Dr. Anand D. Awootar, PhD, D.Litt, Chairperson, Education Commission, Mouvement Patriotique
This is in continuation of my previous article in the Forum page of Le Mauricien (Wednesday December 14). The following proposals were tossed with a view to enabling children to comprehend their inner vitality through an education system likely to care for the soul of the nation: that the process model should have precedence over the product model, the evaluation system to be re-visited for children to be able to opt for different models of attainment, classroom size to be regulated between 25 and 30 pupils, a compulsory 20-minute morning assembly for student empowerment, textbook content to be re-designed to highlight certain desirable traits, a low-key plurality of collaborative peer research at upper primary, a Children’s Annual Primary Educational Congress, the establishment of an Annual Designation of Best Ten Headteachers and Best Ten Teachers nationally, a Student Wellness Committee and an Ecole des Parents in each school.
The Mauritian school environment has, in the past, known better days when duty, honour and self-discipline were inherited values, unquestionably accepted. Today, unfortunately, things move with breathless haste, leaving neither time nor the inclination for even a glancing consideration at consequences. There are, however, multiple little things that nearly slip past notice, but which may have a huge positive impact if rightly considered and implemented.
In addition to the aforementioned proposals, the following suggestions add to the list:
Lengthening of School Day That is meant primarily for remedial work designed for the unbelievably high number of slow-performing pupils who, unfortunately, remain highly deficient in basic literacy and numeracy skills even at the end of the primary cycle. Such an extension remains the best hope for those pupils to catch up and be spared the ordeal of spinning irremediably beyond retrieval at the PSAC level. The extension will also be a period for consolidation, enrichment and co-operative learning opportunity for better performing pupils.
Lengthening of Academic Year
The third term represents a period of precious time going academically waste as it is spent drilling students in the art of answering question papers. All attention and energy are, therefore, focused on examination results to the exclusion of the development of other equally crucial dimensions — such a practice is the very antithesis of the much-publicised holistic development. With actual face-to-face teaching ending by the end of October, the number of yearly classroom contact hours for the Mauritian education system is one of the lowest in the world.
Indiscipline at Primary Level
It gets increasingly hard to stomach the all-too-frequent cases of pupil indiscipline at the primary cycle, the gravity of which often leaves us speechless with agony. Ironically though, children at this age are extremely easy to win over as they are by nature inclined to ingratiate themselves with their teachers and gain a sense of importance in the eyes of their peers.
• School Warden
It is, thus, important to empower Grade 6 pupils through a staggered monthly appointment of, say, 12 school ‘Wardens’ after an intensive briefing session. This will enable them to better shepherd pupils of lower Grades in terms of help, guidance, and maintenance of a degree of ethical behaviour. In short, with their enhanced status and newly-gained responsibility, reinforced by an identification mark and a promise of an attestation certificate, the school ‘Wardens’ will behave as role-models to their younger peers. By the end of the year, all Grade 6 pupils will have had the opportunity to act as school ‘Wardens’, and discipline at school will have improved greatly.
• Student Wellness Committee in Each School
Such a Committee is to be chaired by the Headteacher and comprising members of staff, PTA, NGOs and other co-opted members, the purposes of which are to: - devise strategies to render the school a more pleasant place for students and staff to be. - deal with stress-related problems through counselling and guidance. May also appeal to locally available volunteers from different fields of expertise. - review multi-hazard safety place, crisis intervention, first-aid personnel, etc. - provide a written code of conduct for the school and its application: maintenance of orderly behaviour for staff, pupils, parents, visitors, vendors. It will also deal with issues pertaining to bullying, harassment, possession of weapon or any object considered a facsimile of a weapon. - establish and foster healthy School-Community relations. - devise an evaluation system to annually review its performance, strengths and weaknesses, and suggest ways for improvement.
• Teachers/ Headteachers
No system of education can rise above the quality of teachers, and the quality of teachers greatly depends on selection, training, mindset of teachers, and strategies adopted for ensuring accountability.
• A Teach for Mauritius Scheme
Through such a scheme, teachers with proven competence and dedication are posted to under-performing schools for a minimum of 5 years to make a tangible difference. Such postings should be against tantalising incentives as this practice will be a first step towards the establishment of parity among all primary schools, rural as well as urban. A policy of regular compulsory rotation of teachers to different localities should also be seriously envisaged as per firmly-established guidelines.
• National Comprehensive Study on Primary School Teachers
In line with the policy of creating a healthy school environment and narrowing the school quality gap at all levels, the above Study needs to be conducted to review actual working hours, work-life balance, psychological well-being, and measures to motivate teachers.
to be continued…