DAN PARADI TRILENG
Most Mauritians believe that they are either bilingual (having full mastery of TWO languages) or polyglots (having full mastery of several languages); most of them believe that Mauritian Creole (MC/Morisien) is not a language but is a patois or a dialect; most believe that Mauritius is a fully literate country and most citizens have the “ability to read, write and use numeracy, to handle information, to express ideas and opinions, to make decisions and solve problems, as family members, workers, citizens and lifelong learners” (definition of literacy by the government of Scotland). Myth or reality?
Most Mauritians believe that only NEOLIBERAL CAPITALISM can guarantee growth and general happiness and this means ‘less government’ and full licence to the invisible hand that governs economic activities. Myth or reality?
We were all very happy in our comfort zone until a ‘kaser nisa’ (spoilsport) barged in to kick us in the pants. Yes, COVID-19 did just that.
‘Confinement and curfew oblige’, IT pundits were quick to suggest IT solutions: internet banking, online shopping, internet administration, distance learning etc. They are not wrong but there is a ‘small snag’. All these solutions rest on functional literacy and according to my theoretical and practical work, less than 30% of the population master the fundamentals of functional literacy. Most Mauritians are semilingual and semiliterate. State of the art technology, however efficacious, can be handled properly by only a few who jealously guard their power and privileges.
With the lockdown of schools, it has been suggested that distance learning using T.V and internet apps (Zoom, Skype etc.) could replace face to face instruction. Pa fasil! Most teachers have not been trained to use this technology and proper logistics support leaves much to be desired. Worst of all, because Mauritians don’t like to acknowledge reality and prefer to think that what IS NOT in fact IS, a serious pedagogical problem crops up. In some classrooms, if French is used as a support language (stepney) in the teaching of most subjects, including science, in most classrooms, it is Mauritian Creole (MC) which functions as support language when communication collapses as the official medium of instruction, English, cannot deliver. In face to face teaching, the support language is used informally and all attempts to ban it have failed. Teachers explain concepts, ideas and difficulties in the children’s mother tongue (MC is the mother tongue of 90% of the population) and then the English version is dictated to be used for examination purposes. Have the pundits of distance learning thought about that? How efficacious will their teaching be?
The economic pundits, most being faithful and loyal followers of neoliberal capitalism, characterised by free market trade, deregulation of financial markets, privatization, individualisation, and the shift away from state welfare provision, believe in reducing state power and increasing private sector dominance. Again, the great ‘KASER NISA’ came to rub the pundits’ noses in their own … you know what I mean!
The state has now become the saviour. Public money is used to save the private sector. And most politicians in government and opposition think it is a normal thing.
A minority think that we must rethink the future in economic, political and cultural terms. Nation building, food security, gender equality, green sustainable development, universal functional literacy, inter alia, must now be the order of the day.
Has COVID-19 taught us anything else? Since the beginning of the pandemic, Mauritian politicians, local audio-media, professionals in the front line – medical, law-enforcement and NGO personnel – have understood that, to inform and educate people about the disease, the despised national language and mother tongue of 90% of the population, Mauritian Creole (MC/Morisien) is a vital tool. Will the door be now open to move to a genuine and vibrant language policy which will power our efforts to build a rainbow nation, to attain full functional literacy, to ensure global and sustainable development in all fields and to launch and sustain a national ecolo-economic movement? Will religious leaders understand that religious education can succeed only if faith learns to use devotees’ mother tongue? We can only hope!