153 Main Road,
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1 March 2006
Dr. N. Ramgoolam, Prime Minister,
The debate on education has again got bogged down in the communal trenches that history has dug for us. And communal trenches are places where ordinary people fight out battles between elites. But this situation is not "inevitable" - even if the "troc communal" the two MMM-MSM Select Committees created was a time bomb with two fuses that arsonist elites are once again cynically lighting.
Human beings can change the course of history. And we write to you, because we believe you have a role.
In Lalit, we believe that these times are particularly dangerous in terms of a communal flare-up. We refer to the imminent economic crisis. Sugar is threatened, and solutions to the crisis are so far sought only in further sackings, which make for further social crisis. The textile bosses prepare a new round of sackings. Government is not filling vacant posts. The cyber-city dreams fade fast. The illness Chikungunya exposes the tourist industry's inherent fragility for all to see. Social problems like intra-familial violence are erupting everywhere in the face of the economic nightmare that people's future seems to hold for them. It is no time for communal strife.
Lalit wishes, by this letter to call for a twin-action: that, in the interests of all children, Government at once freeze the Gokhool Plan, and BEC at the same time reverts to its initial position of converting its four "star" colleges into Form-6-only-colleges.
These two actions then make way for identifying ways to raise standards immediately in all primary schools and all colleges to the level of the highest - in both academic terms, and of all-round development of the individual child. Lalit has a specific proposal to make that we believe is the best, fairest, easiest, most reliable way of moving towards all-round high level education in all schools in the national system.
But before coming to that let us briefly see why we are asking for this twin action from Government and the Church.
Once the Church in 2002, in a totally illogical reaction to the Privy Council Judgment, withdrew from the Obeegadoo Reform and decided to maintain its old "star" colleges as Form I-6 colleges, thus maintaining the "star colleges" in one part of the national education system, this inevitably set in motion pressure for what was to become the Gokhool Plan. The Gokhool plan entrenches all the other "star colleges" to re-establish a semblance of balance, given the 50% reserved places the Church holds on to in its schools. In the meantime, however, it is an irony of history that the BEC colleges have come up with interesting pedagogical developments in terms of "mixed ability" intake and interesting forms of quotas of admissions from different primary schools in the relevant zones not unlike those begun by the Parsuramen Reform.
We need to understand that the Catholic Schools are in the strange position of being part of "national education" and also controlled by a religious hierarchy. Even more important, in Mauritius the Catholic Church was, and in globalization times is once again more than ever, the religion of the ruling class. In Mauritius, the ruling class's religion is not the religion of the whole people, either.
Historically, the ethos of the confessional colleges reflected their being the schools for children of the ruling class: there was neither competition to get in, as the schools took children the ruling class wanted admitted, nor was there competition to get jobs afterwards, as the private sector was passed down through inheritance and senior jobs were reserved for children from these colleges. Before Le Bocage and other private colleges existed, the entire ruling classes' children went to the Catholic colleges. Once the children finished school, they went on to perpetuate the ruling class by either taking over the family business, or getting top private sector jobs. Education ensured that privilege passed from one generation to another in a stable feudal manner. The existing economic elite was able to reproduce itself. There was no need for competition.
The Government colleges have a totally different class history. At first only the Royal College, then more and more colleges, came to be the means by which the children of people who were not owners of anything much, rose from the upper echelons of the working class (like sirdars, skilled artisans) as well as from small planters and traders into clerical and professional white collar jobs. There was an initial vacuum left by the departing British civil servants and by the elite fleeing Gaetan Duval's scare campaign against Independence. Mobility was organized through competition. Cut-throat competition for admission (CPE exam results) and cut-throat competition to get scholarships to study abroad and to get Government jobs afterwards (through rigid objective criteria like number of points at HSC, and so many subjects at one sitting).
The Obeegadoo Reform aimed to do away with "elitism" in both parts of the system. But in 2002, the Church withdrew, and all of its colleges once again put the bottle-neck at Form I, keeping their 50% reserved places and thus continuing to perpetuate sections of the elite in their old way. Their withdrawal left the Government colleges at, what many felt, a disadvantage, in terms of recruiting the academic elite. So, political pressure produced the Gokhool Plan that creates objectively earmarked "Star Schools" for the academic "elite". Unbridled competiton, worse than ever, is back. No more debate on modern pedagogy. No more debate on literacy for all. No more debate on a mother-tongue based multi-lingual education that every pedagogue in the world now knows it best.
What Lalit proposes
Lalit proposes that with the BEC Form 6 colleges re-instated, and with the Gokhool Plan frozen, there be established a quota for all scholarships to Universities abroad and here, the same number going to each "Form-VI-only" college. A system for working out the order in which different scholarships are allocated on a round-robin basis can easily be agreed upon. In a way this is nothing new. The system of quotas is already firmly established within the system: there is a 50% quota for girls or boys, and a quota for Rodrigues. The dynamic our proposal will set in motion is what is interesting. This is why we say the system is in the interests of all children. Within a couple of years it will make all the colleges become "star colleges", as parents and students study how it is worthwhile for them to seek out and improve less popular Form 6 colleges. Demand to get into the different colleges will tend to be more regionally spread, so as to get a higher chance to get a scholarship.
Similarly, from Form 5 to Form 6 colleges, there should be a quota from each Form 5 college for admission into the Form 6 college of their choice in their zone, based on SC results. Already, the pressure on the Form 6 existing "star colleges" will be less once students know that scholarships from a certain year onwards will be awarded per school.
And similarly, each primary school should have a quota of first choices for getting into Form I of their choice in their whole region. Again this will make schools that are in 2006 expected to be "low achievers" very quickly attract "high achievers" whose parents will help raise the standard of the entire school. The bottleneck into Form 1-5 colleges can be expected to reduce drastically in any case because of the quotas at college level. For such a quota system per primary school to work, MES would have to name the top 4-8 students in each primary school, from amongst those with A's (and in the case of schools that will only start picking up from now onwards, A's and perhaps B's). This means that competition will be reduced to the socially manageable level of the school itself, where teachers, students and parents are able to control it.
In general there will be a series of wonderful effects:
A nivellement par la haut of primary schools and colleges.
A brisk tendency towards voluntary regionalization of intakes at all levels.
An end to the fraud and lies (used so as to get into "better schools", while ruining the entire education system).
Competition will fall under ordinary social control.
It will no longer be necessary to have ZEP schools, as all schools will become good schools.
Rural primary schools will improve up to the level of the 10 "best" primary schools which are almost all urban, and to which
Gokhool's Plan would have continued in practice to accord almost all places in the "Star Colleges".
There will be a flowering of debate on how to make education better for children's overall development, and changes will be able to be implemented more easily.
All schools will become "mixed abilities" schools with high level education.
There will be a strong move towards improving the archaic teaching methods still in use.
Rote-learning, repression and stress will give way to children's learning to think, be creative, to deal with complicated concepts, in a context of respect for their human rights and in a humane, caring environment.
When, in addition, the mother-tongue is no longer banned as it is in the irrational stampede of competition, 100% literacy and numeracy will be attained in all primary schools.
If other people can imagine mechanisms that will work to bring about this kind of generalized raising of standards, it would be wonderful to debate these ideas too.
In the meantime, we call on you to freeze the Gokhool Plan, and to request the Church to decide whether it wishes to be in the national system and, if so, that it participate in changes towards a more democratic form of intake for 100% of its students and of students to Government schools.
Alain Ah Vee
Copy: Bishop Maurice Piat