There will be no fundamental reform in Mrs Dookun’s Nine Year Schooling

Interview Dr Teeluck Bhuwanee, Educationist — 

 

“There will be no fundamental reform in Mrs Dookun’s Nine Year Schooling”

 

 * ‘With 25% failure rates at all levels of schooling, we are wasting a quarter of the education budget’

Will the 9-year schooling programme bring about the real changes that are expected and required? What are the issues and the challenges that are likely to be faced? Teeluck Bhuwanee, educationist, goes beyond the issues currently being debated about credits-based access to HSC, and says: “What is being proposed is not an educational reform at all. Any new Minister of Education will have to think of 11 year education rather than Nine Year Schooling.” A complete paradigm shift that will look at the whole system from kindergarten to post-secondary education, in a holistic manner. He holds a PhD holder in Educational Management and is a UNESCO Consultant. He retired as a UNESCO Head of Office, after having been the first Regis-trar of the UTM, Senior Lecturer at the MCA, Lecturer at the MIE and Rector in state secondary schools since 1975. Read on:

* Dr Bhuwanee, what do you make of all these discussions regarding 3 or 5 credits to be allowed to reach HSC?

I believe this is a distraction to the real issues at stake in our education system. Failures in examinations show the level of internal efficiency of a system. All those who invest in education (parents, learners and society at large) legitimately ask whether they get the highest possible value from their investment. This is no different than an entrepreneur asking whether s/he makes the highest return on invested capital. When year in year out we have a level of 25% failure rates at all levels of schooling (CPE eventually PSAC, SC, HSC), we are wasting a quarter of the education budget.

The education sector must demonstrate efficient use of public resources to be able to justify increased or maintained level of financing. The long-term sustainability of education finance strongly hinges on continuous improvement in efficiency. Hence improved system efficiency remains a cardinal issue in any reform aimed at improving education quality and learning effectiveness. Ultimately, the education system’s overall efficiency/inefficiency is judged by its internal and external efficiency. For UNESCO, internal efficiency measures the output and outcome of the education system while external efficiency measures the extent to which the competencies acquired in school translate into private and social benefits.

* Are you suggesting that we have a poor internal and external efficiency in our schools?

Let us consider the table that accompanied Paramanand Soobarah’s article: ‘Worrying Decline in the Performance of our Education System’, published by your paper in Feb 2017:

Mauritius Education System Cohort Statistics for Primary School

Admission Years 2000-2006, i.e. the

Cambridge School Certificate Years 2010-2016

Cohort School Years
(From Admission in Primary to SC Exam)

Initial Cohort Size

CPE Cohort Size

CPE Passed

SC Cohort Size

SC Passed

SC Agg. Score
6-20

SC English Score 1-6

SC French Score
1-6

SC Math
Score
1-6

2000 – 2010

22875

29569

18403

17489

13610

?

9333

12644

8543

2001 – 2011

21985

27771

18114

17192

13193

3116

9505

12200

8334

2002 – 2012

21603

26594

16660

16885

12789

3172

8848

11504

7840

2003 – 2013

20956

26211

16779

15890

11914

3039

8788

10678

7307

2004 – 2014

20328

25146

16108

15632

11475

2864

9253

10213

7114

2005 – 2015

21200

25624

16540

15675

11364

2654

9407

10080

7330

2006 – 2016

21089

25682

16652

15455

11129

2524

8939

9823

6827

They show a very poor level of internal efficiency with regards to the quality of results at SC and HSC exams. Now rather than working to sort out these issues, the Minister of Education is concentrating on restricting access to HSC to only those who have 5 credits. It is a “faux débat”.

* Agreed, but Minister Dookun-Luchoomun is proposing to send those who do not do well and fail to get 5 credits to go to polytechnics that will have the best technical courses from the best polytechnics from abroad and which will eventually degrees and other diplomas. What’s your take on that?

This is totally contradictory to what is being proposed by sending those who fail to get 5 credits to polytechnics. By saying only those who can’t make it to the Academies, those who can’t get 5 credits, will go to polytechnics, Minister Dookun is saying that Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) is meant only for those who are poor academically. In a country where is such a negative view of TVET, where technical career is stigmatised, she is killing the polytechnics even when they have not started.

In Germany, a country that I know so well having worked there for some four years, TVET is a first choice for most students and almost all students go for training before they enter the world of work. One way of training for your future occupation in Germany is by pursuing a dual vocational training programme. Such programmes offer plenty of opportunity for on-the-job training and work experience. Programmes usually last between two and three and a half years and comprise theoretical as well as practical elements.

You will spend one or two days a week, or several weeks at once, at a vocational school (called Berufsschule) where you will acquire the theoretical knowledge that you will need in your future occupation. The rest of the time will be spent at a company. There you get to apply your newly acquired knowledge in practice, for example by learning to operate machinery. You will get to know what your company does, learn how it operates and find out if you can see yourself working there after completing your training.

This combination of theory and practice gives you a real head start into your job: by the time you have completed your training, you will not only have the required technical knowledge, but you will also have hands-on experience in your job. There are around 350 officially recognised training pro-grammes in Germany, so chances are good that one of them will suit your interests and talents. A student can find out which one that might be by visiting one of the jobs and vocational training fairs which are organized in many German cities at different times in the year.

Schools have both the academic and vocational streams. The John Kennedy College started along those lines in the 60s and most students that followed the technical stream in the 70s and 80s ended up in very good jobs. I still remember when I was Deputy Rector at the JKC, Air Mauritius was recruit-ing many of our students. Eventually poorly maintained and obsolete machinery and poorly trained technical staff killed this polytechnic.

* However, will the introduction and implementation of the Nine Year Continuous Basic Education not remedy matters?

First of all I must congratulate the Minister of Education for being successful in introducing the Nine Year Schooling programme in Mauritius where other Ministers have failed in the past. It is a political masterstroke but a real educational “gâchis”, a real wasted opportunity. She had a historic opportunity to change the education scenery of the country but has only tweaked the system. There is a small structural change and the “secondary schools in greatest demand” will now admit those who get the best results at the Grade 9 exams. Unlike former Ministers of Education, she has caved in to the lobby of the most powerful teachers’ union.

* What do you consider is the fundamental change that the new reform is going to bring about then?

In fact there will be no fundamental reform in Mrs Dookun’s Nine Year Schooling programme: PSAC replaces CPE, criteria for admitting students remain the same, namely parental choice, overall grading at the PSAC, proximity of residence to the secondary school. The four Education Zones are maintained. There was an opportunity to rationalise the regional education zones. I live in Beau Bassin and my zone ranges as far as Camp de Masque and Sebastopol. Is this regionalisation?

I maintain that nothing much will change, except that after PSAC, boys and girls will now not be admitted in the national colleges – the so-called “secondary schools in greatest demand”. Those who fail PSAC (CPE) will go to Grade 7, then G8, then G9 and drop out of the system (presently some 25% leave after finishing pre-voc), because the pressure to get admission to the “BEST” schools in the “region” is still on; there will be 2 examinations instead of 1 (PSAC and NCE) private tuition will not disappear. Pressure to go to “better” schools (Academies) will increase.

At a time when we badly need best trained and skilled technicians who will manage the Metro Express, the Ocean Hub, Green Technology, and other major infrastructural developments in the country, those admitted to the technical schools will be those who fail to go to academies or the regional colleges. TVET and skills development are AGAIN seen as the last choice, therefore we will continue to be deficient in having well-trained technicians.

The implementation of the Nine Year Schooling programme will depend on the MIE, MES and Ministry (not even Zonal Directorates), driven from the Ministry (further still from the reality on the ground) and lacking commitment from the main stakeholders, namely parents and teachers. Emphasis again is on what needs to be done and not on HOW to do it.

That is why I say fundamentally nothing will change.

* Why do you think not much will change?

This present change, unfortunately, is driven by the same people who marketed Kadress Pillay’s Middle School concept, who helped Steven Obeegadoo bring about a real regionalization and later who helped Dharam Gokhool reverse all and eventually were selling Vasant Bunwaree’s views. These people who are at the top and who are advising the Minister are all administrators who are interested in better administrating the system, not in reforming the system.

The MES still sees learners as “candidates” expected to reproduce what is taught in class. The same MIE with the same lecturers who have trained thousands of school teachers will now train the same teachers in a “different” way!!! That is a joke.

The mindset has not changed. We always tell everyone to think out of the box. Yet, in the present structure, we have boxed every part of the education system.

* Are you saying that the reform is only about schooling and not education?

I am all the time talking of change, not reform, because this is not an educational reform at all. The main change is that even if a student fails PSAC, s/he will be promoted to Grade 7.

That is why at one time you will hear mention of Nine Year Continuous Basic Education and in the same vein talk of Nine Year Schooling. For many of these actors, education is equal to schooling. Besides, the Nine Year Continuous Basic Education booklet (called NYCBE pdf.booklet on the Education website) entitles the document “Inspiring Every Child” as Nine Year Schooling (NYS).

The NYCBE hardly takes into account international educational trends, and we forget that with a life expectancy of some 65 years, the child who is in Grade 7 in 2017, will live till the year 2075. Are we helping teachers prepare these children to be productive in the second half of this century, keeping in mind fast technological developments?

* What do you suggest then? Go back to the old system?

I don’t think we can go back on this change. This change can, however, translate into a real educational reform. It requires thinking out of the box.

Any new Minister of Education will have to think of 11 year education rather than Nine Year Schooling.

We need a complete paradigm shift that will look at the whole system from kindergarten to post-secondary education, in a holistic manner, including whether we continue with the laureates (state scholarships), what status we give to polytechnics, how universities will not produce “mediocre” graduates and how MIE will not produce “mediocre” teachers now that MIE has been gifted with the right to award degrees.

Rather than putting the cart before the horse, we should look at the exit profile of the student and design the curriculum to equip the students with appropriate skills accordingly, so that after 11 years of basic education they can be prepared to either take a break and join the labour market, or go for higher education and training. Right now we are starting with Grade 5-7, then the curriculum “experts” will move to grade 8, then grade 9, incrementally from lower to upper grades.

What is also needed is a full definition of the achievement of a range of relevant learning outcomes that would prepare all learners for life, for citizenship, for work and for continued learning, regardless of mode of provision.

We also require teacher education reform, attention to learner support materials and ICT, the move towards diversified modes of provision, whole school improvement, issues of governance and management, the linkages with community and labour market, and inter-sectorial collaboration at national and local levels.

* Should we not also look at other aspects of the education system?

We must re-think the purpose of education (not just schooling) and reduce examination syllabus-driven teaching and find alternative assessment methods. E.g. when IB (International Baccalaureate) mentions skills, it also lays out in detail how these skills will be gained (such as portfolios and assessment of these, not just examinations). Since the 1980s, even with the 1990 Master Plan of Education of Armoogum Parsuramen, we were talking of holistic education, of reformed curriculum, of better teachers, etc.

We need bridges at all levels of the education system to allow learners to move from one field to the other, from academics to TVET and vice versa, from the world of work back to school and to the world of work.

We have to redefine the role of parents in the school, not the traditional PTA, but a more active participation in building effective partnerships between parents, families and schools to support children’s learning leading to improved learning outcomes.

We must not leave out a whole section of the population that have special needs, children who have differentiated abilities, who have some comparative form of handicap (psychologically, physically, emotionally or mentally). These are also citizens of this country and need to be given due attention.

Ultimately we need to re-think the role of schools in a rapidly changing technological environment. Schools should be reconceptualised as “learning organisations” that can react more quickly to changing external environments, embrace innovations in internal organisation, and ultimately improve student outcomes.

 

Tags:   Interview Dr Teeluck Bhuwanee     Nine Year Continuous Basic Education    UNESCO    MIE    CPE    PSAC   SC   HSC   Paramanand Soobarah    Minister Dookun-Luchoomun    TVET     Berufsschule    Kadress Pillay    Steven Obeegadoo     Dharam Gokhool    Vasant Bunwaree    Armoogum Parsuramen   International Baccalaureate    Education Reform    International Baccalaureate

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