So, according to Minister of Education, Dr Bunwaree, the Government has taken a decision. Kreol will be introduced in schools but only as an optional subject up to CPE, not as an official language of instruction. The forum today at Domaine Les Pailles was conducted totally in Kreol. Anyone who spoke against the policy or dared to use English was cut short by the Minister. Hence, it was more of a PR exercise for the partial fulfilment an election promise, rather than an opportunity to seriously discuss the issues.
In a true demonstration of the freedom of speech in Mauritius, almost as soon as I was given the microphone to explain my views, it was snatched away from me in case I spoilt the sycophants’ party. My question was a simple one: “The introduction of Kreol in schools as an optional subject is a solution to what problem?” It was also rhetorical and, if allowed, I would have continued as follows:
Too many children are leaving school unable to read and write. By enabling them to read and write Kreol, the Government will improve its statistics in literacy. However, how does that serve school-leavers when they search for work? In our open economy that has an increasingly global focus, what jobs will they be qualified for – certainly not tourism, or call centres or as knowledge workers or anything else that we aspire to develop, except gutting fish in the seafood hub? Moreover an even greater number of children are failing the CPE examination. But if a few more pass because they have good marks in Kreol, how does that help them in their secondary studies unless Kreol becomes the language of instruction?
A second question arises: Does the need for private tuition, even for elite students, arise because they are struggling with English as the language of instruction? If so then surely, the government should pay for everyone to have private tuition to ensure that it can claim that every Mauritian has access to free education. There is an alternative that solves all of these problems: teach children English earlier and better.
For decades, methods of teaching English as a second language have been available where a first language is not used at all. Hence, native French, German, Spanish, Kreol or Bhojpouri speakers can learn in the same class. If we want to be a bi- or trilingual nation we need to be able to think in more than one language. This becomes much easier if the language is present in the environment. What is the point of educating our children in English if they hardly ever come across it again outside school? We simply prove the old adage: “use it or lose it”. There must be more English in newspapers, on TV and on radio.
After being silenced at the forum, I made my way to the British Council to enquire what they were doing to reverse the decline in the average standard of English in Mauritius. The response was that discussions were on-going with the Ministry of Education to teach English to teachers. Does this indicate the source of the problem? If teachers are not comfortable with English, how will they be able to teach it to their students?
The White House may be open for questions but the Mauritian Government certainly is not.