The nostalgia of the rat race

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Fear, anxiety, elation, relief, disappointment and tears. A lot of tears! Some tears were shed out of joy, some out of sadness and helplessness, and some out of disappointment.

Facebook was littered with messages of congratulations and some proud parents posted their children’s result slips on their own Facebook pages. Welcome to the Primary School Achievement Certificate, the Ministry of Education’s newborn baby. It is in fact so new that it has an eerie air of déjà vu. 

The promise was grand: “The nine-year-schooling system will eliminate the rat race…This is an inclusive programme that, among other things, provides the conducive environment for learners to enjoy a harmonious and holistic development,” the minister had said.

One year later, parents and educators are at best confused, at worst terribly disappointed. And our kids are no better off than they were with the CPE. In fact, many people who have a notion about education have reason to believe that, in many ways, the new system is far worse than the previous one and are beginning to look back with nostalgia to the CPE days!  

First, the propaganda about the ‘great results’ this year, which the MBC has dutifully been serving us with our evening meal since the results came out, is hugely overrated. The apparent slight improvement in result is less than 1% over last year’s. With the usual fluctuation and all the variables involved, it is anything but significant.

Concerning the ‘improvement’ in the core subjects, the Mauritius Institute of Education admits that the exam questions were different: The essays in French and English were shorter, there were more Multiple Choice Questions – rather than open-ended questions in which the pupil has to show understanding and creativity – and there were drawings to facilitate understanding. Take a minute to think about that and ask yourself whether the ‘improved results’ are not the direct result of the dumbing down of the level. Whatever your conclusion is, the MIE insists that the questions were not easier and the Ministry of Education is congratulating itself on having achieved the miracle of devising an exam that encourages pupils to think and allows them to achieve better results!

What the new system has really changed is that first, instead of one rat race, there are now two. Once the pupil has managed to pass the PSAC, his/her ordeal is not over. Another exam is waiting at the end of Form 3 to decide once again which secondary school the pupil will be admitted to! Hence the second rat race.

Secondly, the new system allows a large dose of opacity. Many pupils who scored the maximum number of marks saw themselves shunted off to secondary schools of a lower ranking than they deserved. Others, on the other hand, were propelled, by some sort of magic, to highly rated schools without necessarily having the requirements for those institutions. If you agree that the rat race was terrible, imagine a rat race shrouded in opacity. Add to the fact that, to appease the angry parents, the ministry is shoving as many pupils as it can into the coveted schools, and wait for the disaster to happen.

Any pedagogue would agree that the CPE rat race was a terrible and traumatising experience in the life of our children. There is nothing academically worse than that… Except two rat races shrouded in opacity and dampened with bad faith that the spin-doctors are trying to sell to us as the panacea to all the ills of an outdated system. Often a time, doing nothing is worse than doing the wrong thing. But then again, no member of this government ever does anything wrong. So move along, nothing to see here!

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