A literate nation! Really?

Avec le soutien de

Lir

Met bann sign ansam
E souden
enn gran laflam
Ekler mo lasam.

Read

Put signs together
And suddenly
like summer
Light shines
with laughter.

Recently, a www.lexpress.mu reader wrote on literacy: “The figure I quoted is from UNESCO. In fact, adult literacy rate is 93.5% for male and 90% for female in Mauritius. Adult means 15 years onwards.”

The gentleman is right. But we must ask ourselves if the UNESCO figures are reliable. No, they are not. The UNESCO figures cannot be trusted. Regularly, UNESCO sends a form to be filled by the Permanent Secretary of the ministry of Education to update its data bank on literacy. The officer in charge regularly puts down figures related to “SCHOOLING” (school attendance) and then the form is sent back to UNESCO which publishes it in their report on literacy. The figures are related to schooling, not literacy. This is how the state of Mauritius fools the world and eventually fools itself and the whole population.

This is done on purpose to hide a nasty truth: a great majority of boys and girls after 7-10 years at school remain for all intents and purposes, either semiliterate or plainly illiterate. We cannot blame UNESCO which is misled by government and unscrupulous civil servants.

What is literacy?

In very simple terms, it means the ability to read, write and count – a combination of literacy and numeracy in at least one language. Homo sapiens created the spoken word over 200 000 years ago and consequently as a result of evolution we are genetically programmed to speak. Children start to develop language skills in the womb and by the time they are around 10 years old, they have an adequate mastery of the mother tongue to cope with their immediate environment. However, writing is a very recent phenomenon, not older than 5 000 years. Neuro-linguists are aware of difficulties to be faced by learners of literacy and they all agree that it should start in the child’s mother tongue.

This view is also upheld by Ms. Irina Bokova, former Director-General of UNESCO (2009-2017). “Mother languages in a multilingual approach are essential components of quality education, which is itself the foundation for empowering women and men and their societies.”

According to UNESCO, basically literate people should be able to write a text of about 150 words to say who they are in any language of their choice provided the text is grammatically correct, respects spelling and punctuation. This test has never been done in Mauritius and according to my research less than 20% of Mauritians over 10 years old would pass this test. IT’S NOT AN EXAGGERATION!

Please also note that to live in a modern society, basic literacy is insufficient. Citizens need functional literacy which are skills needed to read and understand opinion pieces and leaders/editorials in ‘l’express’ for that matter. I doubt that more than 10% of our adult population can do this (about 100 000 adults).

Literacy and the ballot paper

UNESCO also believes that literacy should start in the mother tongue of the child, not in three foreign languages at one and the same time, as it is done in Mauritius. Remember that English, our official language, French, our semi-official language and Hindi, Urdu (identity languages) etc. are foreign languages for most children. Mauritian (Mauritian Creole) on the other hand is the mother tongue (L1) of 90% of the whole population and the second language (L2) of the remaining 10%.

If the UNESCO figures quoted at the beginning of this piece were a reliable expression of reality, there would have been no need for political symbols on the ballot paper (key, cock, sun, heart etc.). Don’t they rather tell us that we are a nation of semilinguals, semiliterates and illiterates?

I am sure that some hysterical half-baked readers will choose anonymity to insult and slander on www.lexpress.mu. This is quite understandable because Mauritians hate to face the truth. They want to hear that they are admirable, beautiful, bright and wonderful. Is not Mauritius “All things bright and beautiful”?

To conclude

Depriving children of the right to learn to read and write in their mother tongue is tantamount to a crime against humanity. Is it not a political ploy to keep people in the dark? But if people choose to remain in the dark, what can we do?

N.B. The roaring mouse is going on holiday. His next instalment is scheduled for 7th January 2020. BANANÉ!

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