Examinations and Education

Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago

Far from producing parrots our education should help us produce new generations of people of original thinking and initiative

By Jay Narain Roy

The Department of Education has recently issued a kind of Bulletin about certain aspects of education. My attention was drawn towards the problem dealing with the subject of this title.

Personally I find the points made exceedingly interesting and I have already written in the past at the too theoretical aspect of our education. I am in complete agreement with the writer (I understand that he is the Director himself) about the need of making our education more and more practical so that far from producing parrots we produce new generations of people of original thinking and initiative.

The modern world is becoming complicated and the need of the future is not simply people holding sound parchments but people with drive and dash, people who are overflowing with self-confidence to get things done by ways either orthodox or unorthodox. It is even noticed that at the highest level, only one’s personal ability to face hazards and to force one’s personality on others that bring the highest laurels. These are not taught in universities or public schools.

The Director has given certain examples. He finds it somewhat extraordinary that the children of the School that faces the ruined Dutch Walls at Vieux Grand Port should know nothing about the ruins; that children in Mahebourg should be ignorant of things in the Naval Museum; that someone living in Remy Ollier Street should know nothing of the man whose name this street bears.

But who is to blame for this? Obviously the system of education through which the boys and girls know all the historical and geographical details, about men and matters of other countries and next to nothing about their own. Mr Kynaston-Snell has used some of these tests for the interview of teachers to the Training College. It may mean that these young men and young women will be initiated into the benefits of general knowledge which people woefully lack and that they would be able to start a more practical type of school instruction.

If that is so, then it is a very happy piece of news. I feel that at least preceptors should keep abreast of times, make it a religious duty to read local and foreign papers and often talk about public matters in class without any political predilections. That would normally imply the extension of the school library service as it would be idle to expect that the teachers on their own can go in for foreign or more than one local newspaper.

So far the only handbook about Mauritian affairs is the book of Barnwell and Toussaint. Perhaps the authors could bring it up to date as many things of real importance have happened since. But we do want another handbook or periodical bulletins about general affairs. The price and tonnage of sugar, aloe fibre, tea or tobacco are not within the easy reach of even the teachers. Where to find out the exact function of the Registrar General, the Civil Aviation Officer or the Harbour Master or the cost of the school building in my village or the cheapest way of going to Leopoldville from Grand Gaube? What amount of stamp paper is needed to draw up the sale of a cow of Rs 600? Recently I offered a prize in several lower forms to the one who could tell me in a minute the total age of himself, his mother and his father and very few knew the ages of their parents.

The problem naturally boils down to rousing the children’s natural but dormant curiosities about things around them. They would then wish to know the whys and wherefores of things. They would revel in quiz games sitting down in their leisure for hours and hours trying to score the highest in answering questions of general knowledge.

The knowledge now imparted is deadening so that many bid adieu to their books after they have passed and never look back to them except with disdain. They pass on the road in a reverie and fail to observe things. Sometimes I have seen a school teacher reading in a bus an old dog-eared novel that his great-grandfather has left behind as a legacy and is completely oblivious of heaving life in and outside that bus. To make a better breed of men it is of paramount importance that young people should break the dead membrane of their skull and learn to know and observe things around them. I feel that it is behind that dead membrane that most of the vices lie — that is the proverbial devil’s workshop which leads the young towards dissipation and debauchery just because the mind lacks activity and pleasure of things that they should know and observe.

I am hoping that Mr Kynaston-Snell will not content himself with throwing the mere suggestion. As head of the Department he should on his return try and implement the new measures and help to build the new outlook in education. Not only will he have widespread support but he will also have left an abiding name both in the educational history and in the general awakening in this land.

Friday 26th October 1956

* Published in print edition on 1 March 2019

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