Associate Professor, Education Studies Department, MIEView all articles by Om Varma
For those who are not yet familiar with the education system in Mauritius... In Mauritius education is free. The government pays for your schooling and you are forced to stay on at school till the age of 16.. thanks to the recent amendment of the law (2005) that instituted compulsory schooling. Yet the system has its share of paradox that only a Mauritian mind can disentangle, sorry, not disentangle, for that would mean he understands the logic of it!! I would say rather ‘tolerate’.
Everybody feels that the amount of time devoted to classroom teaching is not enough for the child to succeed. It is imperative for additional work outside the classroom. This will make you think, how conscientious is every Mauritian child and the parents as well! But I leave you to reach your own conclusion. Additional tutoring in any institution worth its name would be to provide individual attention, to solve learning difficulties of those who lag behind, or to sharpen those who would wish to excel for their own personal satisfaction. But, in most cases, the logic of tuition does not fit these objectives.
Let’s start by understanding each actor in the drama.
The parent: Parents ensure at the beginning of each school year that the child has a private tuition teacher. In the primary school it is often the class teacher her/himself, and probably in the case of many of the children, an additional teacher who will provide extra tuition, ensuring that the child has no day of the week without additional coaching. In secondary schools, the parents ensure that the child has a private tutor for almost each subject that s/he will take for the end of year exam or the ‘O’ level or ‘A’ level examinations. Once the parents have settled the private tuition teachers they seem to rest on their laurels, just ensuring that the teacher is paid on a monthly basis. Parents rarely enquire on what happens in school… and even go to assume that nothing much goes on in schools!!
The Teachers: Getting into the teaching profession today is attractive because of the working hours- Secondary schools open for 6 hrs daily for five days and teachers are expected to work for a minimum of 1140minutes weekly, with at least one free period each day. The term time is about 40 weeks a year, spread over three terms. Primary schools open for 6.5hrs for about the a few more weeks than secondary schools in a year. Students often complain that in many cases they are not motivated to work in secondary schools and many teachers do not give their best but work long hours after school hours to give private tuition. It would not be fair to teachers to put all the blame on them, because there are a number of teachers who find it really hard to sustain the motivation of students. Many students simply do not want to put in hard work during school hours and would simply wish to ignore classroom teaching no matter how good it is, because learning in schools, especially for boys I am told, is not the 'in-thing'. Many teachers would argue, rightly so that teaching in schools is not an easy job any more.
The Management of schools: This takes me directly to the management of schools. It seems that not much is done in terms of managing pedagogy in schools. The job of the management in many schools is simply one of keeping order and ensuring that timetable is operational, teachers are in the classroom and the bell is rung at regular intervals. Staff meetings is held during school hours, to the extent that teaching periods are shortened in many schools as teachers would not stay in school beyond the teaching time; it is equally hard to get teachers to stay on for any professional activity during school holidays. One would wonder what is the time available for any academic meeting that would really address teaching and learning in classrooms in a professional manner in many of our schools today.
The Parents: The most important link in the chain… Most of them never visit the schools; they are either afraid or not interested to point out any deficiency in the system and would prefer to use private tuition that they believe to be a remedial measure. If only they had taken the same interest in the school work as they take in the private tuition, half of the battle would be won! Never mind, there is no battle at all. In Mauritius we do not believe in ‘battles’, nor in our rights?
The student: They seem to bear the brunt in many ways. The ones who take advantage of tuition and school at the same time benefit the most… and they are the few who shine in the process. Those who feel that school hours is for fun and no one can do much against them (as rules and even tradition do not allow any serious action against defaulters) also bear the consequence of being misguided at an early age by a tolerant system. In primary schools the child has no option but to do what everyone else does… take tuition. In the process, those who cannot afford private tuition feel deprived!
I do not condemn private tuition. You may be surprised. Let me tell you why. My son (now 20 yrs old) was in Standard III and he first wanted to take private tuition. I was dead against private tuition so I refused. Every day I would come home and find him running up and down in the hot sun. When I tried to explain to him that he should not be out in the sun, his answer was “send me for tuition then!” I realised that he wanted to be with his teacher. The liking for the teacher was pleasantly confirmed when he would ask me not to pick him up until rather late from his teacher’s home. He liked her so much. She would relate stories, give the children some goodies and organised games for the children who stayed back.. who would not like a teacher like that? It is not a matter of private tuition. It is the human touch that makes a successful teacher. Even years later he has never forgotten those happy days! If only such relationships could flourish within our classrooms today!