The Minister of Finance, in his latest Budget Speech, announced the introduction of the Nine Year Schooling and the abolition of the CPE examination. This must be music to the ears of not only pupils who are under so much pressure to perform well to gain entry into an elite school but also parents. While the modalities of the national assessment such as the syllabus, training of teachers, formulation of specimen question papers and their validation are being worked out, sceptics are bound to question the timing of this initiative. Is the general election approaching and is the ruling government after our votes? Is it another political gimmick like previous ones? Should not this initiative have been in place in the 1990s?
Mauritius has attempted a number of reforms in local assessment over the years. When the junior scholarship was replaced by the CPE, the format was changed and reformed in accordance with the philosophy of competency based testing. The Master Plan of Education published in 1990s laid the basis for further reforms. There have been a lot of discussions by politicians and others but despite numerous papers from all quarters, nothing really concrete has materialised. For although discussions abound in Mauritius, proposed reforms depend on the good will of the ruling government and its appointees. Changes in education are more often motivated by the whims and rivalries of ministers than by what would be beneficial to children. In Mauritius each new government seems to have an irresistible need to show that what was done by the previous governments need to be immediately removed and replaced. This is the line of thinking that led to the A+. It is not surprising that most of the proposed educational reforms have never taken off, never been properly implemented and never been properly monitored.
A national assessment at Form III level can be a very positive step forward, a blessing even. It is a golden opportunity to get rid of the CPE dinosaur. Around 40% of those taking the CPE examination are classified as failures every year. Not many countries in the world subject their children to such pressures to gain entry into secondary schools. And now that we have sufficient secondary schools to accommodate all the pupils, there is no longer any justification for such rat race. Our pupils deserve better; every child matters in this world irrespective of whether he/she is an under-achiever or higher-achiever. Now that we have enough “good” secondary schools in each region, we can at long last get rid of the infamous CPE, have school based assessment at primary level and the children will go on to Form 1 in the school of the region. There will then be a properly set up valid and reliable national assessment at Form III level to help channel our pupils in the stream- academic or technical most suited to their abilities and interests. After all, education is not only about achieving higher grades and certificates but is also to do with personal development.
The purposes of the National Form III Assessment can be twofold: (i) identify weaknesses, give concrete feedback and provide appropriate remediation and (ii) indicate what direction to follow. The outcome of the Form III Assessment should dictate what route the pupils will end up following. One of the important advantages of having the national assessment at the end of Form III will mean that 40% of our children will not be identified as failures at the tender age of 11. With proper feedback and remediation all along the different grades, those who are less gifted academically should be able to find an alternative path to fulfilment and success. This is logical, sensible and feasible and more importantly in the interest of the children.
The Minister have not given a lot of details about this initiative which to be successful, a number of questions/issues need to be addressed urgently prior to its implementation:
What will be the content/syllabus of the new assessment? More importantly, will it be broad based to include other subjects like civic values and creative writing?
Will there be an examination to replace the CPE? If so, who will be responsible for the examination?
Will there be automatic promotion from one class to another? If no, what will be the criteria for promotion from one class to another? Will it be at the discretion of each school/teacher? If so, the likelihood of differential standards is a distinct possibility resulting in a number of pupils being penalised. If yes, what mechanism will be in place that all the children have achieved all the competencies to move to the next class?
How will the pupils with low ability be catered for? Will there be remedial classes with specially trained remedial teachers?
What arrangements have been made for children with Special Educational Needs?
When will the teachers be trained in the new assessment procedures?
How will the Ministry make sure that the assessments are valid, reliable and fit for purpose?
What mechanism will be in place to monitor the implementation of the new initiative? Will the teachers be responsible or is there going to an independent body set up for the monitoring exercise?
Where will the children be from Forms 1-111? Are we going back to the concept of Middle Schools? Will they carry on staying in the primary schools? If no, what will be the criteria for admitting the children in Forms 1-111? Also, which colleges will they be admitted and on what basis?
What will happen to the State Secondary Schools, QEC and the Royal Colleges?
Forty per cent (around 14000) of our children fail the CPE every year. If there is not going to be an examination at the end of Standard 6, these children will have to be admitted in a college to continue their studies up to Form 111. Has the Minister made provisions for extra places in the colleges? Is he planning to build more schools to accommodate them?
Will there be a national examination at Form 111? If so, who will be responsible for setting and marking the examination papers? If no, will the teachers do the setting and marking of their children examination papers?
Have the question papers been formulated and tested? How will the results be recorded and validated? How will he make sure that the results are reliable and comparable?
The idea of Nine Year Schooling is an old one of the 1990s which should have been introduced there and then. It is a good initiative if planned, implemented and monitored properly and with genuine interest for the children. But if introduced for purely political gain, our education system will continue to stagnate and our children will continue to suffer the inhuman pressure of fierce competition.
Will the latest initiative succeed? I have a sneak feeling it will not, just like so many previous ones that failed with costly attempts. I can’t help wondering why this initiative which was thought of in 1992, did not take off then. There is no doubt this initiative was well thought of and had the backing of a number of experts (national and international) but a lot has changed since in the area of assessment and examinations and we need to take on board these changes . As an analogy, would we buy a car which was manufactured in 1992 now or would we go for the latest model with the latest specifications and features like GPS and Bluetooth?
Over the years, it seems our children have been considered to be the playthings of unscrupulous politicians who care only about themselves and their benefits? The current Minister has not divulged a lot of details on this initiative. Has he really thought how complex and complicated introducing this initiative is and what he will do on abolishing the CPE? Or is he now going to discuss the modalities with the technicians having made a bold news headline? Whatever it is, I hope this latest initiative is yet not another case of political propaganda.