Too Many Cooks Spoil The Broth

The fact that a sizeable number of SC students have not made the required grades for HSC studies is an indictment of the quality of the education system in the country. Political meddling, a misguided fixation about elite schools, competition and regionalization have watered down standards of academic performance

By Mrinal Roy

The quality of the education system of a country is one of its prime assets and a determinant economic driver of the country. If properly conceived in accordance with the best norms prevailing in the world and intelligently harnessed, it can substantially improve the performance and prospects of the country. The quality of the education system however varies from country to country. It is therefore very important that in Mauritius we keep track of the continuous evolution and innovations in the best education systems of the world and constantly benchmark our own education system on the best standards, learning trends and methods prevailing worldwide bearing in mind our own specificities. Thoughtful thinking, intellect and pedagogical expertise must shape and drive this key process.

This is particularly important in Mauritius as human resources are the only major resource of the country, until we intelligently tap the immense and multifaceted potential of our exclusive economic zone. From the outset every effort should have been made to systematically upgrade and align the education system on the most innovative teaching and learning methods and best performing education systems in the world.

Instead, the education system has over the years been a pointless political bone of contention when the priority should have been to improve and upgrade the system to offer the best possible education and congenial environment of learning to the children of the country to enable them to excel and realize the full potential of their intellect. The upshot is that the local education system has been wrought by successive governments into a terrible mess. In essence, it is a blatant case of too many dilettantes and (ministerial) cooks spoiling the broth.

World benchmarks

According to the latest international rankings, the education system of South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Finland, Canada and the United Kingdom are the best in the world. They have been constantly reinvented to be tuned and geared to the requirements of the 21st century. Their brands of education act as world benchmarks and are serving as models to recast the education system in countries across the world. For example, the Canadian system of education puts emphasis on personalized learning for all students, quality teaching and learning, flexibility and choice and learning enhanced by an intelligent use of technology.

Finland has adopted a totally new approach in 2016 to ensure that the education system remains top ranking in a context of constant changes across the world. The curriculum was overhauled with emphasis put on teaching students ‘how to learn’ instead of ‘what to learn’. Singapore, another country with a top ranking education system, has a similar approach to learning. The focus is on enabling students acquire key competencies and skills rather than having to learn and pass entire courses which are not relevant to what they want to do. Teachers are suitably trained as professional tutors and entrusted with the brief and professional freedom of devising the best way to teach students.

In the reform proposed in Finland, the emphasis is on collective work by students and interdisciplinary cooperation among teachers from different fields. Thus students working in small groups study events and discuss problems in an interdisciplinary format instead of individual subjects. For example by taking the course “Working in a Cafe,” students will learn and acquire knowledge about the English language, economics and communication skills. This system will be introduced for senior students, beginning at the age of 16. The approach is to allow students to choose for themselves which topic or problem they want to study, bearing in mind their ambitions for the future and their capabilities. Some 70% of teachers in Helsinki have already undertaken preparatory training to implement the proposed reform and will benefit from a salary rise. The reform is expected to be completed by 2020.

Masking failures

Despite the government rhetoric, there are obviously many things which are fundamentally wrong with the local education system when the number of School Certificate (SC) credits required to be admitted to Grade 12 (Lower V1) has been tweaked by successive governments from 5 to 3 credits and back to 4 credits this year and 5 credits next year. The upshot is that large numbers of SC students who have not obtained the required grades in 2018 will have to resit their SC exams or enrol for technical training or stop school. It also means that there will be in two years, all things being equal, fewer HSC holders to pursue tertiary education and benefit from free tertiary education in the country. This situation will also put under stress admissions in the plethora of institutions operating in the tertiary education sector.

To crown it all, there is also a lack of transparency as the relevant statistics classifying the number of SC students in accordance with the number of credits obtained at the 2018 SC exams showing how many students have not made the cut of a minimum of 4 credits are kept under wraps as it exposes the failures of the flawed system in place. An education system which results in swathes of students stumbling at SC level says it all. It should be flagged that that the minimum qualification of students in countries with the best education systems is much higher than the SC or a technical equivalent thereof. Against such a backdrop, how would the country generate the pool of pointed skills required to help it transit towards a high income economy?

The fact that a sizeable number of SC students have not made the required grades for HSC studies is an indictment of the quality of the education system in the country. Political meddling, a misguided fixation about elite schools, competition and regionalization have watered down standards of academic performance in the country. Healthy competition among students is essential to promote excellence.

it seems like national hara-kiri to be deliberately thwarting excellence instead of robustly promoting and harnessing it to enable bright young students to excel and pursue their studies and be trained in the best universities of the world for the benefit of Mauritius.

We all know that despite the intrinsic shortcomings of our education system a large swathe of young bright Mauritians every year transcend its imperfections to excel and proficiently succeed jn their studies abroad and in the wide range of professions chosen by them. Quite a few of them have acquired pointed skills in diverse fields and made a name for themselves abroad.

Bending the rules

Despite an obsession about rankings of every type, colour and hue, has there been a serious attempt to assess the ranking of the local education system against international benchmarks to know where the country stands or any attempt to align it on the best education systems in the world? Is there an insidious agenda to bridle excellence and nurture mediocrity in the country? Are those unable to withstand healthy competition bent, as in politics, on bending the rules? This is simply not on.

It is therefore high time to overhaul the present education system and benchmark it on the best norms prevailing in the world. This means profoundly reviewing the curriculum to adapt it to the exigencies of the 21st century. It also means training and significantly improving the pedagogical acumen of teachers and upgrading the standards of teaching, learning methods and facilities of all schools to best standards in the country.

It also means well qualified and competent teachers capable of constantly keeping alive the interest of students in learning through their teaching skills and making learning enjoyable. It means a proactive teacher-student sharing of knowledge and interaction. It also means a healthy school environment and the offer of an attractive range of activities which help the development of students in a holistic manner. All this is presently far from being the case in most schools.

The intrinsic flaws of regionalization with schools which have levels which are widely varied were evidenced in the many hiccups in the admissions of students at both primary and secondary levels. No government or Ministry can force a parent to admit his child in a substandard regional school. Such an inept approach has forced parents who can afford it to enrol their wards in private schools instead. Free education will not have its determinant impact on the country without the authorities first establishing a level playing field as regards the quality and standard of education offered in every school of the country.

Promoting excellence

The bottom line is that education, teaching and learning are the prerogatives of professional teachers and educators not politicians driven by vested agendas. The pursuit of excellence drives the young student of the country as evidenced by the large number of students from all walks of life who excel in their diverse exams every year. This quest for learning and excellence is a tremendous asset which must be nurtured through a state of the art education system benchmarked on the best norms in the world and harnessed for the common good.

It is equally important that we also take cogent steps as a nation to ensure that these young and bright Mauritians and professionals from diverse fields also drive the political future of the country for the benefit of all.

* Published in print edition on 1 February 2019

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