On the one hand, the leader of the opposition is claiming for the right to vote for the 16 year old, on the other Père Grégoire is reminding us that minorities, particularly the Creoles continue to be discriminated against, in so called modern inclusive Mauritius. This resonates with Anjali Gill’s work on’Poverty ethnicity and exclusion in Mauritius’ ; the multidisciplinary study on exclusion commissioned by Cassam Uteem, former President of the Republic as well as the findings of the Truth and Justice commission report. The issues raised by the two personalities are somehow related to our education system and give rise to a couple of questions : Is our education system doing enough to develop critical awareness in our children, is our youth equipped with the necessary tools and knowledge to understand the significance of the vote and make well informed choices ; is the education system enabling the young develop the capacity to appreciate that all citizens, including themselves have a role to play in promoting ‘inclusions’ and combating ‘exclusions’ ?
An ‘oppressive’ education system and an ‘unjust’ justice system
These questions are even more pertinent now since the Minister of education will soon be convening ‘Les assises de l’éducation’. One wonders what such ‘assises’ can do to ensure that education fulfils its functions, particularly that of (1) getting people out of poverty and ensuring upward mobility ; (2) instilling a spirit of citizenship and Mauritian-ness, (3) building a sense of sharing and solidarity, (4) developing a critical mind and the ability to have alternative readings and interpretations about any set event or situation, (5) inculcating values and ethics in the young, amongst many others.
Education is the cornerstone of human development in every society. A sound development strategy aimed at promoting economic development, democracy and social justice must be fully cognisant of human resource development. For when all is said and done, development is about people, their physical health, moral integrity and intellectual awareness. Through education, people become aware of their environment and of the economic and social options available to them. But are our 16 year olds aware of options open to them ? Sadly, large numbers of our 16 year olds, particularly amongst the minority groups are school drop outs or attend PVEs with futures largely unplanned. Some others end up in rehabilitation centres and/or find their way to our already overcrowded prisons. This is often the result of an ‘oppressive’ education system and an ‘unjust’ justice system. Are prisoners allowed to vote ? Other adolescents may have a different trajectory altogether – many of them are gifted, are masters of the IT/digital world but often without an iota of thinking on the social realities that surround them. Can they vote meaningfully ? How and why we vote can certainly contribute to transformation but voting without deep reflection on the kind of society we wish to have can impact on the nature of governance and in turn on our lives.
Citizenship rights of minorities
Our education system has not changed much and this despite the introduction of a panoply of programmes, schemes and measures such as the enhancement programme, bridging the gap, summer and winter school, free meals for the disadvantaged, projet Sankore, interactive blackboards, CPE resits etc. We are certainly not starved of resources like in many other developing countries. However, making education equitable and just in the hope of producing a socially cohesive society -one where minorities would have the same citizenship rights – is not only about resources. As long as the fundamentals of our education system remain as they are, with various lobby groups defending their immediate vested interests, we will not get very far.
The often asked questions : “what are you complaining about ? Are you not a product of the system, are you not successful ? are cause for worry since such questions reflect a strong resistance to change as well as some kind of complacency. Some do not seem to see what is simmering underneath. What is also troubling is that those asking these kinds of questions are part of an elite, who can access the best primary state or confessional schools or choose to send their children to high quality private schools. Such schools can provide the extra edge which employers generally look for. Under such circumstances, the Equal Opportunities Commission will have a lot of difficulty to ‘right’ the ‘wrong’ done to the deprived and marginalised. The discriminations often alluded to will persist for a very long time. The CPE, private tuition, the assessment mode, the curriculum which is a one size fits all, killing the multiple talents and creativity of our children are here to stay – ‘assises’ or no ‘assises. ‘ The CPE may take a different name and form but if the end results are the same with no reversal of hierarchies for those at the bottom rungs of the ladder and little opportunity for children to think of themselves as citizens, the nation would be increasingly polarized, especially in this era of growing joblessness and inequalisation.
Beyond access and parental responsibility
When it comes to debating the plight of the downtrodden amongst the minority groups, another often heard comment is that government is pumping a lot of resources in the education sector but it is for the families to make the necessary efforts to assist in their children’s education. This is often accompanied by ‘I also come from a very poor family, if my parents did it, others should also be able to do it. ‘ The assistance and support of families, remain no doubt, an important pillar for the educational success of children. However, reducing the problem of a fundamentally flawed, archaic, Eurocentric, culturally biased and inequitable system to the question of families and parental responsibility is erroneous and reductionist. It is important to remember that the nature and type of families differ. Their microrealities and the social pathologies that surround them as well as the housing conditions in which some of them live can hamper their parenting roles.
The mobilisation and management of the necessary human and material resources to ensure that children receive appropriate and good quality education is a complex challenge and one which requires the collaboration of many partners – teachers, administrators, parents, community leaders etc. In short, if education reforms are to be meaningful and our youth, irrespective of ethnicity, gender, social class, and ‘dis’ability are to be truly empowered, there is an urgent need to revisit the recruitment policy of primary school teachers, revamp teacher education and ensure that it is infused with modules on diversity management and minority rights in schooling as well as teaching the disadvantaged, abolish the CPE and develop new assessment modes while reinforcing regionalization at the secondary level. Our major weakness has been the absence of a holistic approach to educational planning and our failure to look at education as a continuum. We badly need an education system which can encourage ’emancipatory politics’ and the emergence of a nation built on equitable citizenship and where discourses on minority and majority no longer have their place.