The process of eliminating poverty in Mauritius through education.

Photos and text by Linley Bignoux
English Teacher /Photographer

Within the epitome of the profound relationship between poverty and education in Mauritius islands, the social fabric lays an organization at the heart of social transition in an economically poor part of the island. Roche Bois in the northern suburb of the capital of Mauritius, Port Louis, has for many years been stigmatized and unduly prejudged by the Mauritian population as a poor and inefficient suburban “sector “amongst a communalist societal background that persists in Mauritius.

But the NGO MPRB-Mouvement pour le progress de Roche Bois, translated to English, Movement and progress for Roche Bois is seeking and endeavouring to change that view of Mauritian society’s prejudged perceptions of their local community and that of persons affected by poverty and their apparent and inherent links with education and to tackle the suppression of education, social advocacy and awareness within their local community, who has in the past received “the bad end of the stick. The MPRB an NGO-Non Governmental Organization, through its many projects and activities, emphasizes that education and human rights advocacy, coupled with a strong sense of belonging, will eventually help in the alleviation of poverty, which is a strong possibility.

The organization MPRB –Mouvement pour le proges de Roche Bois was founded in 1993 to give a sense of social responsibility to its community through active participation and also a sense of environmental, social, and political awareness and participation through its implemented “tools” of education and empowerment. The MPRB since its formation acts to advocate, educate, involve and inform its community of Roche Bois which has been beset by poverty and exclusion in Mauritian society for many years on an educational, social and communalist level.

The organization caters to the economically poor and adversely under-educated or uneducated of Roche Bois, an unfortunate outcome of inefficient central government policy on education in a historical sense and the two extremities of a rapidly developing economy in which the two sides are either poor or rich, with no “in-between”.

The majority of the Roche Bois community comes from underprivileged households origins and either come from Rodrigues, an outer island autonomous dependency of Mauritius or the Chagos Archipelago, a former island dependency of Mauritius but now in the hands of the British Government for military purposes.

The mainly economically disadvantaged commonly referred to as African-Mauritian populations of which many happen to live in Roche Bois are excluded from having proper education and a popular voice in political affairs, an all too common “scenario” that plays part in the social disparity within the correlation between education and poverty mimicked around the world, not just in Mauritius.

The MPRB organization consists of 11 part-time and four full-time social workers, with additional staffing by 4 volunteers for recreational and creative activities undertaken at the centre for its beneficiaries participating in ongoing projects run throughout the year. Medical check-ups and periodical theatrical musicals are organized as well, as with extra-curricular activities such as computer lessons and social events such as bingo. The centre caters for 432 beneficiaries of which 272 are children and 160 are adults of which a majority come from the Roche-Bois community and its local surroundings including Batterie Casee and Saint Croix neighbourhoods.

The MPRB invites its local community residents to the centre, in the heart of Roche Bois, which is open every day of the week. The organization calls its participants of the local community “beneficiaries” who come to the organization’s centre to be educated on a vocational level, empowered and informed. The principal objectives of the MPRB are to envisage a substantial improvement of their local community and that of their “beneficiaries”.

Objectively driven through their various programs predominantly of an educational and rehabilitative nature, MPRB improves the current and that future social status of the Roche Bois community and its beneficiaries. The organization outlines three key areas of objectives, one is the respect of human rights of the Roche Bois community and its surroundings, two, to improve the education level of the local population of Roche Bois and thirdly to improve the economic and social development of Roche Bois through active participation of the local community.

The centre meets its various objectives through constant and willing programs and projects tailored to benefit beneficiaries progressively and evolutionarily using pedagogical training patterns that define how to best educate and empower their beneficiaries, the programs and projects are run at the centre every day of the week and sometimes held in the evenings.

Some of the ways that the centre deals with the process of education and empowerment are with activities that adversely encourage participation and self-reliance. Activities such as remedial work for slow learners at school at the primary school and secondary school levels, children aged between 5 to 13 years of age are given tuition in various areas where they are lacking in proficiency and hence attainment of knowledge at the academic level, this entails pedagogical activities to help young children attending their various primary schools and secondary schools level of education, who have low pass rates in the national education system.

MPRB has a divisive pedagogical way of not just teaching in a vocational manner but also attending to the needs of the student beneficiaries and that of the beneficiaries as a whole. Adult literacy programs are run at the Centre, which gives reading and writing tuition in English and French language, this instructional design runs exclusively by MPRB and trains illiterate or undereducated adults in vocabulary and grammar, who in some way have been forgotten in their early years of childhood education in the national education system.

A situation formed over many years of inadequate government educational policy, coincidently creating a by-product in which adult underprivileged Mauritians are either illiterate or have very basic forms of education including reading and writing capabilities. The program has 30 beneficiaries in the English program and 20 in the French program respectively. Teaching in a fun and interactive manner, not a rigid instructional style is one of MPRB,s philosophies of delivering appropriate vocational education.

Focus is also put on physical fitness for mothers, a “wellness” program is run once a week for a two-hour session of aerobic and anaerobic exercises, this, in turn, creates participation and an added sense of well-being for housewife beneficiaries. The centre runs amongst its many programs and workshops a detailed and comprehensive home economics workshop, where participant beneficiary housewives and single mothers foster and develop their cooking skills in Mauritian culinary traditions.

Some programs that are implemented vigorously are the ones that involve social integration, or for that matter, re-integration in some instances and that require “special attention”.Zeness La Limier or “Youthful Light” in English is a program, which sets out to counter the high dropout rate of children aged between 10 -17 years of age in the Mauritian educational system.

The organization tackles and defines the means of an adequate re-integrative vocational education system that is thus applied to the problem. With thoughtful and creative educational activities coupled with pedagogical ones identify and implement the best solutions to handle individual education needs.

Social integration is attended to for particular children who are in a “deprived” situation, which usually but not always includes domestic issues at home or alcohol or drugs in some way, MPRB places particular imperative importance on this with home visits, visits to various institutions, visits to local schools and outdoor activities for the child beneficiaries who are unequivocally in an unfavourable situation.

Ecole des Parents or School for Parents, a program initiated by MPRB in 2001 for the benefit of sustainable child development and to re-install family values in education, is a long-running initiative for parents supporting their children’s primary school education. Under this initiative, parents are invited to participate alongside their children and to empower other prospective parent beneficiaries to participate within the Roche Bois community.

One of the program’s primary objectives is for parents to become trainers themselves for their own children’s education and to support and encourage their children’s academic progress at school. This form of training gives the parents control, and simultaneously provides the parents with education themselves, in this case, many of the parents themselves are illiterate or under-educated.

MPRB acts as the precursor and provides the training to the parents to give their children the academic support they need, the initiative is called PASS and it was implemented in 2001 at the same time Ecole des Parents was formed.

The research was undertaken by the MPRB, in collaboration with the Dr Jean-Claude Thi Keng of the Analysis Consultant Group and in collaboration with the European Union’s –Decentralised Co-operation Program, a European special projects funding division to alleviate poverty in rapidly developing economies, like that of the Mauritian one. The research was conducted to determine why so many failures within the CPE-Certificate of Primary Education, the Mauritian national primary education system and the stepping stone to Secondary education in the country.

The research also wanted to determine the cause and effect of CPE failures that were so prevalent at two of Roche Bois’s primary schools, Emmanuel Anquetil and Nicolay government schools respectively. The research found that historically, failures are contributed to “the incapability of the children to adapt themselves to the national education system, the difficult economic situation of the parents and lack of academic success in the family surroundings”.

Furthermore, some of the conclusive findings reported, “the probability, the disadvantaged families were from an economically poor background”, furthermore compounding adhesively, educations “joining” at the crossroads of poverty. The findings also suggested that the poor have a “cultural capital deficit, implying that in terms of education, which is largely seen as a non-financial asset in economic terms, can be used to enhance social issues like that of poverty to a better “state” within the country beyond the already financial objectives of Mauritius, which are predominantly economically driven in a globalized economy. The study is titled the “Socio-Economic Situation of Beneficiaries of the MPRB Education System.”

The CPE-Certificate of Primary Education is the national educational curriculum, which ends in a CPE certificate after examinations in five compulsory subjects, English and French language studies Mathematics, Science, History and Geography. This system was quite advanced and practical as it may not fit well or suit both low-income families and their children in the national CPE system or with people in impoverished areas of the island, including the Roche Bois community.

One of the reasons is that the medium of language instruction used in schools in Mauritius is in either English or French and not in their mother tongue, which is Mauritian Creole, the lingua franca of Mauritius or patois spoken by many Mauritians, French and English being the language of the media and for administrative purposes within the Government of the island state.

This alone creates a unique barrier to learning, hence the ability of children from lower-income families or disadvantaged sectors “economically” to struggle to participate effectively within the curriculum and to pass the CPE examinations, furthermore compounding their problems of attaining a proper education.

Faced with already external factors like that having no adequate shelter, not enough food at home, and domestic violence, amongst many other factors the stereotypical situation that poverty “imposes” on underprivileged people, contributing to their demise in education from the onset. This is the quite a surprising situation, that the language of instruction at school is different to the language learned at home, which is Mauritian Creole, their maternal language or the national language spoken by nearly all Mauritians.

From the beginning, they are destined to fail because of communication issues, attributed to the medium of language used in instruction at school. More interestingly, the official language of Mauritius is English, but the French language is the dominant spoken language, and at schools, Mauritian Creole is not used in delivering education, a quite precarious situation for disadvantaged children attending school, as language is the “base” or foundation of all human understanding universally.

But in 2004 the Mauritian Government seeking to align and reform their CPE system to best cater for disadvantaged children within the education system, with the help of MPRB and other NGOs around the island forged a new way to tackle the issues of education in less developed regions. The Ministry of Education of Mauritius created the ZEP-Zone Education Proirtare or Prioritized Education Zone, this concept was designed and formulated for underperforming or low pass rate schools, thus effectively contributing to “raising” the standard of achievement of these particular schools.

According to the Ministry of Education in an official statement on the ZEP zoning system, “the philosophy of ZEP is based on the premise that positive reinforcement is required to create favourable learning conditions for children living mostly in less developed regions. This approach aims to reduce school inequalities and in a broader perspective combat social inequalities by providing equal opportunities to all primary school children of the Republic of Mauritius.”

The Government of Mauritius and its Ministry of Education classify a ZEP school by its pass rate, aggregated annually in terms of percentage, if the pass rate is below 40 per cent in any area of Mauritius, not just in the disadvantaged economically and socially, it qualifies in this zone system to be a ZEP school.

As it may come as no surprise to many “well off ” or affluent Mauritians that these ZEP zones are largely and unanimously disadvantaged areas in an educative and monetary way, stigmatization still occurs, with long-held views of stereotyped African-Mauritians, without proper fundamental understanding and awareness, a communalist product leftover during the colonial occupation of the island.

The Director of MPRB, Edwige Duckie states “In areas like that of Roche Bois, people are living in poor conditions, they cannot have the proper learning materials, they do not have a desk to do their homework, sometimes they do not have a place to sleep and a lot of them they, don’t even eat.”

Edwige Duckie who has always been engaged in various types of roles in social work says “there are links between poverty and education, without proper education it’s hard to fight against the system that is quite well established here in Mauritius”.

Edwige goes on to touch on the subject of the causes of poverty in the community of Roche Bois explaining “Politics and a communalist system that exists in Mauritius, additionally, stigmatization makes matters worse”.Edwige turns to the current problems of the local community of Roche Bois, she states “here at the centre we give the beneficiaries an understanding of the role of education plays in their lives, but at home these children there is no educational mentality and they do not have positive role models at home.

And for the parents themselves, there were never proper role models for them either. ”Edwige informs that “Parents need to be motivated and to be positive role models for their children attending school, parents need to participate and to encourage their children, with the benefices, adult or child, they can participate in their change.”

The harsh realities of the links between poverty and education can hardly be understated. Many people in Mauritius of adult age have not received proper or adequate education or even any education at all at the primary level. A basic or foundational understanding of comprehension of language, either spoken or written, is all but rare in poor areas. Education has “taken the back seat”, as financial gain is much more important in these areas.

Compounding the already prevalent and existing problems like unemployment, drugs and alcohol abuse, an all too common scenario that prevails in the Roche Bois community and that of the subjective manner of poverty in Mauritius and worldwide.

There are positive outcomes on the horizon however, through MPRB’s curriculum of social change, Edwige says, “the beneficiaries want to change and they are aware of their situation, there is progress. “She iterates “To change them, we must motivate them and to develop their self-esteem and to develop their capacities within them.

There is a lot of progress being made with the children, but only through the parents we can do this.” Edwige points out as well “progress can be measured if we begin with the beneficiaries’ environment and make them aware of the environment they are in.” She adds that the role of human rights plays a crucial part as well to the benefit of the beneficiaries at MPRB, she says, “human rights through education and advocacy are important, this enhances the quality of life for our beneficiaries.”

The centre receives direct funding from the Mauritian Government –Ministry of Education and through the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, assisted by the European Unions-Decentralised Co-operation Program, an intervention program to tackle and alleviate poverty, largely project-driven, in which funds are provided to the Government of Mauritius.

Poverty eradication and the role that education plays in its demise are essentially at the forefront of MPRB’s battle against poverty. Using its systematic vocational education curriculum, the centre strives to believe that comprehensive education is the key to breaking down the barriers of poverty in Mauritius. According to the UNESCO-United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organizations International Workshop on Education and Poverty Eradication in 2001, the workshop outlined crucial issues with relative importance to education, the workshop identified that:

“Poor children have numerous disadvantages concerning their better-off counterparts. They are usually less healthy, and their language skills less developed, a factor that has a negative influence on school achievement, they are generally less well equipped, socially, emotionally and physically to undertake a school program, If their disadvantaged position and different day-to-day experiences are not taken into account by education, it is no wonder that they are unable to benefit from the school system.”

The Director of the MPRB again points out a factual argument “There is a link between failures at school and poverty, to tackle poverty we must educate and empower our beneficiaries. The focus of our centre is to empower and re-generate the education of its beneficiaries, child and adult.” Edwige says. The centre is proactive in giving value to learning as being an important step to poverty eradication in the Roche Bois community.

Holistic approaches to education and the method in which children and parents are learning are important, what they are learning or the content of their learning is secondary and not applicable in the early stages of education, quality of delivery over content is important for now to establish educational consistency amongst poor and disadvantaged peoples.

The centre is playing a big role, not just in the educational part of the foundations of education, but in “evolving” the thinking of its beneficiaries and at the same time, indirectly and directly sometimes, informing the Mauritian public through advocacy and social awareness initiatives and activities. The organization certainly and understandably has a “global” view of current social issues and their remedies, whether they are in full view or underlying ulterior problems.

Allessandro Chiara, a volunteer animator at MPRB, directs and leads some of the creative activities undertaken at the Centre, mainly in dancing and theatrical activities with a pedagogical application to them, a system that involves and fosters participation amongst the beneficiaries of which entertains and educates at the same time.

Allesandro speaks of the pedagogical pattern used at MPRB and its favourable positive points associated with an education he stipulates that “Application of the interactive system is the key fundamental factor for determining proper development and the system that we use is inclusive, the system the government uses is exclusive.”

Allesandro furthermore states that “giving value to learning is important and that is why we need to use the interactive system.”Allesandro comments on the overall poverty vs. education issue in Mauritius and that of its stigmatization in the country, he says “It is part of human nature to think we are better, it’s a mindset that people have, we can, however, overcome this stigmatization, what matters is there is a lot of progress with the children, it’s a global thing.”

There are quintessentially plenty of social issues that can be “awarded” to Mauritius when it comes to the overall and “persistent” topics of poverty and education. The organization’s system of inclusion at an educational and social level has been transforming the Roche-Bois community and that of underprivileged children and parents.

The centre diligently not only finds solutions to this social malaise and its “endeavouring” outcomes but also seeks to render the long-held view of the Roche Bois community as an “inefficient liability”. Coupled with their vocational training and the empowerment of their beneficiaries, MPRB searches for a better result or outcome, not only individually, but for that of their community and its surroundings.

The centre adversely quantifies its progress through its various empowerment and education programs, which simultaneously qualify its local community and that of its inhabitants progressively through the evolution of its measurable policies to combat poverty through education and empowerment.

MPRB is filling in the huge gap that poverty and lack of proper education have created. The organization not only treats the symptoms of poverty but identifies the causes it and seeks to educate the overall public through its reactions to it through social awareness campaigns designed for the Mauritian public, countering stigmatization at its roots. Tenaciously the MPRB, its staff and its volunteers explore and endeavour for a considerable and enhancing outcome for its beneficiaries through its framework to better the local community’s poverty situation in a far-reaching and wide-scoped social indifference in Mauritian society.

The MPRB has initiated various projects on the environmental level as well, notably a Waste Disposal Scheme within the community of Roche Bois. The scheme was set up to give residents of Roche Bois an active role in the recycling of domestic waste and to counter dumping of waste causing in some cases severe pollution within their community.

This scheme set up in 2006 gave residents and beneficiaries active participation in environmental affairs within their neighbourhood and gave them a sense of responsibility to clean up and be aware of their effects on the environment. The project benefited from the support from the UNDP-United Nations Development Program as well as local recycling companies.

According to the MPRB states, “The MPRB has initiated many supportive actions to sensitize the population of Roche Bois on the importance of education and respect of human rights, by accompaniment programs for primary school education, adult literacy programs, human rights education programs and family empowerment programs.

“The organization furthermore states their motto “Nou montre nou valer” or “We raise our value” is a testament to the mission they are trying to achieve within their community. Edwige reflects in a statement about the preventative measures applied to its beneficiaries by the MPRB for its child beneficiaries she says, “We must do something before they turn to delinquency. We have to be there for the prevention of that, but the parents are aware and more and more parents are now participating with us.”

Education universally is a basic human right along with food, shelter, and the needs of humans fundamentally worldwide in a democratic society. The use of education at MPRB gives the beneficiaries power through the use of knowledge and of communication to have a “heard” political voice. It also gives them a sense of self-confidence and provides them with the means to move from exclusion to inclusion in Mauritian society, with the full participation of their local community, one which MPRB has been successful in achieving so far, captured erringly on the side of caution.

The Mauritian Government has been either very subjective in a political manner or unable to deal with it on its own, although, recently, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Developments budget has outlined an official “social budget “to fight poverty in Mauritius for the 2012 and onwards, the first budget ever to be awarded officially to render poverty in the country.

Nevertheless, MPRB has been doing that for many years already, it is there “to pick up the pieces” left behind, to make education a sum of all its parts and to ultimately eradicate poverty to the benefit and prosperity of their local community and of its beneficiaries

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