The changes to come in the education sector.....
1. The 9-year schooling, the CPE and the curriculum
To be frank until now i have been hearing on the 9-year schooling concept without really starting to think at how it would be in reality. I had only framed a broad idea that kids would go to Primary schools for 9 years instead of 6 years, and that there would be an assessment after 9 years (equivalent at the age when they reach Form 3)....
That would indeed mean a radical change, both from a pedagogical point of view and from a socio-cultural perspective. We are not used to this system of education where our kids would move from ‘childhood’ to ‘adolescence’ within the same environment for an extended period of time. From the pedagogical perspective, the broad concept is that we will get away with the CPE exams, a very heavy burden on the shoulders of kids, where at such a tender age, we start injecting into them the inferiority or superiority complexes which they are not yet psychologically nor physically ready to face in life.
So what could that be this famous 9-year schooling system?
To start with, I am quite sure there has been misconceptions and amalgamations in the past with what is called Year Nine of many education systems around the world. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Year_Nine)
In the above press article, I learn that it would represent 6 years of primary schooling with a reinvented CPE (designed to remove pressure, but to ensure the transition from primary to secondary schooling), and then there will junior secondary and senior secondary schools. For me the term 9-year schooling is inappropriate to characterise a system still divided by a 6-year of schooling termed as primary education and a split 7 years of schooling termed as secondary education. Or the logic is that we are keeping in mind what I termed as the socio-cultural impacts that would bring into the system with kids staying for 9 years in a primary school. The transition from childhood to adolescence is the key in ‘bridging the gap’ between the CPE and the Junior Secondary school.
While the junior secondary schools would be most probably region-based, there is another factor which becomes very important that is how to stream students in those schools. Will a disguised form of ranking still apply? Or will those be by subjects or entirely by ‘catchment areas’ or through some other formula? The problem is with the evaluation process at the CPE level to ensure this transition. Any form of in-depth evaluation at that level will still maintain the pressure of all stakeholders. We have seen that the abolishing of ranking has not really relieved parents and kids from the stress of CPE exams. I would rather go for a form of continuous assessment, and as the Minister said, which is very commendable, less focus on academic curriculum and balancing with other more important values of life (living values) that should be embodied in them to make them better citizens.
Any form of written, supervised and stressful examinations system should be abolished once and for all. That is the biggest challenge of our current education system as from primary to tertiary; it is too centred on examinations.
2. Higher Education Institutions
Unfortunately I would have preferred that there is a Ministry for Higher Education, Scientific Research and Innovation. The education context in Mauritius has evolved a lot. At the tertiary education level, we have moved from having 1 public national university, to 4 public Universities, the MIE and a Private Institution operating more less like a University (CTI) and other quite serious institutions like the Middlesex University (Mauritius branch). This evolution and taking into consideration the number of private providers, fully justifies the need for a specific Ministry. Of course, necessary checks and balances have to be put in place to avoid the kind of issues that the higher education sector has faced in the recent past.
The tertiary education commission needs to be reviewed in depth. It cannot play JACK-OF-ALL-TRADE role as regulators of private higher education, then as the agency looking into the funding of tertiary institutions and also look at issues of recognition and equivalence, distance education, research etc. Its portfolio is way too broad and vast, and it clearly does not have the necessary resources, in some cases the right competencies and independence (at least in the past) to tackle the challenges faced by the tertiary education sector.
The global education landscape is evolving at a lightening pace especially with modern technologies and the web and Mauritius highly needs a higher education act, not one which will give Ministers the right to exert political control over the institutions but one which would help in re-inventing and re-dynamize this important sector of the Mauritian society and economy.
3. How can we sustain an education reform and improvement of the system?
The education ministry should be apolitical and preserve a kind of independence same as institutions like Judiciary and others. In this way we could collectively build a 15-20 yr plan and each appointed Minister by whatever government should have the task to continue the work - with a personal touch of course. Restarting every time the same process make us remain status-quo!
One of the best examples of our education system regressing are the ad-hoc measures of giving tablets to secondary school students without a proper technology plan in place, and second the continuous oscillations in the system of past practices, replacing current ones and vice-versa (Enhancement programme replaced by bridging the gap which was itself a previous programme) – unfortunately no in-depth studies had been conducted prior to introduction of the enhancement programme, and the same applies for its replacement.