Blog: Reforms in the Senior Scholarship System
Mauritius is a brilliant example of a democracy solicitous of providing equal opportunities to all,using the tools of positive discrimination to bring further equality where nature and accident have created disparities.
It is normal that some day the castle of those born in privileged homes would have to be dismantled. Scholarships have always favoured the rich. At a certain time the time gap between countries taking the same examination papers was suspected and appropriate reforms were brought about to align the time lag between different centres taking Cambridge exams. International direct dialing facilities were not as they are today.
The need to preserve an elite has always been the obsession of those born with gifts or living with the heritage of superiority. That is how even if the state has multiplied the number of state secondary schools from five in 1968 to 64 in 2011 the Queen Elizabeth College, the Royal colleges have preserved their uniqueness. Every year students from different state schools obtain fewer than seven units as aggregate for six subjects, but they still opt for the traditional star schools for their HSC. Today most of the QEC Laureates come from other state schools. In other words there is a tendency for the elite to accaparate privileges and concentrate them in a few hands only.
The state is a moderator and it constantly struggles against the selfishness of fallible man to emulate the divine. Very often in trying to be God, the state creates new disparities. If the number of scholarships has been increased to sixty, thirty will be awarded to the children of the poor. Who is poor? One proposal is to fix poverty at Rs 5,000 per month. This is a very severe and heartless definition of poverty because such cases are so rare that too few would qualify for the scholarship. It is important for the fat cats in the ministry who venture to fling figures to quantify poverty have a first hand experience of poverty before they blurt out insanities.
In any case, the contention of this paper is that the financial status of the family should not be the only criterion, that the academic performance of the student should not be the sole criterion for consideration. Why shouldn't the entire scheme be based on a new profile of the student? If we want the child to be in attendance at school, why should we not demand at least 80% attendance from the potential laureate? If we want the student to take part in extracurricular activities, why do we not exact evidence of the student's participation in at least two major activities during his school career? If we want the students to be active outside the narrow world of academics, why do we not demand that he should have been an active member of clubs and that he should have driven projects like benevolent action, environment protection during his studentship?
Minister Bunwaree was stating that he has been able to discover that three laureates have failed miserably and have not been successful at tertiary level. Should we not popularise a new profile of the successful student - not just as one who has a good memory and can regurgitate ideas learnt by rote, but as one who is aware of the world around him and can interact with it, as one who has forged his character on the anvil of actions done outside the class. This is a golden opportunity to revolutionise the school itself. I want to reward not a bookworm, but one who is fully alive, who is serviceable to society, who is balanced intellectually, emotionally and physically.
How do we judge such people? Every candidate needs to present a portfolio of his actions and his engagement so that a panel independent of the ministry can assess candidates.
The laureate cannot be a parasite of Mauritian society. This person must be the torchbearer of a new society. Does Minister Bunwaree have the courage to reform his education that today produces mimic men and women? We should, however, beware of the counter acting sequel of a phenomenon which is equal to 'reservation' in poor countries. In India someone born in a scheduled caste needs inferior marks to get a medical seat or obtain admission in prestigious universities. The Brahmin needs to score 90 marks whereas the Dalit wins all with mere 60 marks score. In India this positive discrimination has led to riots and social crisis. The Dalit is viewed as a pariah with boosted privileges.
Will a candidate outside the poverty belt accept that he will not win a scholarship with three A's while the son of a poor parent becomes a laureate with inferior results like two B's and a C? This will be the test of our caring democracy.
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