Education In The Mauritian Context Education Essay

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When France took possession of the island in 1715, the French East India Company administered Mauritius. In 1767, it became a crown colony of France. At that time, formal education was absent and education was more of an individual concern. With the advent of the French Revolution in 1789, the idea of active state participation in education was promoted. In 1790, the colonial Assembly proclaimed that the state had to provide moral and political education to its citizens. It was understood that a uniform type of education would be made available to all, irrespective of their social class. An adapted version of the "Plan Lakanal" was implemented in the island with the setting up of L'Ecole Centrale as a national institution to provide secondary education for the elite. For the masses, primary education was advised and primary schools were to be run as private schools. Hence, it was only towards the end of the eighteenth century that education started to become a concern for the administrators.

During this period, the island was populated by three groups of people, the whites, the coloured people and the slaves. Under General Decaen, L'Ecole Centrale became the Lycée and provided both primary and secondary education. A few primary schools were opened to non-whites but secondary education was the preserve of whites. Thus, education was the province of the whites.

Reverend Lebrun set up free day primary schools to instruct the destitute and the coloured children in Port-Louis in 1815. As for the education of the slaves, the English planter Charles Telfair was the first to introduce education on his estate at Bel Ombre in 1829. In 1827, under the pressure of British humanitarians, a slavery amelioration policy was adopted but the indulgence of early British governors contributed to the collapse of the implementation of the policy. Thus, the "progress" of popular education in the nineteenth century was achieved through the work of missionaries.

The act for the abolition of slavery was passed in 1834 in Mauritius. In the 1830's, Indian immigration started. However, the conditions under which Indian Immigration were contracted made no provision for the education of the children. In 1851, Governor Higginson drew the attention of both the local and British governments to the need to improve the state of the Indians. In 1856, grants-in-aid were offered to denominational schools. Aided Primary Schools started to become popular and they grew alongside the government schools.

In the twentieth century, education became a concern for the administrators, though the standard and conditions prevailing in schools left much to be desired. Primary and secondary education in Mauritius is presently based on a 6-5-2 structure. Six years for the primary level and seven years devoted to the secondary level. All levels of education are free and open to all citizens of the country. Since its inception, primary education has been provided on a free basis. Secondary education became free in 1977 while tertiary education was declared free in 1988. (http://vcampus.uom.ac.mu)

Marxist Perspectives of Education

Unlike Functionalism, which assumes that education is fair, that is, it rewards the best candidates and disregards social inequalities that may restrict attainment, Marxism believes that education "teaches the values and norms of the bourgeoisie" (Bryant, n.d.), that is, the elite group or the ruling group. The Marxist view on educational attainment is greatly influenced by social class background. It is said that education transmits ruling class ideology.

 Althusser (1971) argued that the main role of education in a capitalist society was the reproduction of an efficient and obedient work force. This is achieved through schools:

Wrong (1961) proclaims that "sociologists often have portrayed people as mere puppets manipulated by the invisible strings of society". As such, Wrong views students as puppets, in that they "passively accept and never reject their school's values".

Marxist saw the hidden curriculum as perpetuating inequalities and preparing the individual to become a docile, obedient and complying worker. The hidden curriculum is thus a mechanism of the capitalists to perpetuate the system. Illich (1971) argued that the hidden curriculum teaches the pupil to become a passive and massive consumer; he/she has no control over what he/she is learning. The power of authority that is exercised by the school make the pupil believes that only conformity will bring rewards and is a door to the job market. (http://vcampus.uom.ac.mu).

Marxist Perspectives in the Mauritian Context

In the Mauritian context, the materialistic model of society can be found in its educational system. According to Karl Marx's sociological concept, the work that people do determines their material wealth which in turn influences their social order. In Mauritius, people who have high paid jobs and rich businessmen can afford to live in specific posh regions. The schools belonging to such catchments areas are therefore prestigious institutions to which access is quite restricted. Consequently, the prevailing school culture in these areas is that of the ruling class of the society. Often such schools receive the best educational resources, such as the best subject teachers, rectors or head teachers and the best laboratory facilities among others, and they obtain more public attention. Furthermore, the PTA (Parent Teacher Association) funds collected and donations receive make it easier for these schools to improve further the educational facilities for the students. National Colleges (previously known as Star Schools) are found in urban regions and their school population comes mainly from middle class and upper class families. They have good infrastructure, parent-teacher's associations are very dynamic and students normally perform well in examinations. The resulting values and beliefs imparted by schools confirm and reinforce what the students have already learnt and experienced at home. For instance, in a star school, students get the message that due to their high intellectual ability, they are the best suitors as the future leaders of the country. The school culture being a reproduction at a micro level of the large society, socialization in the school is a smooth procedure for star school students. Hence, this is why, each year, the greatest number of laureates for the 'A'-level is from National Colleges like the Royal College Port- Louis, Royal College Curepipe and the Queen Elizabeth College. Research shows that students from upper and middle class families show higher level average levels of achievement on test scores and stay longer in school than low class students (Alwin & Thornton 1984). There are many reasons to explain this result. The social class of the student will determine many family atmosphere variables such as income, resources, health care, attitudes and behaviours at home, family intellectual activities, and so on. This can be further illustrated by taking a look at the pass rate of the Certificate of Primary Education (CPE) for different primary schools in different regions. From the statistics given by the Government of Mauritius regarding the CPE pass rate for the year 2012, it can be noted that those schools in poor areas have low pass rates whereas those schools in posh areas have higher pass rates. Even Dr The Honourable Vasant Bunwaree, Minister of Education and Human Resources of Mauritius, conceded, in an interview by Leelachand (2011) after the announcement of the 2011 CPE results, that there is a great demarcation between the 'elite' group and the working class children. He said: "In general, the tendency is that the education system favours the elites but we have to look at the other students as well. If we want to improve the system, we have to make an effort. I am not satisfied with the CPE results. We have to do much better."

Moreover, teaching is seen as a middle-class job and many teachers come from this social class. Sometimes, they tend to have low expectations of working class children; they may see the students as being only capable of reaching a certain level of academic achievement and would not see any importance in trying to develop the students' performance any further. This is known as 'self-fulfilling prophecy', a term coined by the late Jamaican sociologist Robert King Merton, and this attitude does not encourage these children to go ahead with new challenges. This is the extreme contrary when we observe how the teachers in the National Colleges strive to produce the laureates. At schools, some teachers tend to assess the children in terms of their language, dress code and other related behaviours. In Rosenthal and Jacobsen's study called "Pygmalion in the classroom", some students were selected at random in a classroom and the teacher was made to believe that they had developed a test to determine the future of the students; which students would "bloom academically" the next year. This led to the teacher making more considerations to those students who would "bloom" and eventually it happened to become true. It is therefore proven that labelling have an influence over the success or failure of students. Unfortunately, in some schools in Mauritius, teachers label those students, who cause trouble in class or are reluctant to work, as "couyon" (which means not intelligent or have no skills in Creole) while those in the National Colleges are always encouraged to performed better and have the support of their teachers as well as the school.

Many students from poor social backgrounds suffer from "learned helplessness". After failing continually, these students feel that they will never do well at school; they are often labelled negatively by their schoolmates or teachers, so they prefer to quit. Fortunately in Mauritius since the 1970's, secondary education has become free. The system of ranking was then established for the CPE examinations which allowed many families from the working class to quickly climb the social ladder. However, this system has been replaced by the grading system and the introduction of National Colleges. It is observed that, even though, education is free; there is a "high rate of dropout at the 'A'-level"

Some schools still work under the system of streaming with an ideal objective to meet the educational needs of individual students. However, streaming is often linked to social class, with a disproportionately higher number of lower-streams students being drawn from the working class. This encourages a form of stigmatization on the students whereby the pupils often feel rejected.

Another reason that explains poor performance of lower class students is that their home environments do not give the head start in school provided by middle class and upper class homes (Epstein, 1995). They then have problems to adjust in schools because they had very little support from their parents since their birth. The parenting style and expectations of middle class families are different from lower class. Basil Bernstein (1961) stated that working-class children often communicate ineffectively because of different "language codes". Moreover, many of the working class students have single parents and as such, they lack the parental affection and are often neglected. At times, one of the parents is undergoing specific sentences in jail. In some parts of the country, it is observed that some students, upon returning home from schools, do not actually stay in their houses. They are seen on the streets till late. This leads to juvenile delinquency.

In addition, children coming from high-class families have the chance of being acquainted with certain 'refined' knowledge about the norms of culture and cultural heritage. This is referred to as the 'Cultural Capital', by the famous sociologist Bourdieu. Cultural Capital is formed from the fact that parents, especially those from the higher classes of society, get well acquainted to art, music, art galleries, museums and reference libraries and will therefore inculcate this cultural knowledge to their children. Children therefore learn to appreciate art and other cultural items, from a very tender age. Some also get the chance to go abroad and to visit many foreign countries and thus, will be exposed to foreign languages, different art of living, cultures from multiple ethnic groups and communities and will also learn to appreciate the culinary art of these countries. These children will no doubt have an advantage over their peers who come from the working class, since the former will be exposed to multiple facets of culture since childhood and will be provided with educational toys and computers and even internet access. Thus, these children will be one step ahead, as compared to students from the working class families, who will suffer from cultural deprivation, and who are unable to distinguish 'cultural cues', when their teachers refer to films, famous artists, wonders of the world, cultural heritages and historical places and events.

Also, the official curriculum which is taught at school and examinable is prepared by people belonging to the ruling class. Knowledge which is considered important by this category of people is set as the study program. This idea has been interpreted by Paulo Freire (1970) in the Pedagogy of the Oppressed in which issues of the curriculum content were raised. For instance, working class children do not in the majority of cases possess prior exposure to the elements of the Official curriculum. Thus, the subject matter taught remains an abstract concept which accounts much for their failure at school. On the other hand, middle and upper class pupils who possess the material advantage are able to make meaning out of the taught content and they succeed at school. In Mauritius, most "Zones D'éducation Prioritaires" (ZEP) schools where CPE pass rate is very low are found in regions where parents are from poor economic backgrounds. According to Koodooruth (2004), the ZEP or low performing schools are "characterised by a very small school population, poor infrastructure and are normally found in rural regions and the peripheries of towns."

Although education and transport are claimed to be free for students in Mauritius, parents still have to incur certain costs to educate their children. It is easier for middle class families to provide educational materials, compared to low income families. This does affect performance of the students at school since it helps them to better adapt to their school environment and be accepted among their friends. The lower class children cannot participate in some extracurricular activities such as some sports and outings, just because their parents cannot afford to pay for it. These students do feel rejected and develops a negative attitude towards schooling.

Technology has really become an indispensable tool for our students nowadays, but not all parents can afford to give their children these facilities. This causes the poor students to be at a disadvantage and to have lower self-esteem. Many students from poor families do part time jobs to help their parents in fulfilling their needs, and these students cannot give their maximum time to education. This implies that either they under-achieve or they are forced to leave the school at an earlier age, compared to their upper or middle class peers. According to Koodooruth (2004), individuals of the lower class "have many difficulties to meet ends financially and do not have the resources to meet their child's educational expenses adequately, though they might be interested in their child's education". In a study by Chinapah (1983), he found that the performance of a student at school does not depend directly on his/her ethnicity but rather on the type of school he/she attends.

Further studies have shown that low class families cannot always provide a balanced diet and proper health care to their children. The latter have higher risks of infection, are sick more often, and this gives rise to high rate of absenteeism for these students. This may explain the poor performance of students from lower class students. Dr James Griffin, of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said: "High quality child care appears to provide a small boost to academic performance, perhaps by fostering the early acquisition of school readiness skills" (Fox, 1990).

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