Kreol in schools

Submission from “We Love Mauritius” (WeLuvMu) at the request of the Ministry of Education on the subject of:

The Introduction of Kreol Language in Schools

We Love Mauritius” is a charitable Mauritian NGO, operating, amongst others, in the field of human rights. We have responded to the invitation to submit views on the introduction of Kreol in schools by organising a virtual focus group to canvas the views of our members who are interested in the subject. We highlight the opinions that were expressed and then move on to a detailed analysis of the issues involved that attempts both to encompass and reflect these opinions and also shed new light on the debate.

Virtual focus group

Below are the key phrases from the participants. It should be noted that they were a self-selected group of young, computer literate and English literate people who are concerned about the future of Mauritius.

For

 

Against

Kreol is part of our culture – neglecting it would be unpatriotic.

 

It will create more stress for students.

Mauritians speak Kreol very badly.

 

Teachers must focus on helping children be more fluent in English and French.

People need to interpret Kreol better – it is not just a language of abuse.

 

Kreol has is merits but only in oral communication.

Studying Kreol would be good because it is difficult to read and understand.

 

Translating textbooks into Kreol will lead to misinterpretations.

Children can use Kreol to express themselves e.g. in drama.

 

Concentrate on international languages – they are more useful.

It will help children’s understanding and hence their performance in exams.

 

How can children assimilate complex concepts in Kreol?

Give it a try and see if it works.

 

Do not tamper with well established standards.

 

Haiti adopted Kreyol as its official language – look at the mess it is in!

Overall, more participants were against the proposals than for them and many who were positive, qualified their views with reservations. There was general consensus around the opinion that children must leave school competent in English and French and, hopefully, other international languages as well.

Observations by We Love Mauritius

We will not repeat the arguments for and against the use of Morisyen in schools that have already been expressed in the public domain. We will, however, observe that the over-use of the phrase “mother tongue” in promoting Kreol carries with it a level of emotional manipulation that is manifestly clouding rational thought. Just one or two generations ago, Kreol was not the mother tongue of the majority of Mauritians. Going back further it was the mother tongue of nobody. Were it not for the need for a language of utility amongst the French slave traders, Kreol would not even exist.

What follows are our observations and insights that we hope will enlighten and enliven the debate.

Language – Formality and democracy

All languages can be placed on a spectrum based on the degree of their formality. At one extreme are the natural languages first spoken by humans and at the other extreme are the formal languages designed for computers. Esperanto is a unique example of a human language that was created by design. It is hardly used by anyone.

Without going into historical details, at various points in time, natural languages were written down. Typically, as the percentage of the population that could read and write was strictly limited, it was the elite who determined how the language was written. As the number of functions to which the written language was employed increased, so too did the need for consistency and clarification, leading to an increasing complexity of the grammar of the language. This continued for as long as the elite controlled the written language.

Ancient Greek, Latin, Mandarin, Arabic and Sanskrit are good examples of this development of complexity. In parallel to these written forms, the illiterate common people spoke more natural versions. However, given the dominance of the elite and the need to interact fully with the population, for example through commerce and religion, the spoken language remained fairly well anchored to the written one and evolution of the language was relatively slow.

Hence, French, Portuguese, Spanish,and Italian represent the slow evolution of regional dialects of the original written and spoken Latin (English evolved from German – see Appendix I for details). The dynamic of the English language today contrasts with that of the ancient Roman society in that the majority of the English-speaking population is literate. Hence, there is no elite that can control the written form of the language. It has become democratised to such an extent that the compilers of the Oxford English Dictionary actually monitor the popularity of new words and the changing common definitions of older ones to update the dictionary.

The same is true for grammar. A perfect example can be found in the contemporary French language, where a whole tense has disappeared from speech but is still widely used in writing. One assumes that within a generation or two, this tense will come to be regarded as archaic, will disappear from books and French grammar will be revised.

Turning to the Mauritian creole language, which we will call Morisyen for short, we see a markedly different path of development. The first French settlers to Mauritius obviously spoke French. When the number of their slaves was limited and when they came from the same region, communication was mediated by foremen who could speak both French and the African language. As the number of slaves increased, so did the diversity of their countries of origin. The only common language that they heard was French.

Successive generations of slave children took the French that they heard when their parents communicated with people from other ethnic groups and naturally developed a creole version similar to other French colonies around the world. Since the French slave owners neither communicated with the slave children nor caused them to be educated, the drift continued and the Morisyen language arose and became embedded both amongst the slaves and the freemen of colour. Eventually, the Franco-Mauritians, especially administrators and Catholic priests, were forced to learn the language in order to communicate with the majority non-white population.

By the time the British arrived, Morisyen was already the lingua franca of the island. The British did not impose English upon the population as they did in other colonies. Within a few decades, the British outlawed slavery and brought indentured labourers from India to replace the slaves. They too had to learn Morisyen to communicate with the “general population”.

The use of the Morisyen has become virtually ubiquitous, however, only as a spoken language. It has never replaced written French and English. More recently, however, young people have begun to write their own form of Morisyen in the text messages they send to each other by mobile phone and using internet chat. This is clearly a natural, democratic process.

In contrast, certain academics have proposed creating a written form of Morisyen to be used as a medium of education. Given that spoken Morisyen has lost many of the grammatical complexities of French, a new written grammar will need to be created to mirror those of French and English. This will be a manifestly undemocratic process performed by a self-appointed elite. It is also doubtful that they have the competence to create a sufficiently comprehensive grammar that will be fit for purpose. More likely, it will be an evolutionary process with significant changes needing to be introduced for some decades until the kind of stability found in more established languages is achieved.

It is our considered opinion that the written form of Morisyen be permitted to arise naturally in the population. The role of academics should be to observe and reflect it in their work. The sudden creation of a written form would require the whole population to be educated in a new system of grammar which will not be usefullyestablished and hence become stable for many years. Certainly in schools, Morisyen would need to be taught as a compulsory subject as students would have to learn the new grammar before it could be applied as a medium of education.

It is fallacious to use pedagogical arguments to justify the rapid introduction of a formalised version of Morisyen. Especially one created by an academic elite who are out of touch with the section of the society for whom they are designing this new written language of education. It is not for academics to impose a written form of Morisyen on children but to humbly learn the language that our young people are naturally creating by themselves for their own purposes.

Two alternative outcomes are foreseen as a result of artificially creating a written form of Morisyen. In the highly unlikely event that it is created immediately fit for purpose, it will be so novel that it will be rejected by the people of Mauritius, in just the same way that the world has shunned Esperanto. It is more likely that it will be developed by trial and error, over a period of time until it is fit for purpose. However, how many children will have their education sacrificed on the altar of this poorly conceived, authoritarian experiment?

Ulterior motives

This leads us to question the true motives of those who propose the creation of a written form of Morisyen to serve as a medium of education. We can cast aside the “elite” academics who want to be involved in the process either for reward or recognition. This obviously leaves us with the political and religious leaders. The clue to ulterior motives comes from the insistence that the language be called “Kreol” rather than “Morisyen”. The former alludes to a class or community, while the latter is neutral and all embracing.

It is not surprising that the political party, Lalit de Klass are so vocal in promoting “Kreol”. They seek to represent the lower classes of which Creoles are the overwhelming majority. We contend that their views should not be considered because they are politically motivated. The correct place for such opinions to be expressed should be the National Assembly.

Likewise, the Catholic Church, exemplified today by Father Jocelyn Gregoire, has historically sought to be the representative of the Creole community. Since its mission is to promote Roman Catholicism, the views of its leaders should be disregarded as well.

It is concluded, therefore that debate around the use of“Kreol” in schools is being promoted by political and religious organisations to perpetuate communal and class divides. Their objective is to strengthen their hold on the segments of society they seek to shepherd.

Looking at the matter more deeply, one perceives that the economic elite have a lot to gain from a process that would effectively dumb down the population. The economic elite send their children to English and French medium schools. Growing up in an environment where English or French are widely spoken, they have no need to be distracted with learning Morisyen in school. If they so desire, they can learn it naturally from their peers, certainly not in school lessons.

By forcing the lower classes to pass through an increasingly inferior standard of education, they are creating a gap between the classes that will be ever more difficult to cross. This will reinforce their position of dominance, especially in terms of dealing with the outside world, which will become increasingly important for Mauritius.

Distraction from the real issues

Our greatest concern is that the current focus on Morisyen in schools is being used by teachers and the Ministry of Education to delay the inevitable educational reform that is so long overdue. The standard of teaching within schools is deteriorating. Education is no longer free – if parents want their child to be educated to a decent standard, they are at the mercy of the providers of private tuition. The fact that most of these private tutors are teachers by day is a scandal. It is effectively a protection racket whereby many parents must pay teachers to avoid their children being neglected in the class room.

Much blame is put on the “colonial system” inherited from the British. In fact it is not a colonial system at all but the British education system as it was in the 1960s. Remember that the British introduced mass education to Mauritius. If they had not liberated the country from the Franco-Mauritians would the descendants of slaves even be in school today? Given their reluctance to accept the end of slavery, it might well have persisted even today, albeit in a form of racial apartheid that would make the even the most racist Afrikaans look like saints.

The CPE examination is a copy of the long defunct 11+ in the UK, which was an entrance examination for grammar schools. The children that failed went to secondary modern schools. The difference in Mauritius is that we have NEVER had secondary modern schools and CPE failures have been all but ignored until quite recently. The expansion of Morisyen in schools is not going to address this glaring structural failure in the least. Indeed, it is likely that educators will use the inevitable hiccoughs caused by transition from English to Morisyen medium teaching as an excuse to avoid dealing with the root causes of the educational deficit that plagues Mauritius today.

Counter proposals

It would be ungentlemanly to criticise a system without making suggestions to resolve the problems identified. However, the issues in this case are systemic and cannot be addressed without thoroughly re-engineering education in Mauritius. While such an effort is beyond the scope of this report, we will attempt to lay the foundations of a Mauritian educational system fit for the 21st century. Much of what we propose is based on an extrapolation of the British experience of trial and all too frequent error that has characterised the development of their educational system in the last few decades.

Begin with the end in mind

Education has traditionally been influenced by teachers and academics who have very limited experience of the “real world”. As such, the whole of education has been described by Sir Ken Robinson as an extremely protracted university entrance examination designed to select for future professors. Needless to say, university professors are a tiny and extremely unrepresentative segment of society.

A new education system must reflect today’s society and take account of the enormous leaps in our understanding of the spectrum of excellence and the diverse strategies of learning. Indeed learning is now considered a lifelong process and so the most important outcome of school years must be the desire for and skills of self-motivated, self-directed learning. This in turn requires a profound self-awareness of one’s personal learning style and taking personal responsibility for one’s own learning outcomes. Only then will be we have any chance to develop the adaptability and resilience needed to realise the vision of Maurice “Iles Durables”.

Every child is gifted

While watching the World Cup it is disappointing that a country, so passionate about soccer, no longer has a national team worth mentioning. This reflects the over-emphasis on academic achievement to the detriment of every other ability that naturally exists in our children, albeit in uniquely varied proportions. Even in the University of Oxford, some students are selected more for their ability to pull on an oar than their likelihood of obtaining a first class degree.

It is a tragic waste if each of us does not realise his or her true potential. Researchers have identified the following intelligences:

  • Musical

  • Linguistic

  • Kinaesthetic

  • Logical

  • Interpersonal

  • Intrapersonal

  • Visual/spacial

  • Naturalistic

We would add to the list:

  • Creative

  • Critical

  • Intuitive

  • Spiritual

  • Psychic

Each child has these in different measures and each child should have the right to explore, identify and develop their preferred intelligences just as they should their individual learning styles. This way people are emancipated to make their greatest contribution to society as well as achieving personal fulfilment and hence happiness. It is beholden upon us to design educational systems that achieve this and have built in feed-back processes to ensure continuous improvement of both the systems and the people facilitating them.

First steps

A revolution in education cannot be achieved overnight. However, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The most important of these is to scrap the CPE and transform our so-called “secondary” schools into genuine comprehensive schools that serve children as described above. Recognising certain competitive elements in Mauritian society, a small number of “Star Academies” may be established for students (or their vicarious parents) who aspire to be at the top of certain disciplines, covering all the intelligences. These regionally-based academies could operate independently, manage their own selection processes and even charge fees to cover their additional expenses. Late developers could transfer to an Academy at any stage in their educational career.

In this way, private tuition at the primary level would become redundant except for a minority of students aspiring to enter the Academies. The need for bus transport would be nearly eliminated as most students would attend their local comprehensive school. Walking or cycling to school would help avoid obesity and install a habit of exercise that should be continued into adulthood and will then reduce the incidence of diabetes, heart disease and hypertension.

Resistance to change

Parents who genuinely have their children’s best interests at heart should welcome these proposals. Teachers and others with vested interests in the current system, however, may inhibit and perhaps even sabotage change. This is to be expected. However, it is easily overcome. There are a number of for-profit and non-profit organisations that provide excellent education at relatively low cost. If necessary our children’s education can be out-sourced to these experienced and well managed organisations staffed with highly trained professionals.

We can give one example that we were privileged to witness in India. Isha Vidhya is an organisation that seeks to educate India’s rural poor and open up the sorts of opportunities to them that are normally only available to the city-dwelling elite. Their objective is to prepare self-confident, computer literate children, fluent in English for their future role in India’s development. They do this using a structured English-medium programme that they are willing to share with us in Mauritius. In India they are achieving remarkable success at a cost of around $250 per child per year, including a daily nutritional snack. This is amazing value for money.

Conclusion

We have taken the opportunity of the invitation to comment on the introduction of Kreol in schools to introduce new dimensions to the debate. However, our primary objective has been to bring to the fore the real and pressing issues that need to be addressed. Our aim is to provoke. If your emotions have been moved in any way then we have succeeded. We will continue to advocate in this field to ensure that all children in Mauritius can realise their right to a world-class education uniquely tailored to their individual gifts and aspirations.

Author:Dr Richard L Munisamy – Contact:drmu@welovemauritius.org

 

Appendix I

Below is the family tree of the Indo-European languages. It encompasses all of the languages that were the “mother tongues” of the immigrants to Mauritius with the exception of the Africans, Chinese and Dravidians. This demonstrates that the majority of Mauritians share a common origin. Rather than using Morisyen as the unifying hub of Mauritian society, why not refer back to the proto Indo-European language – our ancestral Mother’s tongue? Studying this tree will resolve the fundamental identity crisis that afflicts most Mauritians. Those who revere their African origins (the Rastafari) and the Sino-Mauritians do not suffer from this pathological state. The peaceful cohabitation of people from these four language communities, rooted in their respective identities, is a genuine expression of our unity in diversity.

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2 comments

  1. Bill Chapman

    I hope you’ll allow me to comment on the view expressed jhere: “Esperanto is a unique example of a human language that was created by design. It is hardly used by anyone.”

    It’s true that Esperanto hasn’t yet gained the recognition it deserves. However, all things considered, it has actually done amazingly well. In just over 120 years, it has managed to grow from a drawing-board project with just one speaker in one country to a complete and living natural language with around 2,000,000 speakers in over 120 countries and a rich literature and cosmopolitan culture, with little or no official backing and even bouts of persecution. It hasn’t taken the world by storm – yet – but it’s slowly but surely moving in that direction, with the Internet giving it a significant boost in recent years.

    I would not dream of saying what is right for Mauritius, but advocates of Morisyen have a lot to learn from the Esperanto movement.

  2. Bruce

    It would be very practical if all the world spoke one language (e.g. Esperanto). Business would love it.
    I think, though, it would make for a very boring world! Practicality is one thing, but romance needs a chance also!
    I’m a Brit living with my Mauritian wife in France. If everyone we met spoke English, it wouldn’t be the France I love. The same goes for Kreol. If my mother-in-law spoke perfect English, she’d be a different person. Kreol is part of who she is!

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