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Secondary Education for a minimum of five years leading to the Cambridge School Certificate or the General Certificate of Education - Ordinary Level. A minimum of two more years is thereafter required for the Cambridge Higher School Certificate (HSC) or the General Certificate of Education - Advanced Level.
Post-Secondary / Tertiary Education.
Success at the CPE examinations is a sine qua non condition for securing access to Secondary schooling in the mainstream.
Those who have failed the CPE twice or who have reached the age of 12 (the maximum age at which a child may stay in primary) but have failed in the examination, are admitted to the pre-vocational stream of the secondary schools. In this stream, a specific, skills-based curriculum ensures the continuation of educational provision for these children and furthers their learning opportunities during a period of 3 years.
After this, the students of this stream are able to integrate vocational institution to follow the 1-year National Trade Certificate Foundation course which, on successful completion, allows them entry in the vocational sector towards the various levels of apprenticeship and trade certificates.
1.2 Definition of equal opportunities
Equal opportunities in education means providing equal access to the learning experience regardless of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, religion, social background, and academic ability, and applies to all groups of communities including ethnic minorities, travellers, asylum seekers, faith communities, young offenders, older people, and those with disabilities or learning difficulties.
The statement that "equality of opportunity is more of a myth than a reality in contemporary Mauritian Education" is a debatable issue.
Part 2: Equality of Opportunity
Our country's Constitution guarantees equal rights to all citizens and excludes all types of discrimination. This is further consolidated with the Equality of Opportunity Act that the government has passed. Government's vision is to create a society where there are opportunities for all, a more inclusive society, a society where there is equality of treatment before the law and by all agencies, whether private or public.
2.1 Parity of Esteem
Steps are being taken for all schools to be provided with the same facilities and all students to benefit from equal opportunities. For instance, good schools have been set up equally in rural and urban areas to eliminate disparities between such areas. This aims to maintain a degree of parity of esteem between both state owned and private grant-aided centres of learning with a view to increasing equity within the system.
2.2 Parity of Teachers
All teachers, irrespective of where they teach, are recruited upon the same prerequisite qualifications and they also enjoy the same terms of employment as prescribed lastly in the PRB manual 2012 for state and private schools. In fact, the majority of teachers at the primary education level are government employees. All teachers of government and grant-aided schools follow a two-year full-time pre-service training programme dispensed by the Mauritius Institute of Education. Since 2002, the entry requirement to join the teaching profession has been upgraded from O-Level to A-Level qualifications. A Pedagogical inspectorate monitors and supports the teaching and learning to improve teacher effectiveness and hence ensure parity in education at all levels.
2.3 Poverty and Social Exclusion Remedy
The measures relating to the support provided to families of modest income also go in the direction towards increasing equity within the system.
Though education is free from Primary on to Tertiary, the indirect costs for education are affordable with some difficulty for some families living in precarious situations, thus impacting on the attendance and performance of these children at school. The following accompanying measures have therefore been taken with a view to alleviate the financial burden of school going children:
Free transport by bus to and from school for all students from primary to tertiary.
Free textbooks to all children attending government and Grant-aided primary schools and to needy students in Secondary Schools.
Free meal for school children attending ZEP (Zone Education Prioritaire) school.
Full subsidy on fees for School Certificate and Higher School Certificate Examinations for students from families with modest income and part subsidy for others.
The Trust Fund for Vulnerable Groups providing loans to needy students following courses at the University of Mauritius.
Government continues to ensure equitable access of children to pre-school education through the following provisions:
A monthly per capita grant of Rs 200 payable to children of 4+ who are attending a pre-school.
Construction of pre-schools attached to government primary schools is determined by the demand and supply mechanism with special attention to vulnerable and disadvantaged children in regions of greatest social need.
All private pre-schooling settings enjoy the freedom to operate their respective pre-school in line with Pre-School Regulations. Adequate supervision is provided with application of norms and standards to improve service delivery.
The Mauritius Institute of Education provides appropriate training to pre-school teachers through the Certificate of Proficiency in Early Childhood Education. This proficiency-based training programme is a very flexible proposal for practitioners who are currently working in the ECD / Pre-School sector. A one-year supplementary training programme leading to a Teachers' Certificate (Pre-Primary) is also available.
In its bid to ensure access to education to all children of pre-school going age, the Pre-School Trust Fund (PSTF now replaced by the ECCEA) in collaboration with all stakeholders and partners has been working towards identifying these children and integrating them in the main stream of pre-primary education.
2.4 Support to Disabled
Actions are taken to ensure the inclusion / integration of learners with mild impairments into the mainstream while specialised schools and institutions run by non-state actors (NGOs) cater for those with heavy disabilities.
Actions taken to show the commitment towards inclusive education in respect with special education needs are:
Posting of primary school teachers in some specialised schools.
Provision of textbooks to children with disabilities.
Integration of children in the mainstream through the retrofitting of school buildings.
Facilitation of the participation of the children with disabilities in the national examinations (extended time or adapted presentation of exam papers).
Provision of additional services to the Special Education Needs Institutions, either schools or day care centres, in terms of structures that are being set up to facilitate the educational services offered to the children in a holistic approach.
Provision of adapted and flexible curricula for each category of special need.
Provision of a supplementary feeding program for the children.
At tertiary level, the University of Mauritius has taken a series of measures to address the issue of inclusive education. It has been noted that financial constraints may be a stumbling block for the needy but meritorious students and the latter are able to obtain support through:
Needy Student Fund;
SSR Foundation Fund interest-free Loan Scheme;
Trust Fund for Social Integration of Vulnerable Groups.
The university has also attended to re-designing its infrastructure to make it friendly to students with physical disabilities. Ramps have been set up around the campus to facilitate the movement of students in the wheel chair and, for those with severe eye impairment, Braille and other such devices are available. The University's Regulations also provide for special consideration for students with physical handicap, in so far as examinations are concerned.
2.5 Gender Equity
Government's commitment toward gender equality is expressed in the National Gender policy Framework, 2008 which strives for a vision of " a society in which girls and boys, women and men live together in dignity, safety, mutual respect, harmony and social justice, there in an enabling environment in which they are able to achieve their full potential, in full enjoyment of their human rights, are equal partners in taking decisions to shape economic, social and cultural development, in determining the values that guide and sustain such development and equally enjoy its benefits".
In the Education sector, the Ministry of Education is guided by commitments made to achieve the goal of the Dakar Framework which emphasises that the attainment of Education For All (EFA) by 2015. As far as access is concerned, there are no gender gaps in enrolment at pre-primary, primary, secondary and post secondary levels. The government policy of free primary education for all, coupled with the high social demand for education has resulted in almost universal enrolment at primary level long before primary education was made compulsory.
Free access to secondary education in 1977 caused enrolment at secondary level to increase considerably, with the most striking progress being the remarkable increase in girls' enrolment thereby narrowing the gender gap at that level to reach near parity. Free secondary level education has brought more benefits to girl, as they are no longer discriminated against the economic grounds to access education. Given their large numbers among secondary graduates, it is obvious that many girls have continued their studies beyond secondary levels, closing the gap in gender enrolment at post secondary level.
2.6 Access to Education
While education is free and compulsory up to age 16, it is also true that there is some drop-outs in the system especially at the secondary level. Exclusion as such does not exist (this being constitutionally guaranteed); but there is no mechanism per se to enforce compulsory schooling.
Inter-ministerial collaboration is being reinforced and the support of NGO's being enlisted to capture those cases of drop-outs and to eventually provide them with functional literacy through Adult Literacy Courses.
Mauritius has achieved the goals of universal primary education in terms of access and gender parity. The Gross Enrolment Rate (GER) has stabilised over the last decade to reach 102 percent in 2007 and the Net Enrolment Rate (NER) has gradually improved to reach 97 percent with a gender parity index of 1.0. The survival rate to the last grade of primary schooling is about 98 percent. These indicators show that the education system is operating effectively at the primary level in the achievement of the EFA goal in terms of provision of access for free and compulsory primary education to all children.
At secondary level, with free and compulsory education up to age sixteen and with the massive construction of state secondary schools, as well as the upgrading of a large number of private providers, access to that level is not a problem.
At tertiary level, as per new Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) Strategic Plan 2007-2011 and the White Paper on Tertiary Education projections, the GTER is expected to increase to 45% in year 2015. However, the country is aiming at reaching by 2015 a GTER equivalent to 80% of that of middle-income countries.
Part 3: Inequality of Opportunity
Despite the arguments discussed earlier at Part 2 in the previous section which favour equality of opportunity in contemporary Mauritian education, there are many reasons to believe that it might be simply a myth. These reasons are discussed in the following subsections.
3.1 Gender Disparity
Despite there have been on-going efforts to address gender disparity, for example removing gender stereotypes in the school curriculum and in school textbooks, new areas of gender disparity have emerged. The performance of boys is found to be lagging behind that of girls at all levels. The performance of girls at the Certificate of Primary Education (CPE) far exceeds that of boys (72.7% against 60.1%). These have resulted in a larger proportion of boys among repeaters and in the prevocational classes.
As for tertiary sector, it is noted that girls tend to lose to boys when it comes to the enrolment in higher levels of study.
3.2 Poverty and Social Exclusion
Though education is free and compulsory up to the age of 16, still there are children who either are not enrolled or dropped out at an early age. Being given that seats are available in schools is to cater for all children within the age group; it is evident that this situation relates to poverty of the families to self-exclusion.
Despite all facilities and support, including free access to education spanning pre-primary to university, 15% of the children of pre-primary age (about 5000) do not attend school. Absolute poverty is the main reason. Most of the families involved live in the pockets of poverty in both urban and rural areas. For these 5000 children, not going to school is, today, a result of poverty, and, tomorrow, it will be the cause of their poverty.
The difficulty however lies in the enforcement of the law in respect of compulsory education as fining or imprisonment will only add to the hardships already endures by these children and their families.
3.3 Inopportunity to Attend Tertiary Classes
Despite efforts in the past, only 26% of the children entering primary schools make it up to tertiary education. As a result, the GER at tertiary level, though on the rise, is only 36%. This is low by international standards and out of phase with our ambition to be a globally competitive nation. Some children work out hard to make it through secondary education only to be barred from tertiary education because of insufficient seats or lack of funds. Even if the education is free many are unable to avail of the opportunities offered.
3.4 Religious Barrier
The Bureau de l'Education Catholique (BEC) reserves the right to admit 50% of the children to those who follow its religious beliefs while the remaining 50% of seats in its Catholic schools to any Mauritian child whose parents adhere to its educational project. A pupil is admitted on a regional basis; has obtained an aggregate in the range of aggregate 15 and above; is a child of a member staff of a Catholic school (RCA) or college; and on hardship basis.
However, the pertinent issue is that still 50% of the seats reserved to Catholic create a discrimination against those who are non-Catholic students who have lesser opportunity to be enrolled in such schools. This is against the principle of equality of opportunity which supports providing equal access to the learning experience regardless of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, religion, social background, and academic ability, and applies to all groups of communities including ethnic minorities, travellers, asylum seekers, faith communities, young offenders, older people, and those with disabilities or learning difficulties.
Suttyhudeo Tengur (GHTU): "We condemn the irresponsible, partisan attitude of the BEC towards this reform" (Week-End - Sunday 12 February 2006).
Part 4: Conclusion
Inequality of opportunity in terms of access to basic education is not at all a problem in Mauritius if viewed in terms of number of institutions and that of seats available. However, considering the GERs or performing a cohort analysis and looking at transition rates, the picture is somewhat different, such as exercise revealing certain elements of exclusion:
Although education is both free and compulsory up to the age of 16, still 15% of children of pre-primary age (about 5000) do not attend school.
Although provision is made for the secondary schooling of all children, the enrolment rate only reaches 75%.
30% of primary school children do not get through the end of primary cycle examinations.
Only around 72% of a cohort completes the CPE examinations successfully at their first or second attempt.
Of this cohort, only 55% successfully complete their School Certificate and only 35% access the Higher School Certificate.
Only about 28% of every cohort is successful at HSC making them ready for University.
It is also pertinent to remain alert on the gender issue so as to address the fundamental issue of equity. The Ministry shall develop a sector gender policy consistent with the principles and operational strategies of the National Gender Policy Framework. The policy shall ensure equal opportunities are given to both sexes to achieve gender equality in learning achievement. It shall also ensure the gender-sensitivity of curricula and teaching and learning materials. Gender-sensitive indicators shall be developed to monitor gender gaps in education.
After all, as said by Thomas Jefferson, "there is nothing more unequal than the equal treatment of unequal people". Having said so, equality of opportunity can be said to be more of a myth than a reality in contemporary Mauritian education.