The Cinderella of Education Department

Mauritius Times – 60 Years

The teaching of oriental languages has so far remained the Cinderella of the Education Department. A century ago, the British government started teaching the children of the immigrants their mother tongue. It was done on a very small scale, but even that was stopped only after a short time. The Government of India had laid it as a condition that the children of immigrants should be taught their mother tongue and went on reminding the Mauritian government of that requirement. The Commissions which inquired into the conditions of Indian immigrants laid emphasis on that point. The question was taken up by the local government and then dropped.

Two factors contributed to that attitude: First, the Indians were not enough vocal and were to some extent indifferent. Second, those who were running the government and the aristocracy of the time looked down on that proposition with suspicion. They hoped to “mauricianize” the children of immigrants by withholding the teaching of their mother tongue.

In 1924 when Sir Kumar Maharaj Singh came to inquire into the conditions of Indian immigrants, he was surprised to learn that the government was not teaching Oriental languages to Indian children. It is thought that upon his recommendation that government started teaching Hindi. But the teaching was just an eye-wash meant to silence Indian public opinion which had started finding expression. In some senior schools, a six-hour course per week was adopted and in others only two hours per week were devoted to that language. That state of things dragged on for another twenty-five years.

In 1951 it was ultimately decided that Oriental languages should be taught on a larger scale. Unpaid students were recruited for training as teachers, but it was only after three years that they were employed. In the 1954-55 budget provision was made for 70 teachers. For two consecutive years that number was not increased. In the 1957-58 budget provision was made for another 25 teachers. In the following year, not a single increase was made. In 1958 a countrywide campaign was made against the apathy of the government. Govt. then accepted to increase the existing staff by another 72 teachers.

In the Draft Estimates of 1959-60 no provision was made for an increase in the number of oriental languages. The Draft Estimates were prepared months before the present Education Minister took office. And so, we cannot hold him totally responsible for that grave shortcoming.

In October 1957, Hindi was taught in only 63 government and aided schools by 68 teachers. These teachers were in charge of 19,289 pupils — approximately one teacher was in charge of 284 pupils.

In January 1959 there were approximately 67,400 pupils of Asian origin in primary schools. The sum voted for the teaching of Oriental languages (Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Telugu) amounts to Rs 466, 776 — approximately Rs 6.66 per head. Many teachers of Oriental languages have to teach as much as ten periods of 30 minutes each.

There is no superintendent to inspect the teaching of Oriental languages and so in some schools no inspection has been made for two years. This is how Government treats a community which forms two thirds of the population — a community which produces or helps to produce almost all the wealth of the country.

In East Africa, Swahili and English are taught side by side to African children, and Indian children learn Gujarati and English. In Mauritius our children are compelled to learn two foreign languages while their mother tongue is either not taught or superficially taught. The Government of Mauritius has cared very little about the injunction of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which says: “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”

The days are gone when those speaking on Oriental, or an African language were looked down upon contemptuously.

The official language of Singapore was English until last month. The adoption of Malay as a national language is one of the aims of the new government. The inaugural speech of Legislative Assembly by Sir William Goode, Head of the State, was made in Malay. Speeches were translated into four languages — English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil. The four principal languages of Singapore are spoken in the Legislative Assembly.

No one can accuse us of not co-operating with the government. But there are limits to certain things. On the question of the teaching of Oriental languages, we would not accuse the Education Department of apathy but of deliberately overlooking the just aspirations of the 390,000 people of Asian origin of this island. We have to tell the Government that if wants to keep the teaching of Oriental languages on its curriculum, it is its duty to teach it properly otherwise scrape it off.

The Minister of Education, whose love for the oriental languages is widely known, is suspected to have been deliberately or otherwise put into a critical situation, in the eyes of the population of Asian origin. Can he go now with a clear conscience in a patshala or maktab and dilate on the necessity of learning one’s mother tongue? Can he persuade people to help run these schools when his Ministry itself is indifferent to this question?

The people of Asian origin are not as sheepish as some top people in the administration tend to believe. They can become vocal whenever their rights are trampled.

6th Year – No 257
Friday 17th July 1959

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