Mauritius: Creole matters

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Oct 23 15:41:17 UTC 2007

Article publié le Mardi 23 octobre 2007.

Kreol morisien matters

English language is the official medium of instruction at primary
school level. Students who have an average understanding of the medium
have to develop "survival skills". They struggle to memorise words and
concepts, repeat what the teacher says and keep quiet. Those who
cannot cope end up as low achievers and resent schooling. Such is the
plight of the majority of our students. Even if the 'bridging the gap'
initiative is laudable, yet the following comments from constructivist
curriculum developers might be enlightening for our local situation:

Attempting to make the curriculum relevant through pedagogies that
connect classroom learning with the 'real world' may well provide a
bridge that motivates all students to engage with the learning
process, a motivation that is often missing when the curriculum is
divorced from the lives of students. Many students who struggle with
the mores and social practices of schooling-that is, have trouble
'doing school'-need to see that schooling has some meaning for them.
It tends to be middle-class students who best handle decontextualised
school knowledge. This means that classroom practices should
re-cognize and value students' background experiences while connecting
with their worlds beyond the classroom. Students with the cultural
capital to 'do school well' may be able to do work of high
intellectual quality in the absence of connectedness, but a schooling
system that serves the whole community should seek to ensure that all
students are able to demonstrate connectedness between the classroom
and the world beyond it. (Haynes, D., Mills, M., Christie, P., &
Lingard, B. 2006).

In the absence of a pedagogical programme which could account for the
life experience and home language of our kids, teachers on their part
have to grapple with Creole, French and English in classroom
situations. Statistical figures indicate that 70.1% of Mauritians use
Creole as their home language. Whilst national educational policies
fail to recognize this crucial aspect for teaching and learning in our
schools, which could otherwise help our children gain independence and
knowledge. As a result, this would have been more likely to help the
majority of Mauritian students, and not just the 'privileged few' to
achieve higher potential learning. In the meantime, it costs a lot to
the country. It is estimated that out of 19,437 joining the primary
schools, 12,149 will be SC holders and only 5,686 will complete
secondary education with a Higher School Certificate. Other estimates
( D.Virahsawmy, 2006, in www.boukiebanane) figure some 15,000 school
leavers who do not have basic literacy and only some 1,500 who achieve
creative literacy which is the highest level of literacy.

An attempt to curb school failures

There is a strong correlation between language, culture and literacy.
If the ZEP initiative, for example, is an attempt amongst others to
curb school failures and to increase the level of literacy, not much
has been achieved during these past few years, except in the case of
Jean Eon RCA ( a ZEP school) where remarkable progress has been noted.
A range of research (Bernstein 1971a, 1971b; Anyon 1981; Council et
al.1982) has demonstrated that in schools serving disadvantaged
communities, the pedagogy is sometimes socially supportive but not
'intellectually demanding'. It has been observed that good social
outcomes are more likely to be achieved by classroom practices that
are intellectually demanding, connected to the students' worlds beyond
schools and, not socially supportive classrooms alone. This is not to
downplay the importance of social support for all students-rather to
suggest that social outcomes may be more effectively achieved when
social support is connected and works with and values differences.

If we go as far back as the 1940's, we find that two Reports during
the British Colonisation of Mauritius highlighted that our linguistic
policy and practices in schools were already considered as major
obstacles to an efficient educational system. Ward (1944: 11)
considers that the linguistic aspect is the main preoccupation of our
teachers. Ward stated: 'I now come to the work the teachers are called
on to do. The first and greatest problem here is the medium of
instruction'. For J.E.Meade (1967: 208), the linguistic issue is the
'greatest handicap to successful education in Mauritius'. For the
post-independence period six official reports were published amongst
which two of them (Richard's report, 1979; and Ramdoyal, 1990) refer
directly to the teaching of languages in schools. Glover's report
(1973) laid particular emphasis on the importance of undertaking
research in this field to inform national policies.

More recently, the ADEA (Association for the Development of Education
in Africa, Draft Report, 2005) depicted the real situation. It gives
us insight into the contemporary aspects of the linguistic issue with
reference to Kreol Morisien. At para.156, it states: a central
detrimental aspect of the primary school curriculum is that it is
taught in English- a foreign language for the majority of Mauritians.
It is the key element in reproducing social inequality. English is the
language of the privileged few. French is the language of prestige and
culture. Creole is the everyday communication language of over 90% of
all Mauritians. International research over the past decade has
demonstrated in numeraous countries that teaching numeracy and
literacy in a child's mother tongue increases academic achievement
substantially. It is easier for children to master secondary languages
in the later grades once basic competencies have been established in
their mother tongue. It is ironic that the Ministry expends
considerable resources on offering ancestral languages-Asian and
Arabic- while the national language is ignored[…]

In the context of the existing linguistic biodiversity (viz. English,
French, Arabic and Asian languages) in our schools, it is high time
for the State to work out the modalities for the introduction of Kreol
Morisien in our schools on the basis of equity, social justice and
meaningful learning. Through language people acquire, understand and
shape the knowledge and values of culture. It helps people to achieve
a sense of self and to participate effectively in society. The State
must see to it that No Mauritian Child is Left Behind. Post-modern
schools will be learning communities in which difference and group
identities are positively recognized and developed within a
collaborative and supportive classroom community.

Transition from family to school

On a purely pedagogical level, it is interesting to note that the
Mauritius Research Council published in 2001 a research document
entitled 'The acquisition of languages in Mauritius: Dynamics of
learning and external factors' by Dr Rada Tirvassen. There were four
recommendations which could be taken up for further consideration.
They were

(i) The study of the understanding of the impact of a L1 over a L2 can
allow the setting up of language training adapted to the way children
build up their grammar system;

(ii) The simultaneous development of the psychomotor aptitudes in
French and English should be stopped. For the time being, such a loss
of means can be explained by the fact that the start of writing is
done simultaneously in languages that are not mother tongues

(iii) It is obvious that the planning of language teaching has to take
into account the role of Creole namely when it means to ensure the
transition of the child from the family setup to the school

(iv) The process of deconstruction of fixed perceptions of teachers
that lead them to classify pupils in biased categories with Pygmalion

Indeed we can say that Kreol Morisien matters!


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