The Nathacha Appanah debate: Reflections of an ex-Cato Vert
Nathacha Appanah is right, but what do we all do about it? Public schooling is still our best option for the masses. We just need to improve it.
I come from a mixed family which was basically very poor with all odds against me yet I became a QEC student after being ranked 11th at CPE. During term time, I would walk a very long stretch early morning before going to school to help my mom at the Eden College school canteen. Most of my Saturday mornings would be devoted to a bus trip to ChinaTown in Port-Louis to buy articles for the canteen. During holidays, I would help her as 'marchand de rue'.
However, I was lucky to be in a class of very mixed origins comprising kids from the top bourgeois to the very poor (one of my friends left after Form 5 to marry and to become a hotel singer) and we have all remained good friends even if we meet only once in a while. I had all kinds of teachers: very bright and inspiring ones, average ones and some mediocre too. I studied in the Arts side and was ranked 2nd in the country (there was only one laureate at the time) despite taking only a few tuitions. I obtained a scholarship to study in Reunion where I was 'major de promo' and Lyon where I was also ranked in the top 5. Today, according to the local social standards, I have a good job and have nice mixed family of my own. I still have parents from all types of socio-economic backgrounds and we enjoy being with them and helping out without the need to brag about it. Too many people prefer to turn their backs on their poor parents once they "succeed" and that makes me really sad.
All this to say that there are many kinds of experiences which have existed at QEC and I would hate to lump everyone into a simple template. I don't know if it's still the same at QEC but I would hate to draw conclusions without hard data. However, I do agree with Nathacha Appanah that there is a major problem with our public education system and with many (not all) of our teachers. Regarding this debate about ex-Catos vs Nathacha and many other current public debates, the truth is always somewhere in the middle.
The ex-Catos have overreacted and are blinded by their love of their school (which I also love, not for the school per se, but for the people, teachers and friends, with whom I have gone through part of my life). And this is human enough. Nathacha may have also been slightly annoyed by the criticisms and this is also human enough. What I do retain is that whoever organised this meeting didn't encourage those kids to read and prepare for a meaningful exchange. It's a missed opportunity! I also retain that our system is totally outdated and we've been saying that for years. Every year, at the university it's a struggle to 'undo' the results of 13 years of rote-learning at primary and secondary levels that stifles analytical thinking and creativity. Just imagine, what's the percentage of kids that have ever been asked to give an oral presentation in front of their own class in the 13 years of school life?
But, that does not mean that salvation will come from the schools for the rich ghetto kids either. I feel sad that people increasingly send their kids to such schools, sometimes getting into debts in the process. Those kids may have a better education content, become more confident in life, have better analytical skills, better cultural knowledge, etc. But, they only meet other people and kids who are 'rich'. Many of them are spoilt, never walk in the streets, don't know how to speak Creole, don't know the value of things... But again, I would hate to generalise. Anyway, such schools cannot physically absorb the majority of our kids. We still have to rely on the public education system for the masses.
Anyway, to come back to the original debate, I feel sad. Sad for everyone, for my country. We are becoming way too polarised. We are also good at finding the problems but not the solutions... Maybe nine-year schooling will change things, but at the moment I don't know. There are still many unknowns.
I do think that Nathacha and our other authors and artists should keep trying to talk to those kids. Noor Adam Essack is also right in saying that they should not only go to elite schools and should in fact also go to the others, the 'ti-colleges'. The conclusions would probably be the same. I do not want to sound pessimist though I may sound like one often. I do feel great optimism when I look at our artists and some of our young people who dare push the boundaries. We've got to find a way to encourage more of them and to offer good role models, without judging them too harshly as they are but the products of our system.
At UOM, it's been basically a roller-coaster. Sometimes, when I was really fed up with the apathy and lack of interaction or critical mind, I would get angry at them. Sometimes they would surprise me and produce interesting write-ups and projects. I have now realised that anger at them is unproductive as they simply become disengaged in real life because well, it's the epoch we live in that reinforces such disengagement (social media addiction, narcissism, early cynicism, etc.). We should direct our anger at the system and we need a wake-up call from the adults who are themselves responsible for this state of affairs, knowingly or unknowingly (by raising spoilt kids, cocooning them, lying or hiding things from them about real life, transferring their biases to them, turning them into early cynics, etc.).