Revisiting Access to Secondary Education and Beyond

The fact that students with 3 credits are encouraged to turn to polytechnics may end up stigmatizing these institutions as was the case with the ZEP and PreVoc schools in the past

By Sada Reddi

The decision of the Ministry of Education to not promote students who obtained 3 Credits at School Certificate level has consequently locked out about 1700 students of Form VI classes and stifled their legitimate aspirations to complete their HSC as other fellow students had done in previous years. This has proved devastating to both parents and students. There has been public protest about the decision and a lot of debate in the media. The Ministry remains inflexible in its decision.

On both sides of the debate there are valid reasons for and against the implementation of this measure as from this year. A number of suggestions had been proposed to alleviate the situation both now and in the future. The various proposals include a moratorium this year – allowing students to move to Lower VI while completing their entry requirements through resits. There are also proposals to overhaul the HSC framework and convert it into AS & A levels as is the case at present in the UK, and to amend legislation which requires students to obtain their 5 Credits at the same sitting for civil service jobs. All these changes and many more need to be seriously considered now and in the future.

One of the main reasons advanced by the Ministry of Education for its inflexibility is that it had given advanced notice to the Rectors of the measure two years back and had hoped that this measure had been widely disseminated amongst parents and students. It is now known that there has been no formal dissemination of this vital piece of information at the level of the schools to ensure that every student or parent are fully aware of the Ministry’s decision. It is also true for several reasons that some colleges may not have considered it relevant for them as most of their students normally get more than 3 Credits. It is not the same for a number of other colleges.

There is one good reason why the Ministry of Education should reconsider its decision. The measure was announced two years back and even if rectors had informed pupils and parents, the pupils concerned were in Form III or Grade 9 at that time and this raises a number of questions. Is it reasonable and fair to expect pupils at that age to grasp the consequences and implications of this measure? Did we expect them to understand what a credit means at School Certificate? Does the end-of-the-year examination report introduce them to a credit system? Are pupils therefore to be blamed for failure to grasp the implications of a Government measure that will take effect in two years’ time when they will have to move up to Form VI? One has to acknowledge that the communication system of the Ministry of Education at various levels was deeply flawed and students are being unduly traumatized and punished for no fault of their own.

In the absence of any research on the profile of students obtaining only three credits, one may reasonably infer that most of these students come from a low socio-economic background. The fact that in Bambous State college only one student was promoted to Lower VI may confirm how class bias naturally, though unintentionally, informed government decision. It would not be surprising that the 48% of the candidates who did not get a credit in English and the 56% who were unable to do so in Mathematics are equally likely to come from the same socio-economic class.

In the UK, an analysis by the British Labour Party of data compiled by the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) found that the poorest students are nine times more likely to attend secondary schools which are rated inadequate compared to their peers. It also found that poor pupils are half as likely to attend outstanding schools.

In Mauritius, despite the alleged and proclaimed parity of esteem among schools, it will be naïve or even dishonest to say that all schools have the same facilities or physical structure though one may concede that the quality of the teaching profession may not vary much from school to school in terms of qualification, training or competence. But we all know that one of the major differences between schools is the intake. This is why parents prefer X school to Y school and why the Ministry accepts that parental choice is one of the criteria of admission at regional and national levels both in the public and private schools. Real mixed ability classes, where there is roughly an equal number of high and low ability students do not exist in Mauritius. Mixed ability teaching has proved to be a failure here because educators have not been trained to tackle mixed ability classes in the reality of Mauritian classrooms.

It may surprise many that the Ministry of Education refuses to budge even on humanitarian grounds to suspend the measure affecting students with 3 credits. This inflexibility can be explained by the fact that polytechnics set up on campuses built for public universities by the previous government may not prove popular with students and parents, and the only way to increase their intake is to debar the 1700 students from doing their A-Level and drive them to seek admission to polytechnics. There is nothing wrong with polytechnic courses. The polytechnic institutions are new and not well established; the range of courses offered is very limited. Other institutions were already running some of these courses. The fact that students with 3 credits are encouraged to turn to polytechnics may end up stigmatizing the polytechnics as was the case with the Zone d’éducation prioritaire (ZEP) and PreVoc schools in the past. This is poor strategy for the polytechnics.

The dogmatic attitude of the ministry should not lead parents and students to feel that obtaining only 3 Credits is the end of the world. In the UK, in 2009-2010, one in three young people (222,000) had not obtained a grade A to C in English by the age of 16. Among the 16-year olds, only 6 in 10 achieve the minimum target of 5 good GCSE including English and Mathematics. With guidance from parents and educators, students should reflect and explore the various alternative options.

Several options are available depending on how they envisage the future. Many can do the resits and obtain the 5 Credits for these will prove very useful in the future. Others may follow alternative courses and still complete their 5 credits before moving on to complete their A-levels. Some may even follow foundation courses in public universities provided that these courses are tailored to A-level syllabus and facilitate entry for A-level examination as was done at the UTM in the past..

As for the future, certain changes which had been advocated by various stakeholders require urgent and serious consideration. It is equally important for parents and educators to rethink the Grade 6-9 curriculum which had had been stuck in the Unesco curriculum framework in the 1970s, and which even then was outdated and obsolete. There should be an alternative curriculum to the watered-down diet being offered presently.

A fresh curriculum should include English, French, Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics, Biology and Literature in English as core subjects with other electives such as Music, Arts and other social science subjects. Literature in English is included so that it may inculcate reading and writing skills in our students and possibly help them in obtaining a credit in English. Educators know very well that when students limit their choice of subjects to Economics, Accounts and Business Studies, they read and write so little and end up having very poor communication skills, but this needs to be further investigated. The core subjects will provide a balanced education, a broad array of competencies and most of all enable students to develop versatility and flexibility so that they are equipped to learn how to learn. With a broad-based education in these three years, students will be better prepared for a variety of jobs available in the market today and new emerging ones in the future and life-long learning will not remain a mere slogan.

* Published in print edition on 8 February 2019

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