The implementation of the 9-Years Continuous Education Reform Plan of the MSM-ML Government has reached a crucial phase. This month, October 2017, primary school children are sitting exams for their main subjects (English, French, Mathematics) in the first-ever round of PSAC (Primary School Achievement Certificate), which replaces the much reviled CPE (Certificate of Primary Education).
Next year, instead of “Form I”, there will be Grade 7.
Yet, disquiet, even misunderstandings and some protests, persist amongst parents, teachers and school managers. In September, the secondary school trade union UPSEE protested that they had not yet got the books prescribed by the Ministry for Grade 7. The “confessional” teachers’ union (SPSTSU) also protested that they had not been given the final program for 2018 that they had requested months ago from the Ministry. It is customary that, from the beginning of the 3rd trimester, colleges finalize their list of prescribed texts in different subjects for the next year.
The organization of college managers (MPSSU) has had recourse to swearing an affidavit for a Judicial Review against the Government decision to insist upon 5 “Credits” in order to get into Lower VI; they want it to be 3 not 5.
All the problems surrounding the inplementation of the Reform Plan expose the Government’s lack of proper preparation, lack of courage to bring in the real changes needed and lack of a clear, shared vision. There are just so many weaknesses not addressed that it makes the Reform Plan itself weak.
No Frank Admission of the Failure of the Existing System?
The Plan was constructed on the Education Minister Dookhun’s belief that the Mauritian education system is already doing well. It ignores the crying need for fundamental change.
She says that the present system “performs well” (see Revi Lalit No. 120). This is a give-away, because one of the problems of the education system is precisely its focus on children’s “performance”. In particular how they “perform” at the examinations, like the CPE and HSC. All the adulation and media coverage around results and the endless pumping up of the “laureates” has nurtured this obsession with “performance”. The Plan takes no account of damning reports, whether the Ledikasyon pu Travayer International Hearing into the Harm Done to Children by the Suppression of the Mother-Tongues in Schools (2009), the employers in the CyberCity or even the internationally ubiquitous PISA-OECD report on reading with understanding (2014).
Flowing from the Minister’s positive judgment on the “performance” of the education system, the Reform was bound to be superficial. Its ambition is merely to improve the examination system, reduce pressure on the primary school age children, which is a good thing, but no more than that. It does not even put emphasis on ensuring that all children learn to read, write, and do basic mathematics, let alone learn to think critically or be creative. It does not even mention the criticism of the low levels of English and French language proficiency that the bosses in the “cyber” sector have spotted. And no mention of the real nurturing of the love of learning.
The Minister does not even see the big picture, but instead looks just at how to reduce competition at the time of examinations. This, of course, leads to her, inter alia, ignoring both the pre-primary sector (so thwarted by the subtle and not so subtle banning of the mother tongues) and the tertiary sector, which is increasingly no more than dozens of commercially run techno-commerce institutes dressed up as universities. It is a plan made up of a few administrative measures that a few Education Ministry technicians have cobbled together. There is a lot of emphasis on who will get access to the Academies, or be left at Regional or vocational schools.
Pressure for “the best” colleges
Even with the PSAC exam, the Reform Plan will not really reduce pressure for the so-called “better colleges”. It is true that exam pressure will be less, but as Vinod Seegum, President of the GTU told Revi Lalit when asked for a declaration, “the bottle-neck when children seek the better high schools remains untouched”. Admission to Grade 7 will next year once again be based on the same criteria as before: the results of the student, the choice of the parents, and the nearness of the home to the school. Although there will fortunately not be ranking any more, there will still be a system of grading (1 to 5), keeping the age-old emphasis on “performance”. Children who get the best grades will get more choice of college, and thus potentially “better” colleges. But there is another problem here. The fact that the Catholic Church, which is part of the national education system, has withdrawn from the plan to convert its colleges into Academies, means that there will no doubt be pressure for places in colleges like St Esprit and Loretta Convents. The fact that these colleges are mainly in the towns, means once again rural children will be at a disadvantage. In any case, there are still areas without State Secondary Schools. All this puts pressure on colleges that have always been considered the best.
The 9-Year Schooling Reform Plan mentions not a word on the fact that although 50 years have passed since Independence, there is no attempt to get rid of colonial remnants. There is nothing proposed that would be in favour of using the mother tongue as medium for teaching content subjects like Science and Maths, History and Georgraphy. Even if it is a victory that finally Kreol Morisien is taught as an optional subject in primary school, and from next year, in colleges, too, the old 1957 Education Regulation remains on the statute books: Kreol can be used merely as a kind of “aid” in primary school, not as medium.