Saturday, 18 August 2012

Knowing more about corporate social responsability

National Empowerment Foundation, established in July 2008, organization of this new public companies who are non-profit, responsible for guiding and implementing the Empowerment Program*, allows to improve the functioning of the institution, to strengthen and professionalize its staff.

NEF has been entrusted the mission to coordinate the various existing programs and agencies, in addition to the Empowerment Program for combating poverty and social exclusion, particularly through social development projects and economic development in impoverished areas. Concretely, reducing the unemployment rate among women by providing technical and financial support to women dismissed, unemployed and / or over the age of 40 who wish to join the workforce or start their own business; developing the employability of unemployed and job training, while providing answers to the lack of skilled labor faced by firms; encouraging entrepreneurship and support companies or sectors of activity in difficulty or whose economic and commercial potential is underutilized.

On 30th July, we had an interview with one of the manager and she pointed out the main problem they are faced with:“Because it's willingness and unwillingness. If some people don't want to get out of poverty, they just stay where they are. You can empower them; you can give them money, financial help... You can give them food, provide them with social housing, but if they want to stay where they are, they can just stay where they are. They can go back to being drug-addicts, they can go back to being alcoholics, you cannot do anything. This is the main problem we have to face, or people who work on the field have to face this problem.”

With regard to this problem, we would like to give some advice:
1. Everyone who don’t want to get out poverty must their own reason. Thus, first of all, the NEF should study intensively their reason, their situation and their opinion before assisting them.

2. Non only assistance financial, the beneficiaries should but also get helps mentally. More psychologists should devote to the field and talk to the beneficiaries regularly.
3. Instead of temporary or one-off assistance, the NEF should assist the beneficiaries to acquire skills, as the Chinese saying goes: give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Besides, the NEF should follow the track of their life courses until they are able to hoe their own row.
4. The beneficiaries should realize and take their responsibility of their family and the society. Although they have their own difficulties, they should understand that holding a positive prospect of their life and accepting the helps from the NEF is the correct choice, upgrade themselves and fight for get out of poverty.
5. The society, especially the relatives and the friends of the beneficiaries should render assistance and give support to them, to help them to build to confidence.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Ministry of Environment & Sustainable Development in Port Louis

As a result of the global energy crisis in 2007 the government started a new long term vision for making Mauritius a sustainable island. This is how in 2008 the Maurice Ile Durable (MID) concept appeared. Their vision is to embrace the sustainable development in 5 pillars, namely Energy, Environment, Education, Employment and Equity. The implementation started in 2009 and the budget for this year is 200 Million Rupees.
The MIDF (Maurice Ile Durable Fund) is specialized in financing project schemes or programs that are related to development of the 5 Es. 

One of the ongoing projects is the Solar Water Heater Scheme. The government wanted to ensure that each household has a solar water heater panel. For this they give each household a grant of 250 Euros. Through this fund the Ministry of Education was financed in order to provide the Roman Catholic Schools with solar panels so that these institutions can produce their own electricity.
Through the Household Composting Scheme the Ministry is trying to make people segregating the waste in their houses. In order to create awareness regarding water and energy conservation, composting and biodiversity conservation, the MIDF finances projects in primary and secondary schools. One of these projects is being carried out under the School Waste Segregation Project of the Ministry of Environment & Sustainable Development whereby children segregate their waste aimed at recycling and composting purposes. 

Some of their projects are also sponsored by external actors, for example the Japanese government is providing funding for costal parts. Furthermore Mauritius receives money from the European Union in order to promote climate change.
We would like to emphasize some facts that we consider as unusual as it is done in a different way than in Europe: The first is that there are only free bins in schools and the rest of them are provided by the Ministry of Tourism only in the touristic areas. Moreover people in Mauritius expect free bins as they do not like to pay for it. The second one is that the waste collected from the streets is going directly to a land field in the South. The third is that in some areas the scavengers are not cleaning the streets.
In the near future we would like to see in Mauritius a change in mindsets, more bins on the streets, sensitization and awareness campaigns for environment and cleaner streets.
Then, our next visit led us to Police of Environment. We wanted to discover what are the main issues concerning environment in Mauritius.

The Police of Environment is a special department of Ministry of Environment, which is totally attached to it and regulated by Environment Protection Act from 2002. During the interview with one of police officers, we found out that their main concerns are sole waste and water, air and traffic pollution.
Unfortunately, even though the country had implemented the act about environmental protection, nothing much changed since then. In May the Ministry of Tourism launched the program “you throw, you pay”, which is also not functioning well for the moment. People still continue to throw waste on the streets even though they receive a fine every time they are caught. The Police of Environment has already punished 686 people, mostly in Port Louis, for the costs of 200 Rs each person. Although people are still not afraid of receiving a fine, the consequences of getting it for the second time will be much more serious (visit to the court and a fine for 1.000 Rs).
In general on the island it is really hard to make a change, because of people’s mindsets and also due to the fact that the Ministry does not provide enough bins on the streets. In touristic areas we can see more facilities for collecting trash, which were introduced by Ministry of Tourism.
In Mauritius there are only 28 police officers for environmental causes. They are dressed as regular policemen and they can get support from the later if needed. There is a hotline available as well, functioning 24h/7, in order to give people possibility to report someone who is contaminating the environment. As we got to know, many people are calling.

Will you call this number 210 5151/5252 if you see someone throwing the waste on the street?

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

An overview of the education system in Mauritius

During our interview at the Ministry of Education, we were surprised to find out that the education in Mauritius is free up to 20 years and compulsory for children with the age between 5 and 16 years. The Government also gives the opportunity to children under 5 years to have access to pre-primary education, but the reality is that most of parents don’t take advantage of this opportunity. Then, inevitably these children start to accumulate a lot of deficits. 

Due to the fact that there is a high competition between pupils in order to enter the best public secondary schools after the CPE (Certificate of Primary Education) one of the biggest problems of the education system appears: inequity. Children with a social economical background and solid education are more likely to perform better than the ones with a poorer background.

To compensate this, the Ministry of Education created a program for Standard 1 called “Bridging the gap”. This program offers activities in order that each child is able to bridge the gap, either they are coming from rich or poor families. With these activities they want to create equalization in the system. Moreover, in order to favor the poor ones, private tuition is now illegal for Standard 1 until 4 of primary school. 

Another major problem that the ministry faces is the high rate of failure. Over the last years, 30 % of the pupils failed the CPE (Certificate of Primary Education) and out of 100 children entering primary school only 27 % are coming out with A-Levels.

The lack of communication between teachers and pupils is also a consequence of overcrowded classrooms. The ratio is 1 teacher to 30/35, maximum 40 children. The deficit in learning is especially registered amongst children from low SES (Social Economic Status). For this reason, the Ministry has embarked in many pre-poor and pro-educational strategies like providing a grant of 200 Rupees to the pre-primary school for every child enrolled there. In comparison to public schools, the private ones have a major advantage: they can expel a child. In public schools this is not possible. Furthermore the private schools can afford to have small classes and more qualified teachers (maximum 25 pupils per classroom). Another issue that rises especially in public schools is that they do not have any inspections to control the quality of the lessons and teachers.In secondary school there is a major problem of absenteeisms. The Ministry has also built a program called ZEP (Zone d´√ČducationPrioritaire) which offers a special package and food to attract children from poor areas to come to school. 

Even though there is a great insufficiency in the system, nowadays more and more students are attending university. The Gross enrolment at university level was 26 % five years ago. Today it is 46 % and it is expected that the percentage will increase to 72 % over the next few years (approximately one university graduate per family). 

Despite all these facts, we found out that the government gives 60 scholarships to the best students in Mauritius in order to continue their degrees at top universities in the world, fact that you cannot find anywhere in Europe. The tradeoff is that they have to come back to Mauritius and work for at least 2 years in the public sector but in reality, the majority of laureates do not come back.

Inclusive education embraces children with special needs (gifted, talented and handicapped children excluding major mentally challenged kids). The teachers that are dealing with these kids receive a special training from the MIE (Mauritius Institute of Education). So, Government is encouraging more and more parents to send their children with disabilities to schools. The question is, if it is possible and necessary to have a one-size-fit-all-type of education for everyone.

To end, the officials would like to see a change in mindsets, more values creeping into their schools, people achieving things, more innovations and more students interested in Sciences.

What do you think about the education system in Mauritius? Share your ideas with us!

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Visiting Saint Croix...

Next visit lead us to the one of the poorest parts of Mauritius: Saint Croix. While some of our friends were conducting the cleaning campaign there, our group went to the street to make few interviews with local people. Our goal was to get to know what is people’s knowledge and opinion about environment, education, discrimination and politics.

In general people were willing to answer our questions. We asked a lot of citizens from this area, so we can divide them into few groups. In the first one we can include youngsters and their attitude towards social life. Secondary schools students told us that the biggest problem in the area is poverty, lack of education and due to these factors the society isn’t really willing and able to change. They were complaining about the bureaucracy, because any help from the government equals filling loads of papers. They were quite satisfied with the education system and teachers’ attitude, but they also said that it usually depends on students’ interest. They had some knowledge about recycling, but one of them honestly told us that they’re not doing that – only some people are collecting cans and plastic bottles, in most cases to get some money out of that. Their schools usually are not providing them with any classes or workshops about the environment, so they are not aware of that climate change and not only might affect their lives in the future. All of them emphasized that they would like to see a change in government.

As main employers in the area are shop owners, we decided to interview some of them. Our first impression was that usually they were much better educated. The same as others they pointed out drug and alcohol problems, but also not enough activities for young people and lack of security (police is afraid of going out to the streets). They didn’t see any discrimination, but they complained about education system – most of them admitted that schools in Mauritius need more good qualified teachers. They were more concerned about the environment and recycling than elderly people, but as they don’t have enough facilities to do that, they’re not segregating their rubbish (in some cases only plastic bottles). Everyone agreed that a change in government is also necessary.

Some of us also went to speak with one of the teachers from an NGO in Saint Croix. Apart from problems already pointed out above, she noted the issue of teenage pregnancies and as a consequence many young girls are dropping school too early. She told us that education system is not suitable for children with difficulties, which causes that teachers prefer smart kids and the others are often left aside and which is also an example of discrimination. In conclusion she admitted that there are still a lot of things to be done in the whole country, because people are not respecting any law.
One elderly woman, with whom we were trying to make a conversation, didn’t speak English really well, but with a little help from people we could ask her few questions. In general she said that main problems in Saint Croix are drugs and prostitution. She wasn’t really satisfied with education system either. In the end she admitted that there is some religion discrimination visible in the entire country.
Although the situation in Saint Croix seems pretty harsh, some people don’t want to see the reality and they still have an impression that government is providing them with a lot of facilities. Some of them think that the education system is working well and they don’t want to admit that there is still a lot to do in Mauritius. What do you think the government should do for these poor areas?

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Youth & Education

Continuing with our research on the education system in Mauritius, we interviewed a group of students, which are currently studying at secondary school or university. These interviews showed us a new perspective, which we didn’t know before.

First of all, we were wondering if the teachers in secondary school are doing their job correctly. The conclusions that we extracted from our survey were that teachers just come to class and impart the lesson. They are not really worried about the progress of the child. The education system makes students learn by heart the content of their books only to write it down in the exam without any logic interpretation. THIS IS A PROBLEM. In Europe, classes are different; there is a better communication between teachers and students. People are more prepared to speak in public and they are usually curious to discover new things.

Knowing how to express yourself in public is really important, because this way you can influence others and make an impact. Therefore, you will have better chances of success. We have noticed that in general people are shy (an effect of the failed system) and they should learn from teachers to be more self-confident in order to combat this issue.
Another major problem is that we found rather shocking is the fact that Mauritians don’t read. The majority of them are saying that they just don’t have time for reading. We don’t think it is a matter of time but just laziness and lack of interest. The cultural background should not be used as an excuse.

We have also discovered that many pupils are not attending school regularly. During the conversation with these girls we have learned that even parents are not encouraging them to go to school. Parents don’t really see where their kids’ problems are, because the meetings between them and teachers take place only twice a year. Furthermore children are under parents’ supervision and the conservative thinking creates a strict control of their kids’ life (here you will not see youngsters under 18 years old working).
Moreover the school system doesn’t motivate youngsters to participate in classes with enthusiasm. This is also a consequence of the fact that teachers are inexperienced and not qualified to lead an overcrowded class. For this reason their dreams about the future might not come true as they don’t know how to realize them.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Life in a ZEP school

One advisor in a public primary school in Grand Gaube emphasized some of the main problems they have concerning the education system and the impact of this system on their school.

First of all, we have to know that most pupils who are attending this school are coming from poor families and some of them have domestic problems because parents don´t really take  care of them. So, what they are trying in this center is to educate and give them facilities in order to carry on with their lives and face up their problems. But this is not always easy to accomplish.

That is why ZEP schools (Zone d' √Čducation Prioritaire) have been created.

An important issue in this school is absenteeism: 25 pupils are absent per day at least. To avoid this, all pupils with no absence are rewarded with a little gift from school. This year there were 86 pupils without any absence. Therefore it is one of ZEP schools with the lowest rate of absenteeism. We discovered that they only have long absenteeism from school but no dropouts. Parents who are not satisfied with the program are transferring their children to other schools.

After seeing all this, we were wondering what the government is doing in order to help these children. The answer we got from this public school was that the government gives the books freely. Besides this, through the CSR - Program (Corporate Social Responsibility) the hotels sponsor this school so that pupils receive for free school materials and they can also take part in activities like workshops on different themes.
Apart from this, they don´t receive any money from the Ministry in order to give scholarships. But they have a program for rewarding those who perform well at school.

But what about disabled children? The answer was that it takes a long time (about 3 or 4 months) before the Ministry is sending a person in order to refer him to a special care unit. That is why they prefer to work with private organizations.

Besides this, the school offers a special program for Standard 2 called ZP for children who face difficulties at home. Many of them live in broken families and they are grown up by their grandparents as their fathers are alcoholics or their mothers are in jail. A person is coming once a week to talk with the parents and the pupils to help them to express themselves. They also have the parents´ mediator who is visiting the parents when the children are absent from school for a long period. Furthermore social workers are coming to school in order to get some feedback from the teachers. Then they refer the children to different associations like therapists or psychologists for special care. For these reasons the school encourages children to attend higher schools like universities and also invites former students.

Through many sponsors, parents’ mediator and special programs like Enhancement-Program, which has been introduced for Standard 3 and 4 pupils and the Remedial-Classes sponsored by a group called Lux, this school gives the children the facilities to have a better performance in their studies afterwards.

As far as the religion, languages and culture are concerned they put accent on Catholicism but they obviously welcome all types of religion. If parents don´t agree on that, there are other classes for different religions. In this school there are no conflicts between the different confessions even though they are mingled in a classroom.
There is a maximum of 36 pupils in one class, they would like to work with less but there is a great demand in Mauritius. All subjects are taught in English but in order to communicate better with the children they use Creole, which is also commonly spoken amongst children. Moreover, Creole has been introduced only in Standard 1 as a subject.

They also have the chance to attend private tuition during their holidays. In the advisor’s opinion there is no difference between private tuition and normal classes. The parents ask for extra-coaching in order to enhance learning and to allow their children having more practice in different subjects as there is a great competition at the CPE-Level. The problem is that some pupils cannot afford this private tuition but sometimes there are also teachers who accept them. This kind of tuition is just for Standard 5 and 6.

Thanks to all these efforts this school has improved the passing rate of exams from 40% till 49% in only one year.

Later we met with a catholic priest and we asked him some questions about climate change and environmental care. He was born in Mauritius, where he has spent almost his entire life, so he could tell us a lot about changes that appeared since he was born.
In his opinion the most significant change is that during recent years there are much less cyclones. They always brought misery and fear and right now the lack of them makes poor people happier, because they suffer less.

He also pointed out that it is very good that young people from all over the world are coming to Mauritius, because they are more aware about the environmental care and recycling and therefore they can inform the Mauritian society about these issues. One of the main problems is also the lack of education among citizens, because even though they i.e. have a good material status, they are used to throwing the rubbish out of their BMW directly to the street… Despite the fact that there are some campaigns going on right now, after few days/weeks there is no one to take care of new bins and everything is going back to normal.

Taking care about environment in Mauritius is still not perfect, but people are slowly changing their attitudes. Problems that still exist are individualistic type of mentality and lack of solidarity, so the only solution for now is to educate youngsters how to keep their environment clean.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Life in private school - Clavis

On 19th July, we have visited one of the private schools called Clavis to organize an awareness and cleaning campaign. We guided students to segregate rubbish into plastic, paper and trash; also we introduced recycling conditions in our countries. Then we talked with some teachers from Clavis and received useful information about their work in this school.

At first, we interviewed a class teacher, who told us that they are facing challenges of everyday issues. However, psychologists at school and the SEN (Special Education Needs) Department are solving this problem. Through group reflections and one to one meetings, teachers and psychologists can notice if a pupil has problems.

In terms of disabled children, they aren’t separated from the other kids. All the pupils should fulfill the Ten Learner’s Profile, which includes being open minded, well-balanced and other characteristics that make them accepting ones that are considered stigmatized. Apart from being well educated, children in Clavis are encouraged to attend higher education.

After that we interviewed the teacher in charge of children’s rights, who has been working in Clavis for 16 years. He explained to us the Primary Year Program called ‘Who we are?’, which is divided into 6 units from January till December. The program starts from Year 1 to Year 6 and in Year 5 they have the Children´s Rights Unit. Therefore, the program develops with each year, according to the age. Children there try to use different skills to study this unit such as reading, writing and maths. In comparison with other public schools, children from Clavis don’t have problems with alcohol, drugs or domestic violence and they don’t find themselves in a continuos competition, which otherwise can lead to frustration, phenomenon often met in public schools. Moreover, public schools don’t have in their curriculum a separate unit about children’s rights and the teachers are not well trained in this matter.

To sum up, during our stay in Clavis we found kids who are really tolerant and who are in general enthusiastic about every new experience. All teachers in the school we spoke to were also really satisfied with their job there. But unfortunately we cannot forget that majority of children in Mauritius are going to public schools, where the reality is more harsh. What do you think about that? How can we improve the education system here?