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Alain Ah-Vee for LPT speaks at CSU Event at University of Mauritius


LPT members present have submitted this report for the LALIT web-page readers:

 Alain Ah-Vee was amongst those on the panel at the event organized by the Creole Speaking union and the University of Mauritius on 22 October at the Burrenchobay Hall in the run-up to World Kreol Language Day. He spoke in the name of Ledikasyon pu Travayer. The 28 October was decreed World Kreol Language Day at an international meeting held in Seychelles in 1982, attended by Vinesh Hookoomsing and Lindsey Collen from Mauritius, and has been celebrated by Ledikasyon pu Travayer since 1983, and by the Mauritian State since the 1980s when Armoogum Parsooramen was Minister of Education.

 The theme of the day was “Lang maternel ek drwa zanfan Moris pou enn ledikasion epanwi: ki bilan e ki perspektiv dan lansegnman maternel, primer, segonder ek tersier?” (“The Mother Tongue and Rights of the Child in Mauritius to an Enlightening Education: Accomplishments, Hopes and Plans for pre-school, primary, secondary and tertiary Teaching.”)

 The formula for the two panels of the morning was two chairs, Dr. Bosquet-Ballah and Ms. Chan-Meetoo, who ask questions of the four speakers, in turn, in each panel. It does not allow much space for actual debate, and tends to keep things superficial, but despite this formula, the panels were very interesting and enriching.

 Alain Ah-Vee

Alain Ah-Vee was asked to speak on the 2009 Ledikasyon pu Travayer International Hearing on the Harm Done to Children by the Suppression of the Mother Tongue in Schools. He replied how, after hearing some 50 witnesses from all walks of life, the Findings of the international jury panel were astounding: harm of many kinds was being done (and still is): cognitive harm, emotional harm, cultural harm, in particular. In answer to the second question, Alain said how, although LPT for its first 20 years had concentrated on the advantages of Kreol for working class children, “we had a change in position” 20 years ago, when we began to realize to what extent the harm is, in fact, done to all children, children of the elite as well as the children of the working classes. While working class children do badly at school in large numbers, children of the elite do well only by relying upon rote-learning rather than understanding. He said that the UNESCO definition of literacy is to be able to read and write a paragraph with comprehension. This is the problem in Mauritius. The percentage of us who do not understand what we read or write – with any degree of precision. He also said by suppressing the mother tongue in schools, the State is reducing children to silence.

 The entire event constituted a fitting celebration, at the level of the University of Mauritius, of the 35th year since the World Kreol Language Day was first instituted. As a background there were exhibition-sale of publications in Kreol by the CSU and LPT.

 The event as a whole

After an introduction by Ms. Gaelle Bass of the Creole Speaking union, Arnaud Carpooran delivered an opening speech as President of the CSU and also as Dean of the Faculty of Social Science and Humanities, thus hosting the event. He said this year, emphasis was being put on children’s right to education, and he welcomed, in particular, the Ombudsperson for Children’s very important Annual Report, with its large section devoted to Kreol and culminating in the need for Kreol to be used as medium in schools. On another tack, he explained his strategy for advancing the Kreol language with an anecdote. He could not do much when he did not have any power, but once he got his doctorate and his job, he was in a position of power, and only then could everything go ahead for the recognition of Mauritian Kreol, especially at the University. This showed a rather curious view of history as being something determined very much from-the-top-down, very much a view of his personal role, and also an apparent inability to see what existed before his advent.

 This part of Dr. Carpoooran’s speech was in sharp contrast to most other speakers on the panels and from the floor. The Ombudsperson for Children Ms. Rita Venkatasamy, the MIE representative Ms. Beatrice Antonio-Francoise, Mr. Toshanand Beekarry for the Mauritius Examinations Syndicate, and Mr. Menon Muneean, in the name of the Ministry of Education, did not rely upon the State, but, interestingly, put emphasis on the need for us all who love the Kreol to language to go out and convince the population, mobilize parents and teachers, in favour. They said we need to mobilize everybody we possibly can in order, for example, to produce more and more written materials in Kreol and in order to encourage parents to sign their children up in large numbers for the optional Mauritian Kreol classes at both primary and secondary level. They all, like LPT, stress the importance of people developing a demand for education in Kreol, and expressing it, rather than imposing the change from above. In a similar vein, the dynamics for the acceptation of Kreol for Cambridge School Certificate, and then for Higher School Certificate, were also explained:  enough materials need to be produced fast, and enough pupils must know to enroll. This, too, means activist work.

 The central speaker was Culture Minister Prithvirajsing Roopun, who made a heart-felt plea for Mauritian Kreol for teaching.

 Guillem Florigny, Anne-Sophie Pyanee, and Ms. Rita Venkatasamy were on the same panel as Alain Ah-Vee.

 Guillem Florigny, as an “akizisionist” shared his expertise on how children acquire knowledge and languages, and put emphasis on the importance of the medium being the mother-tongue.

 Anne-Sophie Pyanee, as a SeDEC (ex-Bureau de l’Education Catholique) teacher, said how enthusiastic children were, in her experience, in the primary school classes that teach Mauritian Kreol. In answer to a question about the community of children studying Kreol, she said that children from a variety of backgrounds increasingly opt for Kreol.  

 Introducing the Ombudsperson Ms. Rita Venkatasamy, Dr. Yannick Bosquet-Ballah, asked her how it was that she had included the Kreol language in her Annual Report for the first time. She replied that it was simply that the LPT team had, in a group, gone to see her to submit a specific complaint that children were suffering because their mother tongue Kreol was not the medium in schools. She then had to decide where the complaint was “recevable”. She found not only that it was, but that it was her statutory duty to investigate it, because the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child may be being infringed. Her staff then did their research, and found children’s free expression was perhaps being infringed, and that became the basis for her report in favour of Kreol as medium. She says the Committee under the Convention often comments on this when Mauritius submits its report.

 Before the next panel, the MES representative Mr. Beekarry, gave a riveting talk on a subject that might seem boring: examinations. What was important was to realize how people like him have to plan very far ahead, even beyond what is already policy. This is because once it become policy, it will be “urgent” all of a sudden. This is how come he is already checking on Cambridge’s reaction to a possible proposal for Kreol at SC level. He said that “language” comprehension can definitely be, and is, a hurdle added to a subject like mathematics. He also specified, in response to a question, that all Examination Papers are now “ethno-religiously” free; a language, he said, is a language. [LPT notes that colonial history produced a rather freak situation: in all primary schools at Independence in 1968 and beyond, there was a class called “catechism”, which was Catholic teachings. Non-Catholic pupils used to be sent to “zwe dan lapusyer”, as it was described. Parents complained at this “wasted time”, and instead of proposing religious instruction which they believed to be reactionary, they proposed something more neutral and flexible: another language. This was how Hindi and Urdu were first introduced, as a balance to the colonial legacy of English/French and Catechism. And then the other subjects like Tamil, Telegu, Marathi, Arabic, Mandarin, followed. The three real mother tongues – Kreol, Bhojpuri and Hakka were absent. How was that for colonial eradication of mother tongues? But, by then the optional languages, at the time also called Oriental languages, were also, in addition to being languages, identity markers.   Kreol children than had “catechism” but not a language. Full circle. At some point, Catechism was, and is, no longer taught in Government schools.]

 The second and final panel included Ms. Cindy Desalles from SeDEC (Service Diocesain de l’Education Catholique), who was asked questions about why Loretto Convent had not maintained Mauritian Kreol. She said pupils at secondary level love their classes. She also mentioned afterwards that the time allocated to Mauritian Kreol in the secondary schools that she knows is limited to 35 minutes per week if the 70 minutes cannot be accommodated. It is, she said, just not enough. (At primary school, it is 50 minutes a day!) In her speech, she also gave the historically vital information that Pre-voc BEC had used Kreol as a Medium in 10 schools and it was a resounding success.

Mr. Menon Muneean, for the Ministry, said that Mauritian Kreol would definitely be taught in Grades VII, VIII and IX, but that for SC and HSC, they were still at the stage of “koze, koze”. The timetable, however, imposes itself on the Ministry. But also depends on how we mobilize students and parents to enroll, and on producing sufficient intellectual materials. So far, he said, there are 20 State secondary schools that offer Mauritian Kreol and 17 private colleges. In 2017, there were 1,000 children registered for Grade VII. The figures for primary school enrollment have stayed remarkably stable at around 3,000 per year. Mr. Bashir Taleb from the Private Colleges said that they are consumed by many problems, and that if they can see through these problems, they are keen to introduce Mauritian Kreol in more schools.

 Beatrice Antonio-Francoise of the MIE said that they were hungry for more texts in Mauritian Kreol. Like the MES, she was thrilled that the LPT Prize for translating a classic into Kreol had produced so many varied texts. She also spoke about Rodriguan Kreol, and training. The BA course in Kreol studies, she confirmed after having recently learnt this in a Ministry Committee, is definitely continuing. 

 After lunch University students who had prepared a film on Parliament in Kreol introduced it, and gave a screening. It was fascinating. LPT representatives said that the Standing Orders in Kreol had been launched the week before. All this puts more pressure on the Government to introduce Kreol as one of the Parliamentary languages.