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Playgroup: Open Letter to the Minister of Education


On the occasion of World Literacy Day, celebrated on the 8th September, the Federation of Pre-School Playgroups sent an open letter to the Minister of Education. Copies of the letter, were also addressed to; the Prime Minister; the Minister of Finance; the Speaker & Members of the National Assembly; the Leader of the Opposition; LALIT; the Vice Chancellor, UOM; the Director MCA; the Director MGI; the Director MES; and the media. Below is the content of the letter.

World Literacy Day, 08 September 2008

40 years of Independence: Need we rejoice on how literate we have come to be?

Dear Minister,

Is our State an Island or the State of Mauritius?
Mauritius is a Republic since 1992, consisting of several islands, archipelagoes, territorial sea, continental shelf and economic zone. And, although we are celebrating the 40th Independence anniversary of our country this year, the name "Ile Maurice" persists from French colonial times. Why? People continue to use this appellation when referring to the State, the country, the polity. Ministers use the Mauritian Creole language, what should by now be the national language, only when they want "to get through to people what they mean". English is the language of Parliament until today. The degree to which our minds are colonised is shocking.

The appellation "Lil Moris" is used in the Kreol language by Ministers and Members of Parliament. It is persistently used. The Prime Minister, for example, on television (TV) in his Independence day speech used this word to name the country. The Leader of the Opposition on (TV) refers to 'enn tipti Lil dan Losean Indyen' following the visit of Marianne Fischer Boel, the European Commisioner for Agriculture and Rural Development. The Minister of Finance has a whole programme for a billion dollars called "Maurice, Ile durable". The way misconception seeps in from the top to state wide level, in a hierarchy, becomes obvious.
This "an Island", then gets to be a special kind of island when national reporters and broadcasters generalize the concept of our Republic being not just an Island State, but also a "Francophone island"

The European Commisioner uses words more carefully, (l'Express, 07.09.08): 'Nous avons une envelope d'un milliard d'euros pour veiller a la securite alimentaire dans les pays en voie de developpement. Pour que Maurice puisse etre eligible a ce programme, il faudrait qu'elle joue la carte de petit etat insulaire et de sa vulnerabilite en tant que tel.' Presumably a "small island state" could, in the mind of the European Commissioner, be composed of many small islands. But note the words "joue la carte", implying to play for money. Which brings us to a question, and one that is pertinent on World Literacy Day:

Are Policy decisions that relate to education and particularly to literacy taken as a result of neo-colonial strategies, rather than for cognitive development of the school leaving population? The present policy deciders, the Minister of Education and the Minister of Finance, support what French 'co-operants' pedagogical advisers recommended in the 80s (i.e. during the first year at the Pre-school stage) the mother tongue can be used, but the child needs, according to them, to be prepared, through being talked to in French, for reading and writing in French at Primary school level. How important for conceptual and cognitive development is first-language use, was not understood at the time. Nor is it understood to-day by policy makers. The French 'co-operants' left after 8 years 'support' for establishing the national Pre-Primary Unit, PPU's Central and Regional training Resource and Pilot centers. But the harmful policies remained. Fourteen Centre de Lecture et d'Animation Cuturelle (CLAC) were gradually set up by "La Francophonie", whose professed agenda is to spread the French language to the detriment of national and other more widely used languages.

When CLAC was set up with the participation of forward looking officers of the Ministry of Education and Culture, the agreement was reached that the CLAC centers would be run by the community. But, the community wasn't educated on how a broad-based, high level multilingual literacy could be achieved only through the mother-tongue being highly developed, how children's and adults' linguistic and artistic creativity is dependent on advanced mother-tongue development, how high level multilingual literacy can lead to development of our own culture.

No steps were taken so that the CLAC centers are not left exclusively in the hands of promoters of "La Francophonie." The sad thing is that this policy of suppressing the mother tongue, the natural language of the child, is bad for French-learning as well as other languages.

For some time, work in call centers requires that our youths desperately looking for employment, pretend they are French citizens by changing their names on line and, speaking the French language with as similar an accent as a French citizen. This might look like good prospects for parents. This source of cheap labour by the private sector in France, through Call Centres, (with the blessing of the French state?) comes appropriately when jobs are not being created at National Mauritian level for preserving rather than losing our sovereignty. While there is a University in Mauritius and Training Institutions, Conventions are nevertheless signed for the National Inspectorate to be trained in the Reunion University of the Overseas Department, a DOM of France. These are part of the supposed benefits to be gleaned from France being present in the co-operation between 'islands' of the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) ! No wonder the present French Ambassador rejoices on the day "La Francophonie" is celebrated in Mauritius, on the fact that the French language is apparently progressing in Mauritius when it is regressing throughout the world and while the Mauritius Examination Syndicate (MES), in its Report on the 2007 CPE examinations, deplores the fact that children have difficulty in expressing themselves in written English.

Aren't all these steps, which we read about, strategies for either preventing the use of the mother

tongue when it happens to be the Kreol or Kreol and Bhojpuri languages or, meant for changing the medium of instruction from English to French, when there is consensus even between the policy makers and the bourgeoisie that English, now the global language and learnt in France as well, should be kept as medium of instruction at national level? The concept of successful Multilingualism is yet to be grasped, when even what an elite calls bilingualism, meaning French and English, is a lame duck because most people speak to their children in French and very few in English. This is not surprising when the balance of written material as well is encouraged to be in favour of French over other languages.

Mother-tongue based education is essential for conceptual and cognitive development.

The failure of a supposedly educated population, of a supposedly democratic state, to understand the importance of achieving what Jim Cummins called Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) was highlighted by the Ledikasyon Pu Travayer (LPT) when a letter was written to, first the Minister of Education of the previous Government, then to the present one. Fundamental educational objectives such as cognitive and conceptual development are not taking place when the policy decision at national level is that the mother tongue/s of all children, the Kreol and Bhojpuri languages, should be used only as support language, meaning only in the spoken form. And that too, only at the lowest education level. Thus the emphasis continues to be put only on Basic Interpersonal Social Communication (BISC) in the mother tongue and is marginalised when it happens to be the Kreol or the Kreol and Bhojpuri languages, in the education sector.

It is desperately inadequate that a population should be given only what Jim Cummins called the Basic Interpersonal Social Communication (BISC). Cognitive development is important. It is through the development of the mother tongue, the first language, the L1, in the spoken as well as the written forms, that cognitive development takes place. That such an important concept of how the territory of many islands and their Territorial sea, Continental Shelf and Economic Zone constitute our State, our Republic, should be minimized, by just being called Ile Maurice, proves how important it is to understand the meaning of BISC and CALP. And also how important the mother tongue is for conceptual and cognitive development, not just for those who have failed their Certificate of Primary Education (CPE), not just for the first year 3-4 year olds going to Pre-Schools, but for the population to understand how important a broad-based education programme and the mother tongue are for thought processes to develop a questioning, critical and analytical mind.

40 years were spent in celebration, not educating for continued claiming for Independence of the Chagos Archipelago, still called British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) and Tromelin.

The generalised conceptualisation of Ile Maurice rather than Repiblik Moris, makes it easier to maintain colonial pursuits like keeping a grip on illegally dismembered territory before independence, to continue calling the Chagos Archipelago, British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) and renting it to the US for the sake of keeping one of the biggest military bases on Diego Garcia, when neither the education system, nor the Mauritius College of the Air (MCA) and the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) inform students and the population about the illegal pre-Independence dismemberment of the Chagos Archipelago. And also in not adequately educating the future generation for claiming both the Chagos Archipelago consisting of 65 islands from the UK and, Tromelin from the French State.

Whose responsibility is it if more and more people do not question this misleading appropriation of the appellation 'Ile Maurice'? Calling our Republic 'Ile Maurice' results in making people of other islands feel estranged. People, from the lower rung of the social ladder to the highest in the hierarchy, ignore the non-discriminatory principles underlying the rights of all the people living in the different Islands constituting the Republic of Mauritius: the Chagossians, the Agaleans, the Rodriguans, those who go fishing and stay periodically on the St Brandon Island in the Carajos Cargados Archipelago.

Who stands to benefit when the people of the Republic of Mauritius do not come together to claim for the type of development, which would be beneficial to all Mauritians?: Those living in Mauritius, Rodrigues, Agalega, St Brandon and those who were uprooted from the islands of Diego Garcia, Solomon Islands and Peros Banhos in the Chagos Archipelago just before the country was given its independence in 1968?

The fact that the education policy, throughout the education system, keeps all both conceptually and cognitively underdeveloped, as the Kreol language all of us speak, is not allowed to be used as medium of instruction in both the spoken and the written forms, keeps us passive intellectually. To come out of this mental lethargy imposed by the subtraction of the mother of most of us in the education system, the questions we need to ask: Are we going to accept all the short term national policies, that are not even in favour of the children of the elite struggling to maintain economic and political power, when what are concerned are rising prices, employment prospects, food scarcity, the effects of climate change, nuclear pollution leading to incurable illnesses ... ?

We should certainly claim for a mother-tongue based, more successful multilingual education, for more democratic ways of tackling problems, so much more daunting to workers.

Yours sincerely,
Pushpa Lallah ( for the Federation of Pre-School Playgroups [FPSP])