Back to school
The new academic year started this week. All over the island students and parents are rushing to schools and colleges. It’s a peak time for the bookstores as well. And for the teachers start up means new courses and perhaps some changes internally but no major curriculum changes. In Mauritius, the curriculum is regulated by the Ministry and overseas examinations authorities. It has been almost a month since I have been in Mauritius. As a writer I have a fascination for life on an island, and I travel around always finding something new and exciting. Taking public transportation has its own challenges but that’s how I ‘discovered’ Mauritius. Many years ago, a former lieutenant governor in Canada told me that we should support public transport no matter how disorganized it is, for it reduces congestion and brings people together. This is an argument for another time.
I usually come to Mauritius without an agenda, but find myself immersed in several things the moment I land. Two weeks ago I went for a walk in Curepipe. The weather was wet and after the new year celebrations one could notice the lull in the city. I walked around casually. It was lunch time. Most of the city workers were on their lunch break. Lunch in Mauritius could be very typical. I noticed a line up. It was the « dall pouri » vendor, with his stall, and an assistant next to him collecting the orders. I stopped and gazed as people ordered « ene pair ». This is Mauritian. I also joined the queue and got my « ene pair » neatly wrapped in a sheet of white paper. Like the rest I stood in a corner and enjoyed this delicacy as the sauce drip around my fingers and almost smeared my beard. No one seemed to mind. Then something struck me. Two young men well groomed finished up their « dall pouri » and threw the paper wrap on the sidewalk. There was a trash bin about twenty yards from the vendor, but most people were just throwing the paper wrap on the street and went along their business. I was shocked. The two young men started to walk and out of curiosity I walked behind them. Five minutes later they entered a bank building. I realized they were the bank employees. The bank was neat and tidy, very clean and well maintained. I didn’t notice any garbage on the floor. I kept asking myself why did these two young men litter the street. I thought I had a story.
A few days later I found myself in Vacoas and I did stop near the « dall pouri » vendor. This time I decided not to indulge, but I watched others licking their fingers. I thought the Curepipe incident was an isolated one for Mauritians are very conscious individuals. Alas! I was wrong. There was litter almost everywhere surrounding the area where the vendor stood with his stall. I recognized the white sheet of paper with yellow and red sauce. The garbage tin was a few yards away and some used it while others aimed for the tin but missed and the wrapper ended in the street. I picked some of the wrappers and put them in the garbage tin. I thought people would get the message. I stood there almost embarrassed. What does it take to keep our streets clean?
I thought my fieldwork would be incomplete without a stop at the grand bazar in Port-Louis. Indeed, I stopped near the « dall pouri » vendor in the market area. It was a busy day and the line up was long, but people endured the wait in the sun. I found one thing in common: a garbage tin was placed yards away from each vendor that I observed. The scene was the same. After enjoying this typical Mauritian snack the paper wrap and the thin black plastic bag landed mostly in the streets and the wind carrying them around Port-Louis. It was a quite an experience for me.
I have heard comments that Mauritius wants to follow the footsteps of Singapore and become a model economy like this tiny economic enclave. To a Mauritian Singapore could be an intimidating place. It is so neat and tidy, one would almost feel out of place. I don’t want to debate the future economic policies of Mauritius here and whether it is destined to become another Singapore. But I think we could start at the basic and that is, let’s clean up. Cleanliness is godliness. Let’s do it!
Role of education
As schools gear up for another busy year I keep asking myself if students are taught civic responsibilities and citizenship education. Schools have the moral obligation to inculcate these fundamental values to the citizens of tomorrow. Parents must encourage their children to engage in community work and get out in the neighbourhoods to clean Mauritius. The message is powerful. We cannot leave everything to the politicians, we do have the rights and power to make changes at the community level. School is the best place to start the campaign. I have always believed that the role of education is good and responsible citizenship. School is the centre of social transformation. It reminds me of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I would strongly recommend it to teachers and educators alike.
Freire, the Brazilian philosopher and educator, was a champion for literacy and his works on adult education have been acclaimed all over the world. He spoke a great about the power of education and the role of the teacher. For him school is a political institution and students have to be politicized for them to become socially conscious of their milieu. While social transformation is an on-going process, the young in our schools should graduate with values that make the world a better place to live in. For Freire, an academic credential has little value if the owner of that credential in unaware of his/her social obligations. Keeping our streets clean is a civic duty. Keeping our neighbourhoods safe is a civic responsibility. Building stronger and healthier communities is everyone’s duty. For Freire everyone should be engaged and become active participants in social change. Mauritian students are caught up in the pursuit of academic grades. Achievement is measured in terms of grades and results. Very often schools lose sight that it is also a community institution. I challenge parents to encourage their kids to do community work and become more engaged.
I use the term ‘school’ broadly here. I don’t mean only elementary or primary schools, but all those organized institutions that are imparting learning. Schools are conduit for social change. In his analysis of modern education, Freire captures the power that schools possess and the way students are socialized. He does not hide the fact that students are moulded to think and act in a certain way. However, he makes a very important point: schools should unlock the minds of the students. Over the years I have observed how the Mauritian education system evolved and some of its challenges. The critics are many but only a few committed to reforms that will « unlock the potential ». Very often the wrong questions are asked, for example, whether CPE should be abolished or not? Questions that I would ask include: what is the relationship between school, the work place and the community; how flexible is the curriculum; and how is the role of the teacher defined? These questions are political in nature, but as Freire argues everything we do is political and education is the most political act of all.
The two young men working as bank employees in Curepipe must have done well in their academic studies and yet I was sad to witness their lack of social responsibility. They almost didn’t care and had no sense of shame for littering their street. The scenario was the same in all the three cities and I tried to make a connection. I feel there is a lack of social consciousness and even argue that citizenship education has low priority into the Mauritian curriculum. I feel that the education these two young men received failed to « unlock » their minds the way Freire is arguing.
The « dall pouri » vendor is here to stay and Mauritians will continue to enjoy this highly acclaimed snack. The paper wrap has to land in its proper place and to my fellow countrymen and women I am making a personal plea the next time you have « ene pair » in your hand locate the nearest garbage disposal and lay this paper/plastic to rest in its proper resting place.
Back to school