The weaknesses of the Mauritian educational system
Saying that education is one of the most important tools for shaping the future of any generation would be an understatement. The late Nelson Mandela, politician, visionary and messiah of hope and peace, once highlighted that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. We cannot deny that we have an extremely competitive education system in Mauritius. Throughout the years, and since the father of the nation, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, declared each and every child’s right and access to free education, educational reforms have been many, and debates concerning the Certificate of Primary Education (CPE) have been fierce and contentious.
For education to be free and accessible to all, the whole educational system must first be designed and implemented in such a way as to ensure that each child receives a complete education, with equal chances of success, and that no one is left behind somewhere midway across the process. Personally, I still fail to understand how educational access is free in Mauritius.
First of all, I do admit that each and every child is allowed to attend a public or state school, with no fees being imposed on the parents for enrolment. However, access to education is not only about being assured a seat in a school, but is measured by how the system responds and behaves vis-à-vis each student. For instance, a student preparing for the gruelling CPE exams is bound to resort to additional and complementary lessons to aspire to obtain good grades.
The CPE exam is so stressful and competitive that parents make sure that their child gets the best possible private tutor and has the best books, revision guides and materials. A child who hails from a poor background cannot aspire to do well at the CPE exam because he/she will lack the academic resources and suitable encouragement from his/her parents to will him/her towards the path to success. The parent who himself/herself barely can make ends meet, cannot buy the best revision guides or afford a private tutor. It’s not rocket science to conclude who, between the two students, will pass the CPE exams without a blink.
So, then, in these circumstances, can we possibly and morally talk about free education? It is fitting to recall this quote from Animal Farm, where it is highlighted that “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”.
The Minister of Education, the Honourable Vasant Bunwaree, has recently announced that the CPE, as we understand it, will be formally abolished, and replaced by the ‘9-year schooling’, in what has been termed as a complete overhaul in the education system. Mr Bunwaree, in an answer to the PNQ of the leader of the opposition, affirmed that the “9-Year Schooling is a system that rests on the philosophy of being fair and equitable to all learners through increased and more adapted provisions for learners. It seeks to do away with the high stake examinations at the early age of 11 years”.
The basis of this reform rests on the singular detail that the scrapping of the CPE would mean the establishment of a National Examination at Form III Level. I am loath to comprehend how the Form III Level exam will be any better than the CPE. What the Minister has done is merely shift the burden of exams to a later period, resulting with the same amount of stress, if not more, on students.
It is easy to criticise the proposals of the government, but here, I am genuinely interested in being enlightened about the effectiveness of the imminent ‘9-year schooling’. I do appreciate how difficult it is for a government and its ministers to be bold enough to bring forward reforms, especially in sensitive domains, such as the educational sector, because any reform will affect the lives of so many students. However, introducing a system that does not attack the root of the problem and only acts as a soother will only create more stumbling blocks ahead.
I believe that education should have the power to develop the mental, physical, and artistic capabilities of a child, and not stifle growth, creativity and imagination. A child should learn, unlearn and relearn, while making mistakes, and never be trapped in a rat race to the top. This is inherently the weakness of our education system in Mauritius: we need an elite, people who can think and reason, but also people who can innovate, think outside the box and be the leaders of tomorrow. If education manages to make a child develop critical thinking, enjoy the learning process and fearlessly tread in this ever-complex world, then it would have achieved its aim.
 Parliamentary Debate, Hansard, (Unrevised), Second Session, Saturday 16th November 2013, Debate No. 27 of 2013, accessed online at http://mauritiusassembly.gov.mu/English/hansard/Documents/2013/hansard2713.pdf