DR. ANAND D. AWOOTAR, PhD, D.Litt, President, Education Commission, Mouvement Patriotique
School indiscipline/violence has increased incrementally, both in frequency and intensity, over the last few years, to the extent of leaving the entire nation speechless with agony. The problem is present in plain sight, with no denying that water is wet.
Le Mouvement Patriotique, conscious of the gravity of the situation, ordered an island-wide study through its Education Commission on the underlying causes for which a non-negligible percentage of students: • feels disinterested in studies and alienated from the system.
• indulges in unruly and violent behaviour.
• Our education system, despite multiple positives, seems to be confused and confusing to many as a result of sporadic changes along the way born out of an absence of national consensus.
• There is complete disharmony with regard to our approach towards school indiscipline/violence today compared to that of a couple of decades ago when pupils were punished for flimsy offenses like answering questions out of turn in class while today the school has no right as much as to scold students who even dare undress educators.
• In our present post-modern world, many parents and their wards just do not see eye-to-eye on most issues, specially when parents keep sermonising on their difficulties/hardships during their own adolescent days or when they vocally compare their wards’ poor academic performance with that of other better-performing students — the annoyance of a good example. Thus, home atmosphere assumes a tortured relationship and becomes a symbol of oppression, while the school, with its emphasis on exams, has become a symbol of punishment and humiliation. So they develop their own sub-culture to compensate for the lack of freedom and expression.
• There is a pronounced element of cultural and geographical traumatism which impacts negatively various regions of the island which appear to be completely neglected.
• Schools in such poor regions, instead of becoming ‘agents of change’, ultimately end up absorbing the habits, mores, culture and low aspirations of the locality and of students.
• Our education system is characterised by a lack of commitment towards social, emotional, aesthetic, artistic, and sporting developments of students and fails to make the school a more inviting and agreeable place to be.
• Our present system teaches only the syllabus at the expense of the curriculum. It has difficulty accepting the idea that all students are not gifted for academic studies in equal measure. Students’ talents unfortunately remain unexplored, unexploited and unexpressed. They miss what is missing: a platform to express themselves since they feel their soul is being enslaved through an oppressive environment.
• The automatic promotion system bulldozes even less performing students to the next higher grade, despite difficulties adjusting to the new environment. They are expected to compete with 35-42 other very brilliant, average and slow learners.
• The teacher’s primary concern is to complete the syllabus and produce results. Showering attention on slow learners is thus seen as a futile exercise.
• Educators, more so supply teachers, naturally have difficulty coping with mixed-ability classes. Students who can’t follow become idle, and a source of idleness, helped further by excessive energy and crisis of adolescence.
• These students who already experience frustration at home and humiliation at school start developing a negative self-image. When scolded and humiliated in class, they direct their pent-up anger/frustration with audible teeth-gritting towards educators or their cars, classmates, school furniture, school bus or bus stop.
• The syllabus content as well as the mode of evaluation are not challenging and motivating enough. Textbooks do not reflect students’ life realities and become uninteresting.
• Absence of role models and values. Traditional role models like parents, teachers, leaders have failed our students who feel bereft of a sense of direction.
• There is a complete abdication of parental responsibility.
• School day and term duration are lamentably too short.
• Schools lack a degree of autonomy and accountability.
• Students are very well-schooled about their rights, but less so about their duties and responsibilities.
• Parents, educators, school management, teachers’ unions, pupils and the Ministry are prone to pointing fingers at one another to give themselves a clear conscience.
• A practical ‘Student Behaviour Policy’ for each school to be formulated, not parachuted from above, with inputs from all stakeholders, including parents and student body to create a sense of ownership among all concerned.
• An ‘Ecole des Parents’ to be instituted at school level, one of the duties of which is to create a healthier Parent-Child relationship at home.
• Students and schools, specially in impoverished areas, need to be made at par with other schools in terms of aspirations, infrastructure and staff: i) A ‘Teach-for-Mauritius’ Scheme to motivate teachers with proven abilities and commitment to rotate to less-performing schools against necessary incentives. ii) A Student Wellness Committee in each school to: – render school a more pleasant and agreeable place to be. – deal with stress-related problems, guidance and counselling. – review multi-hazard safety plan, crisis intervention, first-aid. – foster healthy school-community relations.
• Each school to have its own Disciplinary Committee to deal with cases of unruly behaviour – to be chaired by Deputy Rector/ HT and comprising a PTA member, psychologist, and opinion leader from the community.
• The school should be made more interesting for students by creating opportunities, through planned activities, to develop students’ various dimensions, namely social, emotional, artistic, aesthetic, musical and sporting, to be showcased during a compulsory daily 20-minute morning assembly to valorise the students through their multiple talents.
• An ‘Events and Ethics Coordinator’ needs to be appointed in each school and who, through a cooler rhetoric, will help facilitate the expression of students’ multiple talents, as well as to be responsible for community outreach. The Coordinator to also chair the Student Wellness Committee to be set afoot at school.
• A student personal portfolio which will accompany the student from one grade to another should be maintained, highlighting their social background, health status, aptitude, academic strengths and weaknesses.
• The school day and term length, which is abysmally low, should be extended to enable the class teacher for remedial work through targeted support as per the student’s personal portfolio. Such an extension should be after due negotiations with Unions.
• The automatic promotion system should be abolished and the class population should not exceed 25 for better pedagogical practice and class control. That will foster better class control and help students focus more meaningfully on their studies instead of remaining idle in class.
• Mixed-ability teaching should be revisited as it has proved to be pedagogically unsound since teachers are not trained for the practice. Additionally, students who are trailing are mostly left to themselves and become a source of unruly behaviour in class through restlessness which develops into a problem, the problem into a crisis, and the crisis into a catastrophe.
• The practice of Supply Teacher is an insult to the teaching profession and an academic crime towards students. Delegation of responsibility by the PSC should be discontinued.
• A National Survey to be conducted with regard to teachers’ work conditions, problems faced, impact on family life etc, and measures to reinstate the noble status of the teaching profession undertaken.
• More workshops to be conducted for teachers during vacation in relation to class control and student behaviour. In that regard the appointment of more psychologists in the system is a necessity. • To render studies more challenging and motivating even for less-performing students, the evaluation system needs to be reviewed through a mix of exams and locally-based project works to the ratio of 70-30. The idea of locally-based project works for upper primary students is to foster broader dimensions of learning, including emotional and social development, creativity, innovation, sharing, and positive attitudes to learning. Additionally, through tailored strategies, such exam-based local projects will also rope in parental support and prevent least disadvantaged learners from falling through the cracks as well as help shape aspirations, behaviours and values. • The completed projects, e.g, a fisherman’s life in Le Morne, tourist life in Grand Baie, or tea plantation in Bois Cheri can be the subject of exhibitions, zone-wise or nationally, through a Children’s Annual Educational Congress.
This will: - call for tremendous cognitive development and social skills through digging and sharing of information. - provide zonal and national visibility and pride to each school, rural and urban. - arouse parental interest in their ward’s academic undertaking. - connect students with the landscape they inhabit as well as habits, practices and conditions in other regions of the island. • Schools, zone-wise, to regularly conduct projects/exhibitions on issues of national relevance, for example school violence, environment protection, etc, and get them posted on the Ministry’s website for easy access to one and all.
• The whole education system needs a complete overhaul, and the role of each stakeholder to be reviewed and redefined in a handshake relationship: the Ministry’s approach, the role of Zone Directors, Rectors, Headteachers, Educators, the MIE, the PSEA, the Teachers’ Unions, Students and Parents so that they stop pointing fingers at one another and start standing together and point in the same direction and bring about a different academic ecosystem.