LALIT has pleasure in reproducing below the part of the Report of the Ombudsperson for Children on the Kreol Language in Education.
Case 3: Kreol language in the education system
The Ombudsperson for Children’s Office (OCO) received a complaint from ‘Ledikasyon pu Travayer’ (LPT), a registered organisation, founded in 1977, which promotes and defends mother tongue-based multi-lingual education. It also operates educational and literacy services for adults. The LPT requested the OCO to consider opening an inquiry on the question of potential harm being done to children by the ‘continued suppression of the mother tongue in the local education system’. According to the LPT, this is a violation of the rights and freedoms of children, especially at the level of teaching and learning.
Given the nature of the complaint, I opened an investigation as per sections 6(g) and (j) of the Ombudsperson for Children Act 2003, which stipulates that the Ombudsperson shall “investigate cases relating to the situation of children in the family, in schools and in all other institutions, including private or public bodies” and “investigate complaints made by a child, or any other person, in relation to the rights of any child” respectively.
2. The investigation
The objectives of this investigation were to:
a) review the local and international literature related to the use of the mother tongue as medium of instruction in our local educational system; and
b) make recommendations based on our findings.
During our investigation, we carried out literature searches and interviewed different groups of people including members of the LPT as well as children, parents and teachers in some primary schools in Mauritius. We have had enriching encounters with our participants who expressed their views on the use of the mother tongue in the education system based on their experiences, roles and beliefs.
3.1 A historical overview on languages in the Republic of Mauritius
The Republic of Mauritius (n.d.)(126) was a British colony from 1810 to before gaining independence in March 1968. When the British took over from the French in 1810, there were no major changes in the life, customs and traditions of the French colonists and other people living on the island. According to Napal (1962) (127), a bilingual capitulation treaty laid down the conditions necessary for the French language to continue to be used on the island even under the British rule. From 1847, the use of English was made compulsory in the Higher Courts only and was used mainly for administrative purpose (Stein, 1997)(128).
After Mauritius gained its independence, English continued to be used mostly in formal contexts. Article 49 of the Constitution of the Republic of Mauritius stipulates that, “The official language of the Assembly shall be English but any member may address the chair in French”. The Government Portal of the Republic of Mauritius (n.d.) (129) describes the languages of the island as such: “English is the official language. French is extensively used and Creole is widely spoken. Asian languages also form part of the linguistic mosaic.”
According to estimates in 2011 about spoken languages in the Republic of Mauritius, it was indicated that 86.5 per cent of Mauritians primarily used Kreol (i.e. Mauritian Creole), 5.3 per cent Bhojpuri, 4.1 per cent French and less than 1 per cent English (Central Intelligence Agency,
2018)(130). Kreol is predominantly used in private and informal contexts. On the contrary, English is used mostly in formal situations such as within the domains of administration, teaching and sometimes the media.
3.2 Medium of instruction in the local education system
The medium of instruction refers to the language used by someone to impart knowledge. In the education system, it is the language used by a teacher to teach the school curriculum. Section 43 of the Education Regulations on ‘Medium of instruction and teaching of languages’ (Republic of Mauritius, 1957)(131) stated that:
1) In the lower classes of Government and aided primary schools up to and including Standard III, any one language may be employed as the language of instruction, being a language which in the opinion of the Minister is most suitable for the pupils.
2) In Standards IV, V, and VI of the Government and aided primary schools the medium of instruction shall be English, and conversation between teacher and pupils shall be carried on in English; provided that lessons in any other language taught in the school shall be carried on through the medium of that instruction.
3) The Minister may make provision for the teaching of languages other than English which are current in Mauritius, and for their study in any Government and aided primary school, and may require an Education Authority to make arrangements for such teaching in any of the primary schools under its control.
According to Stein (1997), subsection 43(1) of the Education Regulations 1957 (as cited above)
stemmed at a time when children who were entering school knew neither English nor French,
but they spoke either Kreol or Bhojpuri. As from Grade 4 onwards, English was officialised as the medium of instruction. It is important to note that these regulations have been established about 60 years ago when Mauritius was still under British rule and that, similar to many other sections of these Regulations, the above-quoted section has not been subject to any changes since.
When children enter primary school at the age of 5 or 6 years, all textbooks except for French, Kreol, Bhojpuri and Oriental languages, are in English. For example, Mathematics, Science and Geography are in English. The OCO’s investigation has shown that many teachers have recourse to Kreol or French as an oral medium of instruction to facilitate the children’s understanding of different English-based subjects. This might be mainly because, even now, most children entering school speak in Kreol. However, course works for these subjects are expected to be written in English.
In their analysis regarding the school system of Mauritius, Meade and his colleagues (1961)(132)
wrote the following:
We do not believe that we exaggerate when we say that the greatest handicap to successful education in Mauritius is that imposed by the multiplicity of language in use.
The same conclusion was made by Ramdoyal (1977, p.139)(133) in The Development of Education in Mauritius:
Starting three (which includes English, French and Oriental) foreign languages at the same time at age five places an enormous burden on the child. For many children this has led to poor standards in oracy and to functional illiteracy in English.
Furthermore, Ledikasyon Pu Travayer (LPT) carried out a 4-day public hearing in October 2009 where a wide range of witnesses gave testimonies in front of an International Panel. They reported that their main findings were:
1) Rate of failure after nine years of schooling is inexplicably high and functional literacy rate is alarmingly low.
2) Alongside academic failure, there are closely related problems like high rate of absenteeism, high drop-out rates and a lack of interest and motivation as well as an absence of creativity.
3) The language policy which is at the core of the education system fails to develop children’s full potential in terms of their cognitive, emotional, psychological and social growth.
4) The Prevoc-Bureau de l’Education Catholique (BEC) representative implemented a language policy of using the mother tongue as medium of instruction and they had had positive results.
Given the above-mentioned points, it can be argued that the Mauritian language policy in education requires more specificity and refinement. Most children and their parents do not speak either English or French at home. The fact that children are taught literacy and numeracy in languages that are not their mother tongue can explain the high level of absenteeism, high percentage of illiteracy and the number of failures at the end of the primary education level.
It is important to highlight here that, in 2012, Kreol was introduced as an optional language in Grade I, which is a big step taken by the State to introduce the mother tongue in the school curriculum. Kreol is however not used as the written medium for ‘content subjects’ such as History, Geography and Science, which are mainly in English. Besides, English and French remain compulsory at school and are the core languages for national examinations from Grade I onwards. This can mean that, especially for children in lower Grades, there is a need to keep the level of the subject contents low enough to match the emerging proficiency level of the students in a second language.
3.3 Attitudes towards the use of Kreol in the local education system
During the OCO’s investigation, several teachers and parents provided their views on the use of mother tongue, specifically Kreol, in the local education system. The findings are summarised as follows:
1) Some teachers reported using Kreol in the classrooms to facilitate the understanding of students especially for subjects like Mathematics, History and Geography. Other teachers told us that they tried to limit the use of Kreol because they perceived it to be of little utility to students since examinations have to be taken in English and French.
2) A large majority of parents were against the use of mother tongue in the classroom stating that it acts as a boundary for their children to do well in English- and French- based examinations.
3) Some parents who were in favour of Kreol at primary level were mainly the ones who identified themselves as illiterate in English and French. They reported being better able to help their children with their homework in Kreol.
Furthermore, over the last 40 years, different survey studies have attempted to understand the attitudes of Mauritians towards the use of Kreol in schools as a medium of instruction. Mixed findings against and for the use of Kreol have been observed across studies. For instance, a Mauritian study advanced that, out of its 79 participants, 33 per cent were in favour of the introduction of Kreol in school, 56 per cent opposed it and 11 per cent had no opinion (Rajah-Carrim, 2007)(134). Another later study used an online survey to gather Mauritian people’s opinions on introducing Kreol in primary level education (Miller, 2015)(135). Out of 61 participants, 36 per cent agreed, 52 per cent disagreed and 11 per cent had no opinion. These two studies revealed an unfavourable public opinion on the use of Kreol as a medium of instruction in primary schools among more than half of their samples.
On the contrary, surveys conducted by a professional social research firm based in France called SOFRES suggested more favourable opinions among Mauritians in relation to the use of Kreol in education. The first survey was carried out in 1977, where 60 per cent of participants were for the use of Kreol in schools and only 35 per cent were against. At the time, the question in the survey did not differentiate between Kreol as a subject and as a medium of instruction. A second survey commissioned by LPT was carried out in 2009 with a sample of about 600
Mauritians aged 18 years and above. These participants were specifically asked about the use of Kreol as a formal medium to teach subjects such as Science. Sixty-seven per cent voted for this idea and only a minority of 27 per cent were against.
The LPT (2009)(136) also highlighted from the results of the 2009 survey that:
• 87 per cent of people did not even know that there is a standardised orthography for
Kreol language called “Grafi Larmoni”;
• 80 per cent of people had no idea that the pre-vocational schools have had an experience with the Kreol language, let alone that this was successful;
• 93 per cent of people did not know that the University of Mauritius has had a Course in and on Kreol; and
• 90 per cent of people did not know that there are Kreol language dictionaries.
I believe that these findings indicate the need to carry out more extensive and evidence-based local campaigns to inform the population on the historical evolution of Kreol from a dialect to a formal language and, where appropriate, challenge educational myths about its use as a medium of instruction.
3.4 International recommendations relevant to the use of mother tongue in our local education system
Following the signature and ratification in 1990 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (United Nations, 1989), the Republic of Mauritius has taken the responsibility to implement the provisions of this international law. Article 29(1)(c) of the said convention states that:
State Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to...the development of respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own (.)
In its Concluding Observations on the Republic of Mauritius, the Committee on the Rights of the Child (2006)(137) stated that “it is ... concerned that English as the official language of instruction in schools is not supplemented by educational materials in Creole”. In this regard the Committee (2006, paragraph 61(b)) recommended to “develop a policy regarding the use of Creole in the Early Childhood Development (ECD) stage and at primary levels”.
In their next report on Mauritius, the Committee (2015)(138) reiterated its concern that “schools are not adequately provided with educational materials in Creole, which remains an optional language, thereby limiting access to education for Creole-speaking children and resulting in high dropout rates for them, which amount to 20 per cent in primary education.” The Committee (2015) recommended the State to:
Take measures to improve the accessibility and quality of education, including by limiting the impact of the language of instruction on access to education and on school completion and dropout rates, in particular for Creole-speaking children, children in street situations and those that are deprived of their family environment, through the use of Creole at the early childhood development stage and at the primary and secondary school levels; and provide high-quality training for teachers, with particular emphasis on rural areas.
3.5 Some international evidence on the benefits of using the mother tongue in learning
Mother tongue refers to the language a person learns from birth. It is not only the first language that one learns as a baby, but it is also the first language with which a person develops his or her ability to master its linguistic and communicative aspects (Nordquist, 2018)(139). Many research studies point to the association between the use of the mother tongue for teaching and learning, especially in the early years, and the quality of education.
In relation to vernacular languages(140), the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural
Organization (UNESCO, 1953, p.11)(141) advanced that:
It is axiomatic that the best medium for teaching a child is his mother tongue. Psychologically, it is the system of meaningful signs that in his mind works automatically for expression and understanding … Educationally, he learns more quickly through it than through an unfamiliar linguistic medium.
The UNESCO (2003, p.30)(142) later took the official position that they support “mother tongue instruction as a means of improving educational quality by building upon the knowledge and experience of the learners and teachers”.
Moreover, a comprehensive review paper (Dutcher, 1997)(143) on the use of first and second languages in education examined the experience of Pacific Island countries like Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Vanatua and Western Samoa, where there are numerous mother tongues and the language of instruction at school is different from the mother tongues. Dutcher (1997, p.36) reported on the importance of the mother tongue in education in the following words:
The most important conclusion from the research and experience reviewed in this paper is that when learning is the goal, including that of learning a second language, the child’s first language (i.e. his or her mother tongue) should be used as the medium of instruction in the early years of schooling...The first language is essential for the initial teaching of reading, and for comprehension of subject matter. It is the necessary foundation for the cognitive development upon which acquisition of the second language is based.
Given its colonial history, language in the Republic of Mauritius has its own specificity. Using more than one language in daily life is the normal practice for an average Mauritian. A large majority of Mauritians speak in Kreol. Languages like French and English are utilised mainly in formal contexts. Language plays an important role not only in communication, but also in the transfer of knowledge. Language and education are therefore closely linked.
Education is a fundamental human right and it is the basis to acquire knowledge to promote an individual’s mental, social and intellectual development. There is a growing body of evidence which links poor performance and total exclusion from education to the fact that the language used to teach at school is not the same as the language used at home. Sometimes, low performance in a subject could be more due to a lack of mastery of the child in a second language rather than their actual cognitive ability. Paradoxically, some students might outperform their classmates just by being good at memorising facts than by actually understanding the subject matter in a second language. In order to achieve high rates of literacy and language acquisition among a majority of students, relevant State and non-state actors could develop effective language policies in education, which takes into consideration the specific learning needs of children in relation to the language/s they use at home and at school.
Within the Mauritian context, I believe that the programme model of mother tongue-based bi/multilingual education (Ball, 2011)(144) could be of relevance. This approach mainly involves the following two aspects:
1. The first language or mother tongue (e.g. Kreol) is used as the primary medium of instruction for the whole of primary school, while a second (or additional) language (e.g. English and/or French) is introduced as a subject of study in itself to prepare students for eventual transition to some academic subjects in the second (or additional) language.
2. After the second (or additional) language has been introduced, all chosen languages are media of instruction. Instruction in the mother tongue is maintained, often as a subject of study, to ensure ongoing support for children to become academically proficient in their first language. It is to be noted that the introduction of the second (or additional) language does not displace the mother tongue.
This model might raise questions such as to what extent should the mother tongue be used as a medium of instruction, at which point would children be expected to begin learning a second (or additional) language, and when should children receive academic instruction in that second (or additional) language (Ball, 2011). Robust local research on these questions may help in elucidating the most suitable way forward to improve the educational experience of the children of the Republic of Mauritius.
Finally, there is enough international evidence to suggest that a strong foundation in the mother tongue can help children develop appropriate cognitive and reasoning skills and strong literacy abilities from an early age, which can then be transferrable to learning additional languages. For instance, the use of Kreol as medium of instruction in primary education in the Republic of Mauritius can facilitate the acquisition of the English and French languages and enhance our children’s overall linguistic and academic performance.
126 Republic of Mauritius (n.d.) Explore Mauritius: History. Retrieved on 28 July 2018 from www.govmu.org/English/ExploreMauritius/ Pages/History.aspx
127 Napal, D. (1962). Les constitutions de l’Ile Maurice: documents [1723-1961]. Mauritius Archives Publications, 6. Mauritius: Mauritius
128 Stein, P. (1997). The English Language in Mauritius: Past and Present. English World-Wide, 18(1), 65-89.
129 Republic of Mauritius (n.d.) Explore Mauritius: Language. Retrieved on 28 July 2018 from www.govmu.org/English/ExploreMauritius/ Geography-People/Pages/Language.aspx
130 Central Intelligence Agency (2018). The World Factbook: Mauritius. Retrieved on 28 July 2018 from www.cia.gov/library/publications/
131 Republic of Mauritius (1957). Education Regulations 1957. Republic of Mauritius: The Government Printer.
132 Meade, J.E. & Others. (1961). The Economic and Social Structure of Mauritius: Volume 48. London: Routledge.
133 Ramdoyal, R.D. (1977). The Development of Education in Mauritius, 1710-1976. Mauritius: Mauritius Institute of Education.
134 Rajah-Carrim, A. (2007). Mauritian Creole and language attitudes in the education system of multiethnic and multilingual Mauritius.
Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 28(1), 51-71.
135 Miller, A. (2015). Kreol in Mauritian Schools: Mother Tongue Language Education and Public Opinion. Unpublished bachelor’s thesis, Department of Linguistics, Yale University. Retrieved on 28 July 2018 from ling.yale.edu/sites/default/files/files/AllisonMillerSeniorEssay. pdf
136 Ledikasyon Pu Travayer (Ed.) (2009). Kreol & Bhojpuri: Lang Maternel, A Bilingual Handbook on Mother Tongue Rights. Mauritius: Author. Retrieved 16 August 2018 from www.lalitmauritius.org/modules/ documents/files/LalitMauritius-705f2172834666788607ef bfca35afb3.pdf
137 Committee on the Rights of the Child (2006). Concluding observations: Mauritius. Geneva: United Nations. 28 July 2018 from unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0000/000028/002897EB.pdf
138 Committee on the Rights of the Child (2015). Concluding observations on the combined third to fifth periodic reports of Mauritius. Geneva: United Nations.
139 Nordquist, R. (2018). The meaning of the term ‘mother tongue’. Retrieved on 28 July 2018 from www.thoughtco.com/mother-tongue- language-1691408
140 Vernacular languages are those languages spoken naturally, especially in informal situations by a particular group of people. Definition source: dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/vernacular
141 United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (1953). Monographs of Fundamental Education: The use of vernacular languages in education. Paris: Author. Retrieved on
142 UNESCO (2003). Education Position Paper: Education in a multilingual world. Paris: Author. Retrieved on 28 July 2018 from unesdoc. unesco.org/images/0012/001297/129728e.pdf
143 Dutcher, N. (1997). The use of first and second languages in education: A review of international experience. Washington: World Bank. Retrieved on 28 July 2018 from documents.worldbank.org/curated/ en/131161468770987263/pdf/multi-page.pdf
144 Ball, J. (2011). Enhancing learning of children from diverse language backgrounds: Mother tongue-based bilingual or multilingual education in the early years. Paris: UNESCO. Retrieved on 28 July 2018 from unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0021/002122/212270e. pdf