Wednesday 11th January 2012 : Kreol has officially been introduced in primary schools in Mauritius, as an optional language. Amidst all the pomp and fanfare, disgruntled voices managed to seep to the top and made themselves heard. This deep sense of unease has been going on for some time now, ever since the government's announcement of introducing Kreol as an optional language in the primary school curriculum.
And now that theory has given way to practice, a dark cloud is hovering over the primary schools in sunny Mauritius, brewing and spewing resentment, misunderstanding, skepticism and even anger, from some teachers, parents and other concerned stakeholders. A brief overview of online forums will give an aperçu of many people's negative reception of the introduction of Kreol in primary schools. So, why has Kreol not been welcomed by many, though it is the mother tongue of more than 70% of the population ?
Many reasons have been put forward and I'll summarise a few main ones :
1. It is a waste of time as it does not contribute to the child's academic progress, especially related to higher studies and job opportunities.
2. Kreol, not being an international or even the official language of Mauritius, is irrelevant.
3. Teachers have been trained for a short period of time and many might not be up to the standard to teach.
4. The child would be confused between French and Kreol spelling and this might penalize him/her.
5. It is used as an oral means of communication and should remain as such.
6. Literature in Kreol is quasi non-existent and the learning/teaching of Kreol is therefore pointless.
These above-mentioned reasons have unleashed passions of the highest degree but are these doubts justified ? Is Kreol really a waste of time, as such ? Is there no merit in teaching it to Mauritian students at all ?
The Minister of Education has described the implementation of the teaching of Kreol in schools as a unifying agent in bringing together all cultures. Prior to this, this has already stood true, with most Mauritians communicating with their family, friends and other acquaintances in Kreol on a daily basis.
However, it is a fact that Kreol enjoys a lesser status than French or English in Mauritius despite the majority of us speaking it. French, which dominates the spoken and written media, IS the language of prestige in our little paradise. If we go to any offices or banks or even some shops in Mauritius, most members of the staff will prefer to speak in French to members of the public, including me. It has happened that I speak in Kreol to these people and they will carry on in French, which results in quite a farcical situation, where both persons could have easily used Kreol to communicate. The introduction of Kreol, as a subject in its own right, will hopefully serve to break down the status discrepancies among the other languages, with its own dictionary and grammatical rules. It will be a long complex process but at least, people will now be forced to acknowledge that Kreol is now a language in its merit, and not just a shadowy French patois.
Furthermore, in the classroom situation, Kreol is already being used as a medium of instruction, whether it be in the primary or secondary sector. This practice has long facilitated communication and the teaching/learning process in classes. At this point, the only doubt I have is concerning the eventual introduction of instructions in Kreol in other subjects like English or Maths, as this might end up being negative interference with the learning/teaching of these subjects at secondary school level, where instructions will be in English, unless stated otherwise. Other than that, as a language of instruction for lower-achieving students, this is brilliant and should certainly be encouraged. So, Kreol as a language in it own right, might help to convince skeptics of using it as a medium of instruction, that it is not a lesser language at all.
In addition, why should we not be proud of our wonderful national legacy that is our language ? Indeed, is it not a miracle that we are among the few countries in the world, where our national language, which is relatively young, was born from the mixture of different languages, connecting people who came from different cultural and linguistic horizons ? Not everyone in Mauritius would be able to sing a Bollywood song but the overwhelming majority would sing to the tune of a rhythmic Sega. Of course, just like any other language, Kreol is dynamic and new words/expressions will need to be added to the dictionary but with the new status being conferred upon it, needless to say that it will soon go through new exciting experiences, under proper guidance. Students can be encouraged to write poems/plays/articles/short stories, participate in slamming competitions or even participate in plays in Kreol, dealing with realistic social themes. This would indeed constitute an excellent opportunity for extra-curricular activities all over the island due to the students' familiarity with the language, while remembering that Kreol is an OPTIONAL language, not a compulsory one as we speak. If the child is finding a source of self-fulfillment in the language, what more could we ask ? As it is, we are always complaining about the lack of extra-curricular activities or the rat race in the Mauritian educational sector. Kreol would greatly facilitate students' interest in such activities, especially in theatre and writing, where they would be more at ease with the language at a young age.
Kreol, as an optional language, should be given its chance to spread its wings. Unless we give it a chance, then we would not know any better. Despite all the misgivings, Kreol is the unifying language in Mauritius, transcending all barriers. Just like we are proud of our national flag, we should be proud of our national language too, despite its not having international prominence. If it could be the catalyst towards encouraging more students to participate in extra-curricular activities for a holistic development due to their familiarity with the language, then let us wait and see before reaching a premature conclusion.