Revisiting the Nine-Year Continuous Basic Education reform: A sociological perspective

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There is an evident consensus that education and society are interconnected and according to various sociological theories, the political, social, and economic conditions, all shape the mission, structures, curriculum, and instructional practices of educational institutions at both national and global levels. The functionalist view of education tends to focus on the positive contributions made by education to the maintenance of social system. Others have argued that after primary socialisation within the family, the school takes over as the ‘focal socialising agency’. Schools act a bridge between the family and society as a whole, preparing the child for his adult role. There is an old and unfinished debate on whether the school shapes society or whether the school is a reproduction of society. Of course, this is a very simplistic view of both society and schools.

Schools are expected to operate on the meritocratic principle where status is achieved based on passes at examinations. As part of this process, schools socialise young people into the basic values of society. Some see the educational system as an important mechanism for the selection of individuals for their future role in society. Thus, schools, by testing and evaluating students, arbitrarily match talents, skills and capacities (assuming these are properly assessed and used) to the jobs for which they are best suited, more so in the total absence of proper career guidance.

The school is therefore seen as the major mechanism for role allocation maintaining the system of social stratification. According to Davis and Moore, social stratification is a mechanism for ensuring that most talented and able members of society are allocated to those positions which are functionally most important for the society. High rewards which act as incentives are attached to these positions which means that all will win through. The schooling system is, however, only one important part of this process.

I will not go as far as to say that the role of education in a liberal society is the reproduction of such a work force or that the reproduction of labour power requires not only reproduction of its skills, but also, at the same time a reproduction of its submission to the ruling ideology. It is clear, however, with the present policies that the Ministry of Education has put in place, schooling will reproduce the attitudes and behaviour required by the major groups in that the division of labour will contribute to the reproduction of workers with the kind of personalities, attitudes and outlooks, which will fit them for their present status.

Clearly, the present social relationships in schools replicate the hierarchical division of labour in their work place. The allocation of the “better schools” to those who get better results at specific examinations is an instrument of social stratification that the present government seems to be fostering.

It reflects and influences the social and cultural order of which it is a part. The class system, the cultural values, the power structure, the balance between individual freedom and social control, the degree of urbanisation and industrialisation, all, exercise a profound influence on the school system of any society.

From the perspective of socialisation and social stratification, what has the new reform brought about?

  • A Primary School Achievement Certificate (PSAC) spread over two years accompanied by the competitive pressures at regional levels for so-called “good” school seats at Grade 7 as a result of an automatic promotion and roll-over from Grade 1 to Grade 6 leading to a lowering of standards as well as a loss of interest and efforts by children from deprived areas and ill-motivated educators. Was this a desired aim of the reform to stratify society – dividing the country along possibly communal lines and confirming stereotypes of lazy children, along even racial lines? Has the State abdicated its role of protecting the weak, the poor and the superfluous?
  • Results of 2019 PSAC show some 30% of the student cohorts remain basically illiterate and lack basic numeracy skills with current PSAC and Nine-Year Continuous Basic Education (NYCBE);
  • The new National Certificate of Education (NCE) examination at Grade 9 will possibly put an end of studies to the 30% of PSAC failures while creating a ferocious competition for access to the Ministry’s “Academies”, and further creating “regional star schools” that will re-start the “rat race” for these schools.
  • The perception that good quality public education (with the present laureate system that remains in force) will be available only in Academies (for Grades 10 to 13) with the obvious effect of demoralization of students and teachers who will have to continue dealing with the majority of psychological “left-overs” in the regional institutions. A few scholarships will go to a few “star regional schools” and one or two to private schools to justify that others are also in the race, like the last 10 teams of the Barclays Premier league. The latter may win one or two matches or reach the quarter finals but never make the top 4….
  • The obvious conclusion is that the NYCBE being an examination intensive, elitist orientation for all children and parents, has not changed the past system of schooling and education. The reform emphasises that it favours those with innate abilities surrounded by supportive or privileged families that can afford the best private tuition that is available
  • The examination system remaining the same will still favour, out of 12,000 first year children, the 1200-1800 Academy children who have the very good memory skills and who are properly drilled into passing the examinations designed for them. I have not yet seen any document on what the academy will look like.
  • competitive pressures and private tuitions are now rampant at all stages of public sector education: Grades 5 and 6 (PSAC) for regional lower secondary schools, a new intense competition at Grade 9 (National Form III exam) for access to the academies, greater pressures to get the 5 credits at SC to gain access to HSC classes and the usual pressures at HSC for good enough results for tertiary studies and state scholarships;

While the reform is yet to deliver, the results of SC with about only one third getting 5 credits, and HSC results over the last 4 years demonstrate clearly that the quality of performance remains poor, with the following grade distribution per subject.

The table below shows the total % of grades A+, A and B (lumped together) over the last 4 years, from 2016 to 2019.

Subject

Percentage at Grade A+, A and B

2016

2017

2018

2019

Accounting

17

20

19

20

Biology

9

12

9

10

Business studies

9

9

11

9

Chemistry

28

28

28

26

Computing

11

12

16

18

Economics

20

21

23

22

French

33

35

36

38

Mathematics

29

27

29

26

Physics

33

33

30

27

Sociology

10

10

9

11

Travel and Tourism

2

2

2

3

 

Data available from MES website

A look at the figures of the main economic areas of our country, namely Accounting, Economics, Business studies, Computing, Travel and Tourism, Sociology, is an indication of the chasm between the best and the average, even when we consider the topmost 2000 HSC students.

I am sure the whole ministry, from the Directors and Assistant Directors and advisers of the Minister, the MES and the MIE to the Private Secondary Education Authority, did not foresee (or did they?) the considerable educational and social impact and the deficiencies of the NYCBE project.

You can already hear defenders of the elitist system shrieking that all students get every facility that is possible and yet they are on their mobiles, wasting their time outside school and on internet and bla, bla, bla. We may be taxed as being Marxists or birds of ill omen to believe that the reform is focused on the outcomes for the privileged few.

Increasingly schools will be plagued by more indiscipline, rowdiness, drug addiction (overdose is only one symptom) and much demoralisation (both among students and teachers) especially the PSAC failures and extended streamers.

It is now even clearer why most teacher unions were praising the much welcome reform, the 5 credits requirement for HSC because it helps the tuition industry to flourish greatly. Already, private tuition professionals in every town and village are transforming every available space including garages into mini-schools, for children from Grades 5 to 13. Will State schools (because the private schools have not embraced the reform) become day-care centres and teacher carers or adolescent (not baby) sitters to prevent the children from roaming the streets? The public system will continue to boast of the 10% of laureates it produces and the crumbs it gives to the non-elites.

I doubt that this vision of our schooling was a Machiavellian plan, and I am sure even the Minister is not entirely happy with the outcomes, the implementation and the status of NYCBE, as the first National Form III examination comes up in 2020. If this was not envisioned by the Minister and political gurus, then does the Minister have time or the will to revamp the reform and redesign it to achieve the result that had been anticipated: a holistic education designed for each and every child of Mauritius to develop his or her potential at his or her appropriate pace?

I am also sure the Minister had very positive intentions when she embarked on this venture but was fouled by the many politically motivated irresponsible, incompetents and yes-persons surrounding her at different levels. Can she constitute a true National Education Council, with the support of the best brains inside and outside this country, bringing together all the stakeholders for an objective, frank and fair dialogue based on real evidence and proper research? Her new political status will undoubtedly not only give her the legitimacy but also the necessary influence and clout to bring about a real revitalised education system for the greater and better welfare of the society at large.

I will end by quoting from the Global Partnership for Education (GPE)*: “What makes a great education? Giving all children a quality education can help reduce poverty, promote peace and foster development.  Quality education can change the world and a bad education is almost like no education. A great education starts early with early childhood education, engages all levels of parents, requires great teachers and school leaders, meets the needs of all children and is based on data. Without accurate data it is impossible to know how many children are not learning.”

*The Global Partnership for Education is exclusively dedicated to giving more children in the poorest countries the education they need to unlock their full potential. As a partnership and a fund, GPE mobilizes global and national investments and brings partners together to help governments build strong education systems, based on data and evidence.

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