It is believed that the word ‘EDUCATION’ probably comes from the Latin word ‘educere’ which means ‘to lead out of …’ Lead out of what? Out of darkness, ignorance and prejudice into experience, knowledge and wisdom. We know what we have to do BUT how do we proceed to do it.
Education does not mean mastering several languages as it is perceived in the Maritime Republic of Mauritius (MRM) but coping with the following in this order of importance:
1. UNIVERSAL FUNCTIONAL LITERACY: This is defined by UNESCO as the ability of all citizens in a given country to “engage in all those activities in which literacy is required for effective function of his or her group and community and also for enabling him or her to continue to use reading, writing and calculation for his or her own and the community’s development.” In the modern world literacy is an essential tool for development and not just a passport to office work. Most people in MRM believe that manual workers have no need for literacy and fail to understand that in a post-oral society the transmission of knowledge is done through the written word and the full enjoyment of our rights and responsible shouldering of our duties rest on literacy skills among other things.
What is the situation in MRM? We boast of a high national literacy rate and this is the biggest national lie. We love to fool ourselves. Less than one third of MRM population possess the required functional literacy skills; most can just scribble something that looks like a name or simply use their thumb to describe their identity. Why is that so when we invest massively in education? Simply because we have an irrational, unsound and idiotic language policy. Nowhere in the world are children asked to master literacy skills in three foreign languages at one and the same time while their mother tongue is ignored.
UNESCO advises that basic literacy should start in the mother tongue of the child and foreign prestigious languages should be taught at a later stage. Disregarding this has led to the production of semilinguals (persons who know two or more languages but exhibit low profile in all of them, that involves having poor vocabulary and wrong grammar) and half-baked intellectuals. Politicians, teachers, parents and self-appointed leaders are to blame for this absurd and counter-productive and destructive practice. We are destroying the children’s potentials to grow harmoniously.
I am sure that some self-congratulating nitwits will take all this as rubbish and embark on a denial campaign based on thin air. My reply to these hardened experts at self-delusion is: If literacy skills in MRM are really high, then there is no need to have political symbols on our ballot paper and all MRM citizens will be able to do well in the UNESCO literacy test and write a 150 word text on themselves in any language of their choice respecting all written language rules. Let’s put them to test!
The real shame and waste are that we have the resources to build in MRM a genuine course in bilingual literacy for all citizens but we seem unable to take the right decision. We prefer to focus on non-issues and irrelevancies; take preconceived ideas as gospel truth; refuse to admit facts; and worse of all, choose mud-slinging and character assassination instead of rational arguments. We prefer NOT to know because knowledge does incite action. If properly handled, our national language, Mauritian, and our official language, English, which are both creole languages are valuable complementary instruments to attain the goals of sustainable, universal functional bilingual literacy.
This does not mean that that our semi-official language, French, and the different identity languages should be ignored. The teaching of languages and language learning should be planned and staggered.
2. KNOW WHO YOU ARE. Another important function of education is to help us know who we really are for self-knowledge is an important road to wisdom. Yet we prefer to bask in myths and ill-digested concepts. We reject the findings of science when it tells us that Africa is the cradle of humanity; we reject the works of philosophers and historians who say that the MRM archipelago is made up of creole islands. Some even question and reject Darwinism as haram. In the past, some racists called Mauritius ‘Petite France’. Now we have a new brand of racists who call Mauritius ‘Little India’. “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.” Socrates said this a long-long time ago. But we refuse to learn.
3. KNOW THE WORLD YOU’RE IN. A sound education should inform the citizens of MRM on global warming, climate change, food insecurity, destruction of bio-diversity etc. and prepare them to face these man-made calamities.
If education helps to tackle these problems, then democracy will thrive and healthy development will take place.