge of the world they are living in. No wonder they may fall for any wild conspiracy theory or random interpretation of worldly affairs, on free offers in social networks which manipulate and misguide rather than give factual information based on history taught through the prism of Reason in a school room. A history of Mauritius and the general features of countries where the ancestors of different ethnic groups hailed from needs to be made a compulsory element in GP, at least in Lower Six (now Grade 11).
Philosophy is totally ignored in the educational system. It is quite illogical in a country where a big chunk of the population are heirs to a tradition of philosophers and thinkers. Philosophy helps to develop a critical mind and brings clarity in our thoughts. Its absence leaves a void which is likely to be filled with indoctrination and manipulation, and create confused minds. The last year at school is most appropriate to impart basic knowledge of what should be an indispensable subject for the young minds which will take the lead of the country’s future. In this respect, both teachers’ training and the HSC syllabus need to be reviewed.
Even if they amount to 5% of the student population, an elite class of students in both Arts and Science, or the Humanities at University of Mauritius deserves to be taught classical languages including Sanskrit, besides Latin and Greek. Knowledge of philosophy and history is best served by adding classical languages to generate a class of citizens endowed with refined and learned minds. In a world where ignorance is bliss, it is a matter of responsibility and duty of a country’s leadership to ensure that citizens are not misguided by false theories and propaganda which circulate in the garb of reality and truth. Education at the highest level cannot be envisaged in a solely utilitarian approach, a materialist stance which cares only for visible gains.
As has been already mentioned in this column, a policy in the development of high technology has to be thoroughly elaborated, and job prospects made clear to young students who wish to pursue their studies in this field. In a work culture highly marked by seniority in the public sector, which facilitates the promotion of any incompetent functionary on the sole basis of having occupied the seat over a longer period, there is urgent need for a change in mindset.
Last but not least, general knowledge of the human anatomy can hardly be considered a matter of pride in the country if we go by the personal interpretation our compatriots deliver on every health issue affecting them. A basic knowledge of how kidneys, liver, lungs, heart, stomach, intestines function and where they are located as well as of the main muscles of the body would certainly help to be attentive to one’s health. While we are very good at counselling one and all on what to do about every illness, and we display a sincere curiosity in the exploration of body and soul, we might be missing basic points.
Last Sunday at the open air market of Fond du Sac, a middle-aged man, a yoga teacher was standing by his adolescent son who was distributing flyers to folks around. The flyers mention courses on the human anatomy, blood circulation, the causes of diabetes, etc. In a conversation which ensued, he explained why he deemed it important to raise awareness on health issues and the importance of yoga exercises. Basic knowledge of the anatomy and so on should have been imparted to citizens at an early age, he said. We cannot but agree. It is never too late to review our approach to education and knowledge.
* Published in print edition on 12 March 2020