Literacy (reading, writing and counting) is not a skill for an elite alone. It should be a fundamental cultural element in the make-up of all human beings so that they may fully enjoy the fruits of civilisation.
The functional literacy rate in our country is very low (around 30%) which means that the enormous sum of money invested is wasted. Why is that so? So long as we refuse to start literacy in the child’s mother tongue, we will perpetuate wastage and failure; we will continue to resort to party symbols to make some sense of the election process. That is not the road to modern civilisation. And yet we do have the needed resources to attain genuine and full universal functional literacy.
2 CREOLE LANGUAGES
We’ve been blessed with 2 creole languages: our national language (Mauritian) and our official language (English) which have similar syntactic structures and common lexical characteristics.
Here are some examples:
• Future tense marker: English uses ‘will’ and Mauritian uses ‘pou’ which give the following: Mo pou manze/ I will eat.
• Adjectives have a unique form in both languages: a beautiful girl (enn zoli tifi); beautiful girls (bann zoli tifi); a beautiful boy(enn zoli garson); beautiful boys (bann zoli garson); a beautiful house (enn zoli lakaz); beautiful houses (bann zoli lakaz); a beautiful castle(enn zoli sato); beautiful castles (bann zoli sato). See the difference with French (une belle fille; des belles filles; un beau garçon; des beaux garçons; une belle maison; des belles maisons; un beau chateau; des beaux chateaux).
• Both languages use aspect markers to indicate whether the action continues or has stopped. I eat (mo manze); I am eating (mo pe manze); I have eaten (mo finn manze).
• At the level of vocabulary (lexical characteristics) both use compound words a lot: birdcage (lakaz-zwazo); doorknob (pwagne-laport); cheesecake (gato-fromaz); mango tree (pie mang) etc.
There are also differences of course and at the level of phonology there are difficulties to be surmounted. The phoneme represented by <th> is not used in Mauritian and consequently Mauritian learners of English, if not properly trained, will pronounce <th> as <z>; ‘this’, ‘that’, ‘those’ become “zis, zat, zoz”.
Another problem: Mauritian is syllable-timed and English is stress-timed. With proper training, this hurdle can be overcome. Ignorance of this produces much gibberish (baragouin). Listen to speeches in the legislative assembly and you’ll understand what I mean.
The adoption of a combination of teaching techniques blending Grammar Translation with Direct method, will yield good results provided treachers are adequately trained.
A NEW LANGUAGE POLICY
If Mauritian, the mother tongue, becomes the medium of instruction at primary level, English may be introduced at a very early stage as second language. With proper guidance and monitoring and also adequate practice, our children will be able at secondary level to handle English as medium of instruction and continue to study our national language as a subject.
French, the semi-official language, must be introduced at secondary level and its teaching must be revamped. Identity languages (Hindi,Urdu, etc.) will then be taught at secondary level as optional languages.
Let us only hope that language loyalty, prejudices and ignorance will not blind us to the needs for genuine and progressive reforms which will pave the way to UNIVERSAL FUNCTIONAL LITERACY.