Tit-bits — Budget-time expectations

The huge sigh of relief of Hon Pravind Jugnauth, his parents, family and close ones, at the Supreme Court decision to uphold his appeal against the lower court condemnation for conflict of interest in the MedPoint saga of Rs 144 million, was palpable and quite understandable. Absent from Cabinet, yet leader, from Sun Trust, of the dominant party in power, the MSM had uncertainty, incoherence, and even deeply disruptive political jockeying by ambitious players within the fold, written all over it. Hon Jugnauth’s rapid appointment to the coveted post of Minister of Finance and his return to Cabinet as effective, if not nominal Number Two, should in principle herald a smoother political ride and a return to some degree of coordination and coherence in government policy-making and implementation after some eighteen months of wayward performance that generous-minded observers qualify as dismal.

In a country mood that has considerably soured, under the shroud of unabashed government largesses to its own “pachas” (to quote a l’express op-ed heading), under the self-inflicted pressures of an exploding public debt and stern IMF observance, with joblessness on the rise as each year brings a new batch of school-leavers and graduates onto a morose job market, with the erosion of personal and family finances, the expectations will be high from both traditional economic operators, quiet but rattled over most of last year, the forgotten SMEs and the rising waves of social discontent.

After the massive BAI-Bramer imbroglio, the scuppering of international contracts/tenders such as Mangalore-Betamax and CT Power, the less than savvy renegotiation of the DTAA, the confusing uncertainties over public priorities (Heritage City, Light Rail, Smart City property development schemes, mountain tunnels and suspended bridges…), it will be a tall order for the Finance incumbent to marshall his troops to kick out incoherence, rekindle national confidence and re-invent the Lepep narrative. Forget miracles, visions and spin-massaging, time is running out for real clarity of purpose and getting a firm, knowledgeable hand at the rudder, for patience is wearing thin across all social strata.

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Education reform tribulations

We have to commend a private radio station for having organised what was the first contradictory exchange over education reform between the current Minister of Education, Hon Leela Devi Dookhun and former Minister Steven Obeegadoo since the PowerPoint presentation of the education reform plan was launched last June.

Civilised and courteous, despite disagreements on several elements of the Plan, it allowed the Minister the opportunity to clarify some moot points and underline the effort and resources being committed to finalise programs, curricula, study materials and exam processes. It should have given parents, teachers, rectors and the concerned public a better view of what’s in store for our children. It is also satisfying to note that the Minister has announced an “aggressive” communication campaign around the countryside to further explain the modalities of the Reform and reassure those parents who have been bereft of concrete answers to their questions for almost a year.

A few points came across clearly from her delivery and we cannot but agree more with some tenets of Reform, like keeping children in school environments up to age 14 or 15, providing more attention to those children in difficulties and the development of a variety of co and extra-curricular activities geared at improving student school experience.

Our concerns, as rather repetitively stated here since August last year, are elsewhere and unfortunately they have not been repealed in any way. The Minister’s commitment and sincerity of intent are not at issue, but she has obviously been handed by her office-bound advisors and technical staffers what looks like a hastily concocted set of ideas and measures under the collective guise of Nine-Year Schooling. As it purports to constitute a major reform of our education system with some far-reaching social implications, we have to voice our approval on those elements which could be consensual and express firm opposition to the downside implications which the Plan surreptitiously harbours and to which the Ministry’s attention has been repeatedly drawn since August last here and elsewhere by observers and concerned educators.

Public sector trade-unionists, with an eye on political mileage, goodwill or fishing for benefits for their mandants, many of whom may be quietly preparing for the upcoming private tuition bonanza, are no reliable guide to the Plan’s merits and demerits. No doubt freer of her opinion, Lysie Ribot, respected educationist and trade-unionist from the private sector, in the last issue of Week-End, is the latest to provide an informed analysis of the Reform Plan’s shortcomings and failures to meet objectives of any intelligent reform of the education sector.

It is perhaps apt to note that none of the former Ministers of Education are in agreement with the Reform Plan being imposed today (and already in step-wise implementation). Main Opposition parties, most notably the MMM and Labour Party, have condemned either the Nine-Year Schooling framework adopted or its implementation modalities or the gross inequities the Reform Plan would engender in society.

It is still time for an astute Minister to recognise the risks of sitting on a social and political powder-keg one or two years down the road and recognise that constructive criticism, independent reviews and alternative solutions are only meant for the benefit of children, parents and educators. No system will ever hope to satisfy everybody and we may even agree that the status-quo ante was not tenable, but we cannot set aside either common sense or our sense of values and history, in the quest for better answers to the commonly acknowledged priorities of needed education reform.

As it is, the Ministry can either dig its heels in while fishing for elastoplasts or consider an immediate freezing order on the NYS, its implementation postponed for one year, so as to give time for harried technical staffers and advisors, with outside help if necessary, to amend or revise a Reform Plan that is so patently flawed. In a domain where passion and controversy should have been avoided, the Education Reform Plan constitutes a recipe for fuelling social strife in the near future.

* Published in print edition on 3 June 2016

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