NOBLE MINDS FACE FAILURE WITH EQUANIMITY!
Dear Prime Minister,
Allow me to share with you the following observations and thoughts.
As a nation we now invest nearly 20 billion rupees every year on education. Is the money well-spent? In my humble submission, the answer is NO. Why? For more than 50 years, we have focused on quantity in terms of subject matter and accessibility to learning – not a bad thing in itself – but failed to develop national literacy deliberately confusing it with schooling. This appears clearly in the form regularly filled by the Ministry of Education for UNESCO. As no research has been conducted on literacy, officers simply put down the percentage of children who go to school, assuming that all schooled children do acquire literacy which includes numeracy.
Let us first define literacy. It means the ability to read, write and count. Moreover, there are 3 levels of literacy: basic, functional, and advanced.
• BASIC LITERACY means that the persons concerned can write on themselves a short grammatically correct and well-punctuated text, in the language of their choice, which tells us, in about 150 words, who they are. I think that less than 30% of the population can do this and that 70% of the population can only draw a copy of their names or use their thumb marks.
• FUNCTIONAL LITERACY means “the capacity of a person to engage in all those activities in which literacy is required for effective function of his or her group and community and also for enabling him or her to continue to use reading, writing and calculation for his or her own and the community's development” (UNESCO Institute for Statistics). It includes information literacy, digital literacy, and media literacy. I believe that a good S.C and H.S.C certificate (O and A level) may ensure functional literacy to holders of these certificates, i.e., about 20% of the population.
• ADVANCED LITERACY is what is required for university studies and professional activities, and it is the prestigious competency of about 10% of the population, an elite which jealously guards and protects its privileges and interests.
I will surely be accused of exaggeration. My answer is very simple: remove party symbols on ballot papers and see what happens.
WHY HAVE WE FAILED?
• In Mauritius we confuse literacy with language learning and mother tongue reality is ignored. First of all, the term ‘mother tongue’ is misunderstood and many think that it means the language of our ancestors (French, Bhojpuri, Tamil, Telugu, Cantonese etc.) or some prestigious languages (Hindi, Urdu, Mandarin Chinese). In fact, it means the language used by parents which a child starts to learn while still in the mother’s womb and the language which the child uses in his/her home and social environment.
• Here are the facts: Morisien/Mauritian (Mauritian Creole) is the mother tongue/first language/L1 of 90% of the population and the second language/L2 of the remaining 10%. It is the best medium to help our children master basic literacy after which they will learn second languages (French, Hindi etc.) more easily. But ignorance, prejudices and hysterical language loyalty are so rife that politicians prefer to avoid the issue.
• English is not only our official language but also the most important international language. Moreover, it is a ‘creole’ language which developed some 1,200 years ago when Vikings invaded England and occupied a large territory. It started as a pidgin and with time became the national/official language of the UK in the 16th-17th centuries and later the language of the British Empire and now it is a quasi-universal language.
• As our national language and our official language are both creole languages which are analytic as opposed to synthetic languages like French, Hindi or Arabic, a sound language policy would make of Mauritius the land of functional-bilingual literacy. Again, because of ignorance, prejudices, and hysterical language loyalty no government has had, so far, the courage to take the bull by the horns.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Governments have created, to no avail, special classes (PREVOC and Extended Programme) for the thousands of our children who, after 6-10 years at school, remain absolutely non-literate and non-numerate because of a catastrophic language policy which ignores the use of our mother tongue as medium, not to be confused with language as subject.
Much time has been wasted. A radical change will rouse passions and produce hostility. I would like to propose an alternative which will not upset the applecart and allow for a smooth transition: Mauritian-English Bilingual Literacy (MEBL). How to do it? In all Extended Programme (EP) classes, we introduce MEBL for 45 minutes per day and arithmetic (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) together with the memorisation of multiplication tables for another 45 minutes per day. My book, “TIKOU-TIKOU TOUY LOULOU” can be used to train teachers and prepare pedagogical material for learners. This will definitely raise the standard of education and pave the way to major reforms.
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