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Education Minister Continues Language Policy Shown to Harm Children


The article that follows was submitted to LALIT by the association, Ledikasyon pu Travayer. It was drafted before the Prime Minister’s outrageous comment against Kreol being used in Parliament. Here is the LPT article:

 The State remains silent while children are routinely abused in schools. We are referring to the Government’s cruel language policy. Minister Leela Devi Dookhun seems either blind to, or insensitive to, the on-going harm being done to children by her policies, harm now publicly shown to be being done. It is not possible that she is completely ignorant of expert opinion on the harm done by repressing the mother tongue, because Ledikasyon pu Travayer gave her a copy of the 200-page report around the Findings of the 2009 International Hearing on the Harm done to children by the Suppression of the Mother Tongue in School.

 We use the word “abuse” with circumspection. Abuse can be physical, but it can also be psychological. And psychological abuse, as everyone knows, is very harmful indeed to the children who suffer it.

 Children are deprived of freedom in many ways in schools. But perhaps the most damaging form of repression that schools inflict and the one that qualifies as “abuse” is the on-going suppression, in the entire education system, of the children’s natural language. The mother tongue of over 90% of children is either Kreol (85%) or Bhojpuri (5%) or both Kreol and Bhojpuri (curiously not divulged in the 2011 official Census figures). Mauritian Kreol is, in addition, the vernacular – unlike in some ex-colonies like Singapore.

 The main thrust of the repression of the mother tongues is that they are outlawed as formal medium. Children are taught content subjects on the condition that they learn one or two foreign languages first. This was how the Federation of Pre-School Playgroups and two parents put it when they challenged the then Minister in a Constitutional Case against the suppression in pre-schools of the mother tongue -- a case which they won. The Education Minister agreed in Court in 1998 to change the pre-school “Curriculum” that ignored the mother tongue. Is institutional memory this short? So short that the same old suppression of the mother tongue continues, even in pre-schools?

 This policy of not using the mother tongue as medium then, in turn, becomes the cause for or the excuse for further suppression at the level of individual schools and teachers.

 Further repression comes when children do speak their own language – their own mother tongue – as they will do quite naturally. Teachers often manage to accomplish this repression by “gently correcting” the child for speaking his or her mother tongue. Or a teacher may repeatedly reply to a child in the language of the school. A teacher may even use no more than a disapproving look. These tactics are bad enough.

 Sometimes, children are flatly told not to speak “vulgar Kreol”. Teachers are, in effect, calling the child “vulgar”. And calling their mother and father “vulgar”. And denouncing their whole world as “vulgar”. It means, at an even more alarming level, that the child is being prevented from thinking/speaking/listening to others in his or her own natural language. This means the school is harming the child’s cognitive development, a very dynamic development that takes place quite naturally in the mother tongue.

 One step worse is when Kreol is discouraged not because it is supposedly just “vulgar” (a matter of taste), but because it is supposedly “not a language at all” but “a mere patois”. Why this “reason” is even worse is evident: the defining characteristic of our humanity is our natural linguistic ability (whether spoken or signed), and if we are accused of having “no language”, this means our humanity is being denied. This was, of course we should mention, the kind of daily violence meted out by colonization. But Mauritius has been independent for nearly 50 years now. So, this suppression of the mother tongue, now known to be so harmful to little children, just cannot be allowed to continue, while we pretend it is not happening.

 But, the worst we have seen in the post-Independence period is the written prohibition of Kreol in a Pre-School in Curepipe. This pre-school is presumably recognized by the Ministry of Education. In Le Defi, 18 February 2016 under the title “Evolution du prescolaire: Ces petits qui apprennent comme des grands”, we read: “A Kidzone Nursery/Pre-Primary School, à Curepipe … [d]ans le bureau de la directrice, une pancarte indique les règles en vigueur à l’école … “Il ne faut pas parler créole”. Horrific as this written violence is, we must remember that it is the tip of the iceberg. It is not enough for this school to remove its sign. We must all rise up against this colonial abuse of children – in both its extreme forms (written up on a sign in a pre-school), in its bureaucratic form (the archaic Regulation) and in its lazy form (a Minister who refuses to take her responsibility). We need a new policy that respects children’s rights and freedoms.

 Why we blame the Education Minister

We blame the Minister of Education, Hon. Leela-Devi Dookhun. She has the legal power to use her discretion and introduce Mauritian Kreol and Bhojpuri as medium. Here is what the archaic 1957 Regulation says: “Medium of instruction…: In the lower classes of Government and aided primary schools up to and including Standard III, any one language may be employed as the medium of instruction, being a language which in the opinion of the Minister is most suitable for the pupils.” A change would at once remove the pressure on pre-schools to ban the mother tongue. For the higher standards, the Regulations need to be changed.

 The suppression of the mother tongue in schools also leads, tragically, to mothers falsely believing that they must, in turn, suppress their own mother tongue and that of their child. They deprive their own child of proper human language – which is developed vastly through long conversations in the mother tongue between mother and child.


Ledikasyon pu Travayer