Dr. Anand D. Awootar, PhD, D.Litt,
President, Education Commission,
A derailed system
Successive Ministers of Education, across the political divide, have had to carry the daunting burden of fixing a system that has been off-track from its greater purpose of preparing tomorrow’s fully-motivated, fully-activated and fully-functioning citizenry. Most of them have opted for the easy route of a shallow marketing language replete with honey-laced narratives that attempt to lull the population into a naïve optimism. The system, however, continues to wallow more dangerously in the swamp they once promised to drain.
Policy mechanisms and prioritisation of issues are preludes of hope. Ours, however, is a system characterised by a derailed narrative in which policies lag behind arguments and arguments lag behind rhetoric. It is when the tide recedes that rocks become visible, and only then do we discover who has been swimming naked.
School as stress factory
The most prominent legacy hatched by our system is STRESS, which, in its stride, swallows billions of rupees: well-to-do parents and their children are stressed from the need to perform extremely well for admission to a star college while parents and children from socially-deprived regions are stressed because they are not sure their preparation guarantees even a pass. Teachers, too, get genuinely stressed for the future of their students except for a handful who are stressed in a bid to carve a name for themselves for tuition purposes. They are the ones with an effrontery-laden reluctance to budge from star schools.
Gaping disparity: gated student communities
Children from socially-deprived regions like Roche-Bois or La Gaulette are adversely hit by a lottery of birth, with all its accompanying baggage of drawbacks. When they are made to compete with those from SVR Govt school or the QEC on the same syllabus, terms and conditions nationally without any proper safety net as suggested in my previous articles, the playing field becomes uneven and dangerously slippery. That glaring disparity belies the well-rehearsed national symphony that equality in our system is a shared goal.
Not surprisingly, our academically-overburdened education system has created gated communities since pre-primary and primary: those categorised as being good to become laureates, those good for University studies, those good for vocational studies, while the rest are supposed to be good for ‘nothing good’.
Immediate environment as child’s centre of gravity
A child’s immediate environment plays a preponderant role in his/her overall development. However, the school, which is expected to be the child’s saviour, specially in socially-deprived environments, eventually ends up adopting and absorbing the ethos of that very environment in terms of low ambition, aspiration, expectation and language. It becomes a case where the expected saviour is itself in need of being saved. That sums up the overall situation in socially-deprived regions and schools – a situation which is more of a social crisis than a moral failure, and which begs urgent and serious consideration. Those children need to be saved from their moral fibre getting further disfigured, their self-worth and self-esteem chiselled, their once-radiating ambition withered by a system that openly advocates, not necessary competition, but necessarily competition. Thousands of innocent little ‘boats’ in socially-deprived areas thus get stuck in the sand, unable to take advantage of the rising tides, though statistics offer but a partial view of the wreckage.
Asking the right question
Given the situation in impoverished regions, and the consequent high rate of failure and drop-outs, it would be more sensible to ask WHAT triggers underperformance rather than WHY those children underperformed. Such a question would help discover the rot and the disparity within the system and its thin veneer between anarchy and status quo.
Creaming off the top: the laureate saga as a whirlwind romance
The system, with its high failure rate and drop-outs, as well as the unenviable quality of graduates produced, is revelatory of a system struggling to survive the present while trying to capture the future into a whirlwind romance by converting the entire education spectrum into an incubator to hatch an annual tally of 45 laureates.
The backstory of the laureate saga features in itself different players, but the narrative remains essentially the same. The line separating HSC laureates and runners-up in terms of academic performance is highly blurred and porous to the extent of becoming almost undistinguishable. Yet, laureates are deified while runners-up, with bloated eyes glittering through unshed tears, are superciliously ignored. Unsuccessful students, on the other hand, are demonised by parents and neighbours.
With laureate-producing schools fielding their own chest-beating, foot-pounding teams of cheerleaders, the festive mood gets at its best. In a bid to blaze the trail, the press, in their own ways, join in that well-rehearsed rapturous route which has now become rote. Such celebrations are the culmination of an entire education system specialised in creaming off the top at the expense of the bottom.
Unveiling laureate list: hijacking the glory
The traditional unveiling of the laureate list has become, over the years, too sublime an opportunity not to be pounced upon by our eagle-eyed politicians of all coloration who are ever on the prowl for an opportunity to extol their own virtues. They need their fair share of glory because, after all, ‘they’ incur all expenses for laureates’ studies. The solemnities of the occasion, in their view, demand that prospective laureates, HSC hopefuls, parents and teachers should afford to wait with bated breath and crippling anxiety until opponents’ weaknesses and scandals are pursued in concentric circles of offensiveness while government virtues are highlighted with uncommon energy.
A sense of entrapment, however, sets in when successive Prime Ministers, through their tone, style and content, convey the impression of reading off the same teleprompter. If their words sound familiar, it is because our leaders spoke more or less the same sentences in previous years: ‘After your studies, come back to serve the Country’, while relentlessly holding on to the policies, practices and structures that favour nepotism at its best.
Home-coming: joining the queue
However, the days seem remote when parents requested their offsprings to come back home because institutions still functioned with decency. Today, through lack of the indispensable currency of personal connection, they are advised to stay abroad lest they further lengthen the already over-elongated queue of unemployed graduates on their native soil.
All that our education system needs is a triumph of resourcefulness over resources because a seemingly simple act of displacing a single pebble is likely to cause an avalanche to start a positive process liable to solve Mauritian problems through Mauritian brains, imported models notwithstanding.
The Country would not be robbed of its investment if laureates and scholarship winners chose to come back to serve. Inversely, investment made on a few politicians’ foreign trips would equally be investment-friendly, except that they keep coming back home!