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Wise before the event: An 2001, LALIT ti predir seki pe ariv plan Obeegadoo zordi


Nu ena plezir repibliye enn lartik ki Lindsey Collen, lor nom LALIT, ti ekrir lor plan Obeegadoo e ki ti pibliye dan Le Mauricien 31 Me, 2001. Lartik la predir ki pu ena gran lopozisyon a plan Obeegadoo ek ti osi predir lor ki baz sa lopozisyon la pu fer.



We are living a sharp contradiction. Peeled down, the philosophy of economic liberalism and capitalist globalization is that "competition is a good thing"; indeed that it may be the only "good thing" in the universe. The present government spends most of its time flattering this economic liberalism, capitalist globalization and its philosophy.
And yet, at this exact moment of capitalist globalization, the present "economy" in Mauritius is dictating that the Government's education policy should go flat against liberalist philosophy.

The cruelty of exposing young children to the ruthless competition in the education system has long been exposed and generally condemned. But now the pressure for drastic change away from competition in education is coming from one main place: the capitalist "economy", itself. Panic about unemployment is, quite rightly, rife in the intelligentsia, and more particularly, in government. Ex-Minister of Education, Kadress Pillay, was the first to try to address this problem. He met with resistance of all kinds, and failed. Now Minister Obeegadoo is trying.

Looking backwards into history, we see that our present education system, inherited from the plantation economy of the colonial epoch, was geared to providing a small professional and administrative elite while at the same time condemning the vast majority of young people to cheap unskilled labour. At the present stage of capitalist globalization, there are now different pressures.

Firstly, the economy no longer demands that the education system "choose" 50% of our children to be good for nothing but "cutting cane" or "working in the free zone". Why? Quite simply because both these major sectors are heading for massive reductions in jobs. The only new jobs in any numbers that Government can conceive of are to be in the computer or computer-related sector, a sector which, as it happens, demands very high levels of education. This means, in effect, that we need very high levels of education for all children.

Secondly, the economy no longer demands that the education system chooses bright intellectual children "objectively" through nerve-racking competition to become white-collar civil servants in Government and Parastatals jobs, because quite simply, with all the privatization, the bosses will control almost all jobs and, as usual, they, unlike the state apparatus, have no need to seem to be "fair" and will thus continue to choose whoever they want to, to work for them. Examinations will no longer be needed so badly to arrange social mobility. In any case, the bourgeoisie, itself as a whole, and even whole layers of the petty bourgeoisie as well, have safely taken their children into the paying private sector, where Le Bocage, Ecole du Nord, Lycee Labourdonnais and others ply their trade, preparing "the elite of tomorrow", in a class system heading to become a "virtual caste system".

All this at least puts an end to the pretense that competition through examinations (by providing the "ladder" for social mobility) is a sufficient moral justification for social inequality.

Inequality is now left without philosophical or moral justification. It is just a matter of brute force now.

But then this new economic imperative to educate every child comes along and gaily undermines the capitalist ethic itself. This is what is typically known as an internal contradiction. Because one side of the contradiction demands a good education for every child, it can only be a good thing.

The first change, already going ahead, is the excellent one of an increase in the number and variety of subjects at primary school; so that children will have nine or ten subjects (English, French, Mathematics, Computer (IT), Science, History & Geography, Hygiene & Physical Education, Citizens Education, The Arts, and, optionally, an Oriental language and/or religious education). All this will thoroughly modernize primary education, broaden all children's horizons. Oriental languages will no longer coincide with religious instruction, and catching-up classes will be offered in schools. Continuous assessment will be used to complement the examination system. All that is missing is that content-subjects be taught through a language that children already understand. This essential point (using Kreol as medium) was boldly addressed by Kadress Pillay in the first edition of his plan. The use of the Kreol language as medium is now supported by almost all pedagogues, as well as people from very different political currents, not just ours i.e. Rama Valayden, Dev Virahsawmy, Mario Flore.

The second change is one which is causing some strong reactions: It is the Obeegadoo Plan to do away with competition, by abolishing CPE ranking and converting the "star secondary schools" into HSC Schools, at the same time as encouraging regionalized intake into Form I-V secondary schools. The Obeegadoo Plan also states Government's intention to build 49 new secondary schools in all the five regions.

The aim of this change is clearly that every child gets a "good" secondary education, at least up to Form V. This is a fine aim. A good side-effect of this change is that "more" schooling will lower the expected growing unemployment, quite simply by keeping the youth inside school buildings. It also aims at keeping children "off the streets", where they might tend to get into riots more often, as inequality gets worse.
However, there are basically FIVE forms of opposition to the Plan, often expressed by overlapping interest groups:

Firstly, the Catholic Church Hierarchy has opposed it by means, at first, of "delay". It may also refuse to convert its "star schools" into Form VI Colleges, thus undermining the entire plan. Unless, of course, the Church agrees to go "private" and to start taking fees for its colleges as it already does for its feeder schools.

Secondly, there are those who oppose the 50% "places reservés" which the Plan, rather irresponsibly, ignores altogether. Should this practice of places reservés continue while the colleges remain subsidized from public money, it is going to be a "fatal error" to any plan for nation-wide education, even though there is no longer to be ranking. The arrangement of "places reservés" was never "just" nor "justifiable"; but now the pressure against this practice will be very strong, since the supposed "balancing troc" of Oriental Languages "counting for ranking" will no longer be operative, once ranking is abolished.

Thirdly, there are those who agree with the "competition ethos" itself, saying, quite rightly, that it allows at least some upward social mobility. Of course there are students who agree with the competition ethos. Are they not brainwashed about the glories of brute competition from morning to night? What is surprising is that there are not more capitalist ideologues who agree with the competition ethos when it comes to schooling. Their refusal to defend this particular form of competition may be linked to their reluctance to risk having their own children "re-sorted downwards by education" in this cruel class society we live in: Middle class incomes do not often stretch to the level of the school fees prevailing in the paying private sector.

Fourthly, there are those who criticise the plan, quite rightly, for not including anything about improving the level of teaching, improving work conditions for teachers and other staff.

Fifthly, there are those who criticize the Obeegadoo Plan because they defend the Confessional schools, despite not agreeing with the 50% reserved places. These are people who see that the Confessional schools have maintained a broader view of "education" i.e. developing a young person in all spheres including arts, sports, debates, social work, as part of the school ethos, while schools like Royal College Curepipe and QEC have gradually lost this completely to the overwhelming ethos of purely academic competition between students.

The Obeegadoo Plan is both too drastic and too static. It is drastic in that it sweeps away the one justification of liberalism (i.e. a chance of upward mobility), without offering any replacement in exchange, and in that it involves the apparent destruction of what is perceived as the "best" of the present system (i.e. the star schools).
But it is perhaps the Plan's "stasis" that is aggravating opposition to it. And this is why people talk of the Plan leveling education downwards - because it may well end up doing this, unless some sort of mechanism can be introduced to cause the leveling to be done upwards (nivellement par le haut).

The Government, other people argue, could have just gone ahead and set up 49 brand new colleges in the space of a few years. But in Lalit we would say that this obviously would not address the problem of mindless competition for admission to the already established "star schools".

THE NEED FOR A MECHANISM THAT EQUALIZES EDUCATION "UPWARDS" Lalit believes that Minister Obeegadoo needs to introduce, at the same time as the institutional changes he proposes, a mechanism which will raise the level of education a) in all primary schools, b) in all lower secondary schools and c) in all upper secondary schools i.e. a mechanism which would, of itself, tend to equalize the level of education for every child in the country. This is what would respond to the need for every child to be able to be educated enough to use a computer. This is what would respond to the deeper need for every child to be able to be educated enough to think, create, reason, imagine, and develop as a human being. The mechanism would also need to be one that can predict and prevent any possible "rushes" to certain Lower Secondary Colleges in each region. It is quite probable that such "rushes" would, once again, develop and would, once again, perpetuate "star schools", but this time on a regional basis (a regional rat-race). However, this time around, there would no longer be even the relative justification of "ranking" to give children from poor and/or rural areas a chance. The situation would then be a dangerous one - genuine "exclusion" would give way to multi-communal pressures very fast (the hawks await this), and the entire country will be in trouble.

We believe that, as the Plan stands, it WILL create new "Form I-V star schools" because we live in a class society, where there is a certain degree of geographic inequality built-in. The Government will be hard-put to allocate children to these "new star schools " once there is no ranking.

We propose something quite simple. But with wonderful dynamics. These dynamics will obligatorily work in such a way as to raise the quality of education in general - curiously what we are suggesting will raise the level at the school that the children are leaving as much as at the school that the children are moving up into.

Let us explain.

Government, at the same time as its Plan, must open up a generalized region-wide "quota" system in THREE LAYERS, with an interactive effect on primary schools, and both levels of college.

We assume that the term "star school" traditionally meant "college that produces students who win scholarships for university, especially overseas."
We propose that the first measure the Government implements, as soon as its Form VI Colleges begin, is to offer all university scholarships on a quota-by-Form VI College basis. Each college will have a maximum and a minimum number of overseas scholarships, and University of Mauritius scholarships.

The effect of this measure will at once be to make "clever" students and "capable" parents want to share themselves out to the maximum degree, so as to increase their chances of these much-sought-after scholarships.

The immediate effect would be to raise and equalize the performance of Form VI Colleges. There will probably also be an effect of encouraging a degree of specialization (science or arts or commerce or computer studies) in different Form VI Colleges which will be known for scholarships in one or the other. This would also be positive.

The second measure we propose is a similar one at the level of Form V: The Government should, as soon as the Form I-V colleges are set up, already inform all parents that admission to FORM VI colleges will be on a quota basis from Form V Secondary Schools.

This means that each Form V College will get its share of places in Form VI colleges. Again, the immediate effect is that "clever" students and "capable" parents will work so as to share themselves out to a maximum degree, so as to increase their chances of getting into the quota for choice of a Form VI college. Though there is clearly still a residual emphasis on some form of competition, the competition will now be at the level of the College only, and thus under social control, while the real benefit will be the raising of the standard of the whole school - by getting very capable parents organizing all the PTA's.

The third measure we propose is again similar, but at the level of the transition from Primary to Secondary School.

There should be a quota for each primary school for first choice for places in Form I in lower secondary colleges in the region: Let us say 10 places based on grades and place of residence. (With computers, all these exercises are easy.) The immediate effect would be to raise and equalize the standard of ALL primary schools.

The way that this would work is again very simple. Very capable parents would soon spread their children out over all the primary schools in their own region, calculating that in schools with lower achievement at the moment, there would be more chance of their child doing relatively well enough to get a good place in the move up to a Form I college. These capable parents would then act constructively by working to bring the standard of the primary school up, rather than doing the "traditional" things like falsify CEB Bills to trick the existing zoning regulations, and creating "star" primary schools in so doing. The effect of what we are proposing would be to improve all the schools. In the medium-run there would be a self-regulatory, rather than imposed, tendency to regionalize.
Strangely enough, the existence of this system will probably in a few years mean that there will no longer be a "rush", and the quotas will not need to be resorted to too much. Parents and students will naturally prefer, in primary and lower secondary anyway, to go to the nearest school.

With the quota system and its reduction of competition to the socially-controllable level of each school, education will, once again, be able to broaden its scope. In the same way as curriculum changes will have broadened Primary Education, it will become possible to broaden secondary education again. Colleges will be able to offer courses in Chess, Bridge, culinary arts, all kinds of sports to high levels, music and music appreciation classes, art and art-appreciation classes, extra languages, crafts, creative writing, poetry appreciation, computer hardware workshops. Democracy will permit the election of a classroom committee to organize debates, play-readings, neighbourhood social work, autonomous study groups, and even school dinners and formal outings.

In this scheme of things, the Church should, we believe, decide either to open up all its places to this kind of regionalized quota system, which gives a fair amount of leeway, and also to give their assent to a "Non-discrimination Regulation" being enforced at the same time, or alternatively to convert its colleges into private ones, run on fees like Le Bocage, and no longer to rely on any public funding. Or maybe they will decide to integrate some colleges into the Plan, and convert others into private, paying ones. What will be interesting for everyone is that the "scenario" that the Church Authorities opt for, will make their "educational project" more transparent.

We believe that one of the main weaknesses of the Obeegadoo Plan stems from its cowardice on the issue of Confessional Schools. Instead of addressing the reality of the legacy of the difficult conundrum of these so-called "Confessional" schools, Minister Obeegadoo just refers to them in a two-line, erroneous amalgamation on the very last page of his plan. He describes the education system as being made of two parts: public state schools and private schools, including Confessional schools. He fails to recognize that there is an existing three-storeyed secondary system,
(i) Public Colleges run with public funds, where non-discrimination laws prevail.
(ii) Private fee-paying colleges, which the Constitution gives the right to exist if they use their own funds.
(iii) Colleges managed privately but with public funds, including the Confessional Colleges, where non-discrimination laws not only do not prevail, but also have been resisted by the Catholic Church Hierarchy in the past.

And the problem lies with this last category, neither public nor private. This hybrid was, as everyone knows, the legacy of the fact that in every victory, there is also an element of defeat. The May '75 student uprising brought the victory of "free secondary education for all", but it contained the "defeat" of this hybrid left-over, which has dogged all attempts to change the education system further, for over 25 years.
The policy should be simple. If schools are run on public funds, they are part of the nation-wide system and they accept non-discrimination rules, regionalization, the quotas, and the recourse, when necessary, to grades for selection within this framework.

In order to bring positive changes, the Minister needs a policy based on clearly enunciated principles, not the rather shoddy tactics the MSM-MMM has come up with, of pressurizing and maneuvering. And these sorts of tactics, unfortunately, tend to leave space for the hideous communalization of the education issue that has dogged history, since the 1810 slave-time agreement between Britain and the French plantocracy, all the way to the more recent continued oppression of all non-colonial languages. We certainly do not want the nation-wide education system to end up being more and more divisive, rather than more and more inclusive.

The quota system has for a long time been seen as "fair" in Mauritius.
Girls and boys, for example, have had "quotas" for British Scholarships.
Each JSS has received a quota of two students from every primary school in its area, and this measure introduced by Minister Parsooramen was one of the most popular political decisions ever taken by a Minister of Education. It was felt to be a direct show of confidence in the broad masses of the people living in poor and/or rural areas, and has always been appreciated with great warmth.

Island of Rodrigues schools have improved greatly (with better results than Island of Mauritius) since they benefited from a quota system.

We thus believe that it is this kind of quota system, so easy to operate, that will prove the good will of the government to those who (quite rightly in a way) fear that loss of competition will risk converting Mauritius from a "class" society to a "virtual caste" society where the children of the privileged are the only ones who have a chance of, in turn, being privileged. This, even in the state-run system.

As usual, however, the problem everyone is grappling with, is how to make education equal for all the children of the country when we live in an unequal "class" society. And the contradiction is, in some ways, thus, the usual one. But, the cruelty of a class society becomes so clearly morally reprehensible when we apply its ordinary philosophy to innocent little children that it is unbearable. It is a mirror to the ugliness of inequality.
And this is what makes it so important that we do work at making education less competitive, more equal for all, and also, in the medium term, that we work towards a single, excellent, nation-wide education system for all our children. It is part of the struggle for more equality in the whole of society.

Lindsey Collen
For LALIT, 31st May, 2001