The launch on Friday 23 November of Playgroups’ 30th title for children, Kirouni Kirouna, represents a milestone. Number 30! Thirty children’s books mean the beginning of a real selection for parents and teachers for young ones’ early childhood development. Most of the books, like Kirouni Kirouna, are gloriously illustrated. They make for a wonderful mixture of the magical and the realistic, the whimsical and the down-to-earth. Many are funny. Some go with songs. Others with little sketches. All contribute to a fantastic cognitive and emotional development, in harmony with the surroundings of the child. The books are almost all in the mother tongues, Kreol and even some in Bhojpuri, which is even more oppressed than Kreol. The birth of a new children’s book, and it being number 30, is thus cause for celebration.
Vidya Golam in his launch speech gave a profound and moving interpretation and evaluation of Kirouni Kirouna, based on the Bhojpuri original folk-tale remembered by Medha Moti from her grandfather’s oral version, and then translated into Kreol by Henri Favory from the French text by Medha. Hans Ramduth commented formally during the launch on the beautiful illustrations by Camille Seneque. There were some 60 people present, including Playgroup parents and teachers, MIE teacher-trainers, representatives of associations and, of course, all those concerned with the creation and production of the book, and the Press. Saresh Viramally presided ably, paying homage to the late Rajsoomer Lallah who had been a constant supporter of Playgroup’s work. Shiva Tirvengadum read a poem he composed to music, as a homage to Kirouni Kirouna. People present snapped up copies for New Year presents. The book is on sale for Rs 40.
The Federation of Pre-School Playgroups, was set up by Pushpa Lallah in 1974, who was joined by generations of able teachers and parents as colleagues, who worked with literally thousands of children over the years, literally all over Mauritius. Playgroup has five huge contributions to its credit, contributions that need mention at the time of the launch of their thirtieth children’s book, contributions so important that Playgroup will go down in the history of education in Mauritius as an important trail-blazer:
Playgroup Contributions on all fronts
1. Introducing playing as the best way towards cognitive development for the 3-5-year-olds in pre-schools, at a time when children were taught rote-learning in French and English, sitting on a long bench with their feet dangling in mid-air, and being taught to “ekute” meaning being trained to be docile before being sent to Government Primary schools. (In the promotion of ludique education, they were accompanied, in the 1970s, by the Joint Child Health Project.) Play is now an integral part of pre-school education.
2. Introducing Mauritian culture by making toys with whatever was available, like filao seeds, bottle tops, snail shells, and also by nurturing local games and past-times from hop-scotch, kite-making, nursery thymes, and sculpture in clay to top-spinning, paper-boat sailing, marbles and playing “shops” with Mauritian reality in the shelves. Playgroup has, perhaps more than any other association, given value and esteem to the social customs at the grassroots in neighbourhoods all over Mauritius. And they have promoted the mother tongues, Kreol and Bhojpuri, in both oral and written form, for all kinds of discourse and publication, as an integral part of this cultural sensitivity.
3. Confronting Government policy on education politically at every level, and even winning a Supreme Court Case against the State. The Government had come up with a draft “Curriculum Plan” that just side-lined the mother-tongues, pretended they did not even exist. Playgroup challenged this, and the State backed down. Playgroup has constantly opposed the oppression by “co-operants” mainly from France, and they did this in committees, in the Press, and in consultations with Government; they have constantly written articles for the Press and in their newsletters on the need to make children, Mauritian children, the centre of education.
4. Organizing people in “associations” which ran the Playgroups in different areas, until there were some 15 “associations” in the Federation. This enabled a kind of people-power in the pre-school sector, where teachers and parents in a democratic structure, ran their education. Playgroups have existed in most towns, Curepipe, Rose-Hill, Quatre Bornes and Vacoas, and in many villages, including Nouvelle France, New Grove, Bambous, La Gaulette, Surinam, Banane, Cluny, Midlands, Tamarin, Mon Choisy, Wooton, Bell Village, St. Louis, Dubreuil, St Julien Village, Gro Billot, Ecroignard, Riviere des Galets, Bel Ombre.
5. Promoting, using and developing the mother-tongues, Kreol and Bhojpuri, as the basis for a multi-lingual education.
And it is this last-mentioned contribution that we will go into in detail on today: Promoting, using and developing the mother-tongues, Mauritian Kreol and Bhojpuri.
Playgroup Promotion of the Mother-Tongues as the base for Multilingual Education
What other organization than Playgroup has produced bilingual books by the dozen for the children of Mauritius?
What other organization than Playgroup has produced quadrilingual books? This is so rare that the word “quadrilingual” hardly exists, even in English!
What other organization has set up and nurtured a dozen or more associations that all, in turn, ran their own formal business – their minutes, their accounts, their correspondence – as well as their spoken meetings – general assemblies and committees – in Kreol?
What other education organization has had a /i> Newsletter for parents and teachers and members, in the mother tongue, for over 30 years?
What other pre-school organization has done all its teachers-training, oral and written, in Kreol? Year in year out, year after year, generations of teachers have already learnt in Kreol, as a medium? With the syllabus, the time-table, and all the hand-outs in Kreol? What other organization has trained literally hundreds of teachers, and done this in the mother-tongue?
What other organization has held pre-school playgroups in the mother tongue, Kreol, for 38 years, for thousands of children?
What other pre-school organization has published and distributed song-books in Kreol for 30 years?
What other pre-school organization has published story-books in Kreol by the dozen, and circulated them all over the country, for over 30 years?
What other pre-school organization has published story-books in Bhojpuri?
What other organization has published readers in Kreol for children?
What other organization has taken the Government to the Supreme Court for suppressing the mother-tongues in schools – and won its case?
What other organization has nurtured conversing with children, both talking to and, equally importantly, listening to children speak in their mother tongue, and done this, for 38 years? And being absolutely precise in language-use, as can only be done in the mother tongue?
What other education organization has for 38 years, done role-playing and mini-theatre in Kreol with children?
What other organization has played with children in Kreol for 38 years at school, and allowed children to play in Kreol, encouraged them to play in their own language?
What other organization has nurtured children’s social behavior, in their own culture, from sharing meals to going to the toilet, from outings to receiving new pupils, from sharing toys to welcoming a guest, from learning about dangers to acquiring the good manners of addressing others in the language they speak, from learning to lengthen their concentration-span to learning to count, to read, to add and subtract – all in Mauritian Kreol?
What other association has had children learning about “distances”, about relative sizes, about the tenses and how they relate to time, about relative speed, weights and measures, causes and effects, illness prevention, about relating to their own emotions – all in Mauritian Kreol?
What other pre-school organization has respected children’s basic fundamental human right to use the mother tongue in school, and has done so for 38 years?
What other education organization has raised parents’ consciousness about education and language issues, constantly for 38 years, other than Playgroup?
What other organization has published story books for children that educate them on local issues, like stopping the proliferation of mosquitoes, planting seeds, Mauritius being a “Republic” with many islands not just “Lil Moris” as if it were a single-island state, how to make a kite, how to check if you are annoying someone, different “states” like sulking, being preoccupied, being unsure of oneself, and so on?
What other organization has created, published and distributed 30 titles for children?
Kirouni Kirouna is the thirtieth. Just launched. Don’t miss it.