by Rajendra Sewpersadsing
I served the Ministry of Education for more than 40 years, and during my career I have worked mostly with failures of primary schools, starting with the Prevocational Training Centre (PVT) in 1990 going through the Basic Secondary School (BSS), the SSS Vocational (SSSV), the prevocational stream (PVE) and finally the Grade 9 Extended Programme (EP) in 2018. I got to learn much about those students – their social background, their profile, their attitude and aptitude, their weaknesses and their strengths.
Based on my experience and expertise, I submitted many papers to the ministry with the view to improving the service offered to those students. My last paper was submitted on the verge of my retirement. It was a complete report on the Extended Programme whereby I alerted the ministry of the outcome if ever, the EP students were to sit for the same National Certificate of Education (NCE) as the mainstream students. I drew the attention of the ministry that most of the EP students will fail the NCE and I made a plea to the ministry to put aside all pride and prejudice and to save the EP students from failure.
But the ministry was very obstinate in its decision. A study was commissioned; it was carried jointly by the Mauritius Institute of Education (MIE) and the World Bank. Many changes were brought to the initial EP project following recommendations of that study. For instance, more emphasis was laid on literacy and numeracy with an increase in the contact hours for English, French and Maths. Life Skills and Values, an optional non-core subject was made compulsory for the EP students. Workshops were organised for Educators working with EP students and practice question papers were prepared by the MIE to train the EP students for the exam. A mock exam was held in July this year to gauge the students’ performance. And, the results of the mock exam were no surprise; as expected, some 90% of the EP students could not make it.
Or, the 10% pass is a great achievement for the ministry. How can the ministry expect better results? The EP students are made to sit for the NCE when,
(i)the magical “adapted curriculum” designed for them does not meet the requirements of the NCE;
(ii)the textbooks prescribed for them do not cover the entire syllabus for NCE;
(iii)the practice question papers prepared by MIE contain only some 30% of questions for NCE exams;
(iv)the NCE exams assess much more than what has been taught in class during the five years;
(v)and above all, the EP students have very big learning difficulties.
The EP students are victims of two main factors: a wrongly advised ministry or the overpowering ego of some people or both. Most of the technicians at the ministry have long years of service. The MIE has so many capable and efficient educationalists and pedagogues. They are specialists in the field of education. How can they fail at proffering the right advice to the ministry? Do they fear to take the risk of opposing the Hon. Minister? Or, is it a question of always pleasing the Minister with the affirmative? Does it really pay to be surrounded by ‘Yes Men’? Or is it not more productive to have opposing views and opinions that can lead to rich and fruitful discussions over the issue with deep analysis of all options and come out with the selection of the best one. It reminds me of one incident; I once opposed the decision of my superior, with valid arguments. I was slapped with “I … am the Director; I … decide”. At times, we are made ‘Yes Men’ because those up on the hierarchical ladder are not open to constructive suggestions. They just shut the door to valuable proposals that can lead to better solutions.
Above everything, one thing is true. The EP students are victims. They will be ejected from the school system after 11 years without any achievements and left in nature exposed to all evils of society. There is no place for them in the MITD training centres nor in the Polytechnics as all seats are taken up by dropouts from the mainstream. They have no skills to find employment or to have their own business. Most of the jobs for the unskilled and the semi-skilled are taken up by cheap labour from other countries, mainly India and Bangladesh. What is left for them, to become drug dealers and/or drug consumers? How will those EP students grow up into honest bread-earners? How will they earn a decent living? How will they form a prosperous family? And, if they happen to make a family, what are the expectations for their kids? For how long will that cycle repeat itself? Can the authorities provide answers to those pertinent questions? We should not forget that some 3000 EP students will be ejected every year with the Nine Years of Continuous Basic Education reforms so proudly presented by the Hon. Minister in 2016 with these words “… we owe it to our children” (Inspiring Every Child, Aug 2016)
The results of the mock exams have been a strong warning. The results of the NCE in December this year will be factual data that need to be analysed objectively. Let’s do away with all blame. Let’s put aside our ego, our pride and prejudice. Let’s accept that somehow we have made a mistake and let’s learn from that mistake. It is never too late; let’s put heads together for solutions. Let’s come out with something that is most appropriate for those pupils leaving the primary school with no success – a project that will really make them “responsible citizens with a strong value base and a productive contributor to society” as envisioned by the Hon. Minister (Inspiring Every Child, Aug 2016). We will surely earn more in form of blessings from those students and their parents. I have experienced it. Many parents of those students have given me their blessings when leaving my office after the help extended to them. I was really touched when once a mother told me, “mo pou alim enn labouzi pou ou dan legliz”.