Two Vital Topics

Mauritius Times – 60 Years

By Peter Ibbotson

The Education Act

In the first schedule to the Education Bill, which has now had its second reading and is in the Committee for detailed examination and (we hope) amendment, there are details of the sanitary accommodation to be provided at schools. We see that in a school of 30 pupils there shall be 2 latrines for girls and 1 for boys, with urinal space as well for the boys. A school of 70 pupils shall have 3 girls’ latrines and 2 boys’ with urinal space as well. Presumably this refers to mixed schools, but nowhere do we read that all schools shall be mixed. For single-sex school, the boys would need more latrine accommodation than the Bill prescribes; so, would girls. The bill does not recognize this.

But although the schedule goes into detail in this matter — about the amount of sanitary accommodation that shall be provided — it does not anywhere insist that sanitary accommodation shall be provided for the teachers. Nowhere is there any reference to the necessity for a staffroom at all except the very smallest schools. More serious, the Bill does not lay down standards of satisfactory school accommodation. Somewhere the Minister ought to lay down prescribed maximum sizes for classes. He ought also to lay down sizes of classrooms, and standards of lighting, space per child, etc., that all schools (particularly new ones) should conform to.

It will be urged that prescribed standards are utopian; that they cannot be achieved. Perhaps they cannot be achieved in present circumstances; but that is no reason for not laying them down. If prescribed standards are laid down, we have a target at which the Ministry of Education and Institutions has to aim, and we can measure the shortcomings of the Ministry by the degree of its failure to achieve the prescribed aims.

For example: In England and Wales, the Minister of Education has laid down that classes shall not exceed 40 in primary schools and 30 in secondary schools. The number of classes which do exceed these prescribed maxima is one of the criteria by which the Minister is judged. The Minister has laid down, too, that classrooms shall be of certain minimum sizes, depending on the total roll of the school. Some primary schools must have classrooms of at least 520 square feet, some 480 square feet, the smallest, 400 square feet. In secondary schools, each classroom (for at most 30 pupils) must be at least 480 square feet in area. Provisions such as these should appear in the Education Bill’s schedule. Instead, we have no reference to the need for any standard of size or construction whatever — only that all schools shall be kept in a clean and sanitary condition.

Although we read that all schools shall have drinking water and certain sanitary accommodation (which is on a scale less generous than in England and Wales for schools of the same size and although it is true that educational conditions are different in the mother country and Mauritius, the same conditions as regards the calls of nature apply to children everywhere) we read nowhere that washing facilities shall be compulsorily provided. Nor, in addition to the lack of prescription of a staff room, do we find that a Head Teacher’s room is prescribed for all schools.

Before the Legislative Council passes into law the first schedule of the Education Bill, especially in this connexion Part VI, it should consider the English Standards for School Premises Regulations, made in April 1954 as S.I. No. 473 of 1954 by the Minister of Education in pursuance of powers conferred on him by the 1944 Act. The way in which these standards are drawn up should affect that schedule and the way in which it is drawn up. The English standards are flexible; the Mauritian schedule is too rigid.

This rigidity extends also to the details of syllabus, etc. “In all schools in receipt of public funds the curriculum, the syllabus for each course of study, the subjects of Instruction and the method of teaching shall be such as the Director shall from time to time approve.” That is section 40 (I) of the first schedule. It means that no head teacher, no assistant teacher, is free to experiment. Only the Director can prescribe methods of teaching. Only the Director can say whether subject A or subject B shall be introduced in school X or Y. Only the Director shall say whether a school shall use Gate-house’s B & A Arithmetic Series of Schonell’s Right from the Start; whether Nisbet’s Janet and John readers shall be used or Ginn’s Beacon books.

Such rigidity is a bad thing. It makes teaching a dead, lack-lustre occupation instead of an exciting period of finding-out, of widening horizons and knowledge, of growth of experience. It cramps a teacher’s capabilities. What is the use of teachers coming to England on their overseas leave and seeing schools at work in England when, on their return to Mauritius, they have to return to the rigid conformity of the Director’s code? The teachers should be allowed more freedom in their work. They should be allowed to choose their own text-books. They should be allowed more freedom in the teaching methods they use. Above all, they should be freed from the slavery of the time-table. Just as there is more to marriage than four bare legs in a bed, there is more to teaching than unswerving obedience to the prescribed 30 minutes composition, 30 minutes history, 30 minutes geography, 30 minutes reading, 30 minutes grammar and so on.

Let us hope that the passage of the bill through the committee stage will be marked by amendments designed to liberate teachers from this slavery of the time-table, the rigid oversight by the Director.

* * *

Family Planning in Pakistan

The Pakistan Family Planning Association was formed in 1953, linking together several small pioneer groups of health workers who had been carrying on family planning education on a modest scale. In 1955 the Government of West Pakistan provided financial assistance to the Association; and in 1955 also, Mr Justice Mohammad Munir, Chief Justice of Pakistan, agreed to become the Association’s President. The Association has 6 clinics at Lahore and up to January 1957 had advised 12,650 women for contraception. 1,601 women had contraceptives prescribed. On the other hand, 50 women attended the clinics for advice because they had never conceived; and all were given appropriate advice and treatment.

In Peshawar, Karachi and Dacca, too, the Family Planning Association is active but in East Pakistan the Association is hampered by lack of funds. The Government of East Pakistan has never helped with money as the Government of West Pakistan has done.

Mauritius Times – Friday 13 December 1957
4th year – No 175

* Published in print edition on 19 October 2021

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