When listening to the Education Minister Dhookun – and just about everyone else on the Radio – talking so coldly about school children during the lockdown, concentrating so uniquely on the dratted exams, I feel rising sadness. And I feel this in empathy with young people. They must be so very angry.
How can adults reduce this crisis children are going through during the epidemic to nothing more than a fuss over exams? Is that all society cares about? Really? When children are, because of the epidemic, isolated from their friends, cooped up in the nuclear family, grounded when they want to wander around? Should we not be caring about what they feel? Or about how we can perhaps help them learn in other ways when schools are shut down?
Even for children testing positive for Covid, adults worry more about the exams than the child?
No worry for the children, themselves? Not a whit. No worry as to what they are going through, living through, all the hormonal changes they are facing alone, during this crisis – a crisis on top of other major crises for humanity, crises they are aware of, like the planet being wrecked by pollution, like nuclear wars always being imminent?
Do adults have no concern for the education of children in the true sense of the word, either? “Education” in the sense of the process of learning to think? Of learning to think so we can change the world? We learn to think with our minds. It is our minds that interpret the world outside of us, and they do it uniquely via our natural human “language capacity”. Our natural language capacity is our means of understanding the world outside of us and the world inside of us – our feelings, and our thoughts. Our natural language capacity is our mother tongue. Our natural language is also our vernacular – what we speak on the bus, at the Post Office, in break-time, in the Dispensary waiting room. In Mauritius, our mother tongue and our vernacular are both Kreol. In school, meanwhile, and in exams, our means of thinking, our means of understanding, i.e. our mother tongue, is constantly suppressed. Often in the family, to pre-empt the State’s suppression of the mother tongue, parents take upon themselves the constant, conscious task of suppressing the mother tongue. They believe they are doing good.
Education should perhaps rather be seen as the acquiring of a love of learning-to-learn. Perhaps school should be developing in children a sense of wonder about the world around us all, and the world within each of us. Perhaps a desire to understand things immense – like the universe – and things miniscule – like a virus. Perhaps we should avoid just making kids parrot-learn things off-by-heart. Perhaps gradually each child should be assisted in the construction, through the naturally perfected mother-tongue, of all the “mental structures” necessary to process and absorb new information, which, in turn, moderates existing mental structures. The absence of any respect for genuine learning, genuine education in the Mauritian education system really is a major problem. In all times it is a problem, but right now made starkly vivid by the epidemic.
The Mauritian problem is perhaps a sub-set of the problem of “the American nightmare” problem, something usually referred to as “the American dream” i.e. How my child can get ahead at the expense of other children who I don’t give a damn about? How my pupils can get ahead at the expense of other pupils? This obsession with inculcating ruthless competition into each individual child is pathological. It goes with rampant capitalism, as everyone knows. And the competition, for children and for youngsters up to about 22 years old, is measured at least once a year by endless petty hurdles for children to jump over, as if they were so many broken-in horses, and hoops to leap through, as if they were so many trained circus dogs. The hurdles and hoops are examinations. And they are the be-all and end-all of education in Mauritius today. Many people participate in this oppressing of the young by means of paternalistic “accompagnement scolaire” to make them do well in exams.
Even in the middle of an epidemic and a lockdown, that’s all education is reduced to: examinations. This is pathological. Of course, my sadness is made worse when I learn through friends that many young people, during the epidemic, are feeling depressed, some even suicidal. And knowing – from the police commissioner’s declaration and from informal figures from concerned NGOs – that there is an increase in suicides in the past year, and also in serious attempts at suicide. The association Befrienders might not yet have their WAPs up and running for their hotline 800 9393, but meanwhile any young person, or anyone at all, having desperate thoughts can contact them on WhatsApp on 5 483 7233 or on their Facebook Page. Two friends are amongst those volunteers who take calls.
Meanwhile, it is perhaps useful, during lockdown, to play with a sibling or spend time with a dog at home. Or to regularly take 10 minutes of exercise of any kind twice a day. Perhaps keep an hour or so fixed each day to read a proper book. And why not consider planting a seed in a little tin can? And watch it germinate? Take time to study a leaf from the hedge, maybe. Or to look in wonder at the planets and stars at night. And not spend too much time on social media. Remember we are already on DAY NINE. We need, however, to prepare for the long haul. In a sense, we are only on DAY NINE. So, let’s pace ourselves well. And young people can perhaps think about the following:
1. Learning is important. Learning anything new. Passing exams is not important, relative to the importance of understanding something differently. Doing well in exams is not at all important – it may reflect no more than that you have rote-learnt something. Remember that we learn to think when we are relaxed. We learn playfully. We learn through our mother tongue, our tool for thinking.
2. It is fun to learn how to think – study a bit of logic on-line, for example, and then do exercises that you can make up for yourself. Try learning to think about thinking. Do this in your mother-tongue, Kreol.
3. Try writing down – in Kreol, with any old spelling – your emotions. Write down what you feel, analyze it. For example, an essay for your friends in Kreol on “What I hate most about lockdown” or “What I can’t stand about school”. Send it to them. On a good day, you might write on “A little thing that made me happy.”
4. Try writing a text on exactly where you are: which part of which room of which house on which street in which neighbourhood of which town of which island in which country in which part of the globe in which part of the solar system in which part of the universe. At any point, expand, describe, narrate, analyze. Put it out there!
Good luck! Let’s change the world soon by getting together to do so. That of course is why people like me are in the women’s movement, the housing struggle and best of all, Lalit.