The Hon Leela Devi Dookun-Luchoomun If we only had the time, we could spend hours sitting together in a beautiful garden beneath a giant banyan tree, perhaps with Krisnamurthi, discussing the need for thinking without dogmatic boundaries, as no doubt you do in your ministry. In the Greek tradition, spirits like his don’t die but live on in other ways, resurrected perhaps in the columns of a newspaper. Mind you, how could you introduce such concepts in schools? After all, how many teachers could lead an openminded discussion?
Despite the doubts, nine-year schooling could be useful were it to lead to much wider reform. But there’s a major problem – you’re surrounded by officials determined to safeguard their own central role. It’s been said before but the bold move would be to give schools far more autonomy and let them advertise, select and “recycle” their own teachers, in an environmentally-friendly way, of course. Surely Heads should be appointed on the basis of competency, for their visionary and aspirational thinking – not just for length of service? Mind you, the same could be said for all leaders. It may suit lobbies if the country remains second-rate but most people are longing for a new golden age. Promotion on the basis of senility or retrograde factors has never been a recipe for success.
You could start by giving Heads a simple task, like letting then decide when to close their schools when bad weather’s forecast. Mauritius may be a small country but there are a lot of microclimats. There’ll be Heads who are terrified of taking responsibility for anything but it’ll be a great way of identifying them – so you can bring in the garbage collectors.
You’ve talked about using the new system to deal with underperformers. Unicef has observed that Le fossé entre les performances des élèves en fonction de leur milieu social est très important, without daring to add – or noticing – that this might also be a matter of IQ and EQ. Looking at today’s youngsters, it’s probably something to do with their jeans. What matters is ensuring learners from disadvantaged backgrounds receive the more individual attention they need, perhaps by taking up the suggestion to allow schools to receive help from local volunteers and businesses. If you really want equality of opportunity, you have to find extra resources somewhere.
Incidentally, will the new exam at the end of Standard Six really differ from the CPE if there’ll still be fighting for places in “better” schools? As well as testing acquired knowledge, why not make more use of IQ and EQ tests to ascertain potential? As it’s more difficult to predict questions for such exams, there’ll be less demand for private tuition, one of the many hot potatoes politicos daren’t handle.
Meanwhile, I hope you had a jolly time in China but can’t help wondering whether your visit achieved anything of substance. The Chinese educational system can’t inspire reform here. It makes children study hard but doesn’t encourage thinking outside the boundaries of their state-directed ideology. After all, education is not just about learning facts. You and I still have a lot to discuss but, meanwhile, the philosophical discourse of the Golden Age – platonic or otherwise – might provide you with a better source of inspiration, give you yourself food for thought. By the way, thinking of Plato, where are you with sex education? For example, will it be followed by a practical exam or just continuous assessments?