THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG
Regularly, at least 3 times a year, people in Mauritius, be they politicians, school administrators, teachers or parents, get very excited about exam results. Recriminations on the one hand and self-congratulations on the other abound. We focus on the little visible bit and ignore the large hideous hidden chunk.
Recently, we were told that a record number of our teenagers had passed the H.S.C exams. What does this mean? Did the 5,000 or so teenagers obtain 3 ‘main’, 1 ‘sub’ and G.P and so had a ‘full certificate’? What does a ‘scrape through’ pass mean in terms of performance per subject or as a whole? The record high pass rate is like a bikini which shows what we don’t want to see and hides what we want to see. About 8 years before that event, about 25,000 children took the 6th grade exams. It means that during a period 8 years, 20,000 children dropped out. Most of them are either semi-literate or non-literate and non-numerate. We celebrate the performance of some 5,000 and turn a blind eye on the agony, frustration and humiliation of 20,000. Is this our definition of civilisation and development? What are the prospects of these young citizens who do not possess a fundamental and indispensable tool to perform well in the modern world? What is that tool? Literacy and numeracy. What does it mean? The ability to read, write and count. Does this mean the ability to use a phone? NO. To use a phone, all you need to know is 0 to 9. That is not literacy or numeracy. Does it mean to be able to sign your name? NO. You may learn to draw your name without being literate,
What is literacy then? It is the ability to say in writing, in at least ONE language, who you are in about 150 words, in sentences which are grammatically correct, well-punctuated and well-connected.
Regularly UNESCO asks governments of all countries to give their literacy rates. All the governments of Mauritius have repeatedly lied to that international organisation by deliberately confusing literacy with schooling. The official figure of about 85% in fact means that 85% of Mauritian children attend school.
Although schools are accessible and free, the real literacy rate is around 30%. Why is that so?
Even quite normal children growing up in highly developed countries have difficulties to acquire reading and writing skills. Why? Because humans have in the brain an area known as Broca’s area which helps the development of speech – oral skills – BUT there is no known area which helps us to manage literacy. Neurolinguists think that learning to read and write means that learners must create a bridge between their Broca’s area and their visual cortex. This, in normal conditions where learners must learn to read and write their mother tongue, is a difficult task. The situation becomes very complex if learners must do this in a foreign language. In Mauritius our children are forced to learn literacy skills in 2 and in some cases 3 foreign languages. As long as people think that this is good, there will be no change. Teachers also love this for there are jobs for the boys and girls and Mass Tuition Co. Ltd. thrives.
SINCE MAURITIAN AND ENGLISH ARE BOTH CREOLE LANGUAGES SHARING GREAT SYNTACTIC SIMILARITIES, BILINGUAL LITERACY (in Mauritian and English) CAN LEAD TO A MAJOR BREAKTHROUGH.
Change will come only when parents by the thousands stand up, raise their voices and make clear claims for genuine change.
When will it happen? Kan poul gagn ledan? No, not really if Curtin decides to step in.
Updated version: 11.03.23