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The education system in Mauritius is largely based on the British system since Mauritius was a former British colony (British Council, 2008). Since its independence, education has become one of the most important preoccupation of the Mauritian Government to be able to meet the challenges awaiting the country (British Council, 2008). The Mauritian Education system is categorised into three levels: primary, secondary and tertiary. Education at all levels is governed by the Education Act 1996. Regulations related to the primary sector have been effective as from May 1997. Under the Education Act 1993, all children must attend primary school, failing which the responsible party has to pay a fine and face imprisonment. From the age of five until the age of twelve, children are admitted into Government or Aided primary school. The National Curriculum for the primary consists of four compulsory subjects for the lower primary and five compulsory subjects for the upper primary. Asian and Arabic Languages are optional whereas the compulsory subjects are: English, French, Mathematics, Environmental Studies (for lower primary and History and Geography and Science (for Upper Primary). Other non examinable subjects which are included in the Curriculum are Physical Education, Moral Values, Religious Studies, Creative Arts and Singing.
The Curriculum for all secondary schools have diversified options ranging from Mathematics, English and French, which are compulsory, and other subjects like Accounting, Business Studies, Economics, languages like German and Spanish. In addition, students are strongly encouraged to take in Science and IT subjects for O and A level examination. At the end of each term, after being assessed, orally or by written work, a term report is sent to parents informing them of the performance of their children and drawings attentions to weaknesses. Test, written and oral, are carried out at the end of every term in the classroom by individual teachers to monitor the progress of the students. At the end of Primary school, pupils have to take a National examination. Then the students are admitted to a secondary institution, depending on their grades, where they will continue for seven years where they have to take the Cambridge School Certificate (O level) and Cambridge Higher School Certificate (A level) In the Tertiary sector, there are two public universities and three polytechnics . There are also a number of private institutions which provide higher studies in the country.
Slaves from Madagascar and Africa were brought to the island when the French took its possession. To make themselves understood by their masters, these slaves had to develop a language, a French based creole-kreole- which is still widely used in the country to this day. English is the official language used in the Parliament, for traffic regulations, for administrative purposes in schools and it is also the official medium of instruction. The 1990 population and language census showed that seventy one percent of the population had kreole as their mother tongue(Owodally, M.). However, this language is not given a place in Mauritian education system.
In 1953, the UNESCO Report said'It is axiomatic that the best medium for teaching a child is the mother tongue. Psychologically, it is the system of meaningful signs that is in his mind works automatically for expression and understanding'(The International Journal of Language, Society and Culture, 2006). There is also strong evidence from research to show that allowing children to use their mother tongues in schools has positive outcomes for their learning (Cohteh, J, 2003). When children are allowed to use their first language in which they are proficient is is like giving them a tool for their learning. Their first language can help them to learn the concepts and skills they need to know in different subjects across the curriculum. Cohteh (2003) states that'if we deny children the opportunities to use the routes to thinking and learning which are easiest to them and as the strongest to them, we are denying them the access to power over their own learning'. Based on theses findings, why is the mother tongues, kreol, still not used as a medium of instruction in the Mauritian Education system?
Using Kreol, the mother tongue of the majority of Mauritians as a medium of instruction in Mauritius is an issue that was raised in the late 1960's, just before the country became independent (Owoodally, M.). It seems indeed most logical that a child should be taught in a language that is familiar to him. If basic concepts are taught to a child in a language which is not his first language, he will most probably not understand them fully as if they were taught to him in his mother tongue. Thus, the child will always lag behind because he may not have understood all that the teacher has explained. It has been noticed that the children of West Indian immigrants in England are the ones who do worst at school (Romaine, 1993 in Education in Mauritius: A Multicultural and Multilingual African Country). The explanation for this has been that it is because they are taught in a language that is not their mother tongue. Having the mother tongue as a medium of instruction have many advantages. First it offers equal opportunities to all members of a country to have access to education and therefore jobs, a higher standard of living and better measures of hygiene. It also encourages the population to be involved in the development of technology for the progress of their country. Finally, it enhances personal development.
Today the following directive from the education ordinance of 1957 still holds true,' In the lower classes of Government and Aided schools up to and including standard three, any one language may be employed as the language of instruction, being a language which in the opinion of the Minister is the most suitable for the public' (The International Journal of Language, Society and Culture, 2006). It is also stated in the journal that in standard four to six, the medium of instruction should be English. So, it can be seen that in the first years, there is no clear instruction concerning what language should be used as a medium of instruction and it is to be noted that all school books in the country are in English. One of the reasons why the mother tongue is not used as a medium of instruction is because Kreol doesn't has the same level of importance as English and French worldwide. Therefore, many parents are not in favour of the use of the language as a medium of instruction at school. English and French, which are European languages, are seen as languages of'international trade, technology, commerce in the Indian Ocean; and essential for tourism' (Crystal, 1997 in the International Journal of Language, Society and Culture,2006). Secondly, European languages have a very high status in Mauritius. English is seen as the language of knowledge and French as the language of culture (Owoodally, M.). In comparison, kreol has a very low status. The mother tongue kreol is not considered to have enough prestige to be used as a medium of instruction. Kreol is not seen as a full fledged language because it borrows heavily from French words.
The third reason for not having Kreol as a medium of instruction is that there is a constant fear that there will be the creation of an elite class if the mother tongue was to be used in school. This means that if Kreole is used as a medium of instruction at schools, those who are educated enough or rich people, would send their children to private schools where European languages are used as medium of instruction. These children will have better command of these languages and will therefore get better jobs. It is feared that such a plan will lead to segregation. European languages are seen as a factor leading to social promotion.
So we find ourselves in a situation where the mother tongue of most mauritians is Kreol , a language which is used for all communication in society but it is not used as a medium of instruction. In 1978, the Commission of Enquiry on Education (Owoodally, M.) said that research had to be done in order to find out whether language policies had to be amended in the Mauritian Education System. In 1982, the research had still not been conducted. In 1990, the Commission of Enquiry on Education, explained that because'language issues were too sensitive in Mauritius, it would be best to leave things as they were'. So the situation in Mauritius is that children are taught in English and French as if these languages were their first language. The pass rate has slightly improved over the years but it could still be better and many linguists think that' it will not improve drastically because the children are not being taught in their first language' (Owoodally, M.).
Another aspect that we are going to look into is private tutoring also called private tuition. Private tuition is an issue of growing concern and its is practised in both developing and developed countries. Although private tutoring can be positive, it also mean that parents have to have the means to pay for it and in some cases, private tuitions have given rise to abuses. Private tutoring has been defined in various ways. Tutoring primarily refers to'extra lesson after school' (Ysunandu 1993:75 in Foondun, R, 2002). Others described it as' learning activities for the clientele of the formal school which take place outside the regular instruction programme (Marimuthu et al, 1991:1 in Foondun, R,, 2002). One study carried out in Mauritius (Joynathsing et al, 1988, in International Review of Education, 2002) said that' eleven per cent of students in standard one (aged five) and seventy three percent of grade six (aged eleven) went for tutoring classes'. This study was carried out at a time when the country was facing difficult economic crisis. Now that the economy is blooming and that parents are even more aware of the importance of education, the percentage of students taking private tuitions is even higher. The extent of private tutoring increases in families with high income, meaning the more money the parents earn, the more tuitions the children take. The system is so competitive that some students have recourse to a second tuition in the same subject. This phenomena of'double tuition' is very common among well off children who wants to have better results in examinations (Foondun 1992:21 in Foondun, R. 2002). The situation is equally the same in secondary schools. So, why is the rate of private tutoring rising in Mauritius?
One of the reasons discussed earlier is that parents being much more aware of the importance of education are now having recourse to private tutoring to increase the possibility of their child to have better results at examination. At the same time it is an opportunity for school teachers to increase their income (Foondun,1992 in International Review on Education, 2002). The other also argued that the demand and supply factors are reinforcing each other, creating a real market for private tuitions. One of the demand factors is that parents wants their children to have access to prestigious schools. There is thus a'heavy emphasis on examination whose main function is to select the best students and which, therefore, leads to a situation where students are required to seek help outside' (Foundun, 1992:16 in Foondun, 2002). The system is so competitive that almost students, fearing of being overtaken by their peers, have recourse to private tuition.
Another reason why students have access to private tutoring may lie in the fact that the instruction provided in the regular class is often seen as insufficient to allow students to pass the examination. 'Students turn to tuition centres because they fail to get what they want in day schools' (South China Morning Post, Aug 7, 1997 in Foondun, 2002). This is especially true in language classes where the number of students is so large that even the best teacher cannot assign essays to their students and mark them every week. Another reason why there is a high demand for private tuition is that sometimes the school class is so large that students do not receive individual attention. Therefore, to make up for the lack of individual attention, the student will have recourse to private tutoring. In Mauritius, the average class size is supposed to be 21, but classes in prestigious schools sometimes accommodate forty eight or more students.
Another factor which contribute to the high demand for private tuition is peer pressure. This factor is seen to work both ways not only for students but also for teachers. In other words, when one student goes for private tuition, his friend will follow his example. Peer pressure was true as early as 1941 in Mauritius. 'Private coaching is almost universal among boys, and competition keeps it so. For if one boy has a private coach, his rival must have one too, since a difference of one mark will mean the difference between a scholarship and no scholarship' (Ward, 1941:39 in Foondun, 2002). This statement also holds true today in many countries, as indicated by a spokesman of Personal Tutors, a UK based agency,'It's partly peer pressure; parent's don't want their child to get a lower mark than everyone else' (Times Educational Supplement, Oct 19, 2001 in Foondun, 2002).
Is private tuition entirely bad as it is often portrayed in the media or does it really help students. One of the main purposes of private tutorial has always been to help weaker students to improve. In Mauritius, weak students, who otherwise would have done poorly in examination, have improved with the help of private tuitions (Foondun, 2002). In a survey carried out in Mauritius, students acknowledge the contribution private tuition in their progress (Dindyal, 2007). Private tuitions also brings out the best in some students and help them to maximise their potential. In Mauritius, the students who come first at the end of Primary cycle Examination and are rewarded with the best secondary school admit having taken private tuition. Even those who become'laureates' in the Cambridge Higher School Certificate examinations and are offered scholarships to British, French and Australian universities, would never have made it without supplementary classes (Foondun, 2002). So, private tuition can be very beneficial to students if given in a rational way.
Unfortunately, private tuition can sometimes get out of hands and cause untold hardship to all partners in education. The Education system is so competitive in Mauritius that the selection function' takes so much importance that the two major purposes of primary education are destroyed'(Foondun, 1992:25 in Foondun, 2002). With the selection becoming more and more competitive, attending private tuitions is becoming more and more important for students. Weak students are often neglected and high flyers are given extra attention. More emphasis is put on examination skills and non examination subjects are neglected. This has resulted in'inordinate cramming and learning by heart lengthy lists of verbs, singulars and plurals etc'(Glover, 1983:82/83 in Foondun, 2002). In this way, the learning function is reduced leading to a narrow perceptions of what can and should be learned. 'By giving the students all the information needed, teachers indirectly create unimaginative students and by extension hamper the development of a culture of creativity and resourcefulness' (Sunday Mirror, May 12-18, 1996 in Foondun, 2002).
Moreover, private tutoring seems to have a profound effect on the lifestyle and behaviour of children. Nowadays students have no time to devote to sports, television, casual reading and any other form of social activities because they have to attend private tuitions. A well known psychologist in Thailand (The Nation, March 6,1995 in Foondun, 2002) claims that'the phenomenon of students attending private tutorials tend to make them tense and can result in mental and physical problem in the future'. He also added that these children who are brought to compete against each other and they are put under a lot of pressure and all his make them suffer from headaches, tiredness and sometimes sleeplessness and hat they also get irritated very easily.