On Friday the 9th we had three very productive meetings.
Our first meeting was at St. Joseph’s College, a secondary school in the town of Curepipe, which, in addition to its well-known academic track, has a strong prevocational educational program (pre-voc). The director, Mr. Ng Tat Chung, has been a pioneer in introducing pre-voc in Mauritius, and is extremely supportive of our program and non-formal education in general. He is on several important government and education boards, and is well known throughout the country for his work on education. We have shown him our sample projects, and he thinks that they will work very well in the centers we have selected, and at St. Joseph’s, and has volunteered his facilities for our use. He has said to us numerous times that the program as we have laid it out is the best way to make a lasting impact for underprivileged children in Mauritius, and is extremely excited to work with us.
We then moved on to meet with the pre-voc department. The director of the prevocational department, Didier Toussin, and the Design and Technology teacher, Clifford Henriette, showed us around the prevocational classrooms, and talked with us about the program. Like most prevocational programs, the one at St. Joseph’s is mainly for kids who have failed their CPEs (secondary school qualifying exams) twice, and focuses on skills to prepare them for entering vocational training at places like IVTB at age 16. Their curriculum involves communication skills (basic French and English), math, sciences, history and geography. They also have phys. ed., agriculture, so-called “self development” (a class devoted to building up the children’s self confidence), design and technology, and creative and performing arts programs.
The prevocational department staff loved the idea of our project, and cited a real need for Fellows and resource persons to help kids find their talents, run specific projects and, most importantly, regain their self-confidence. They emphasized that agriculture projects in particular would be a great way to teach both concrete skills and deeper values. They were also very excited about having Fellows teach English, which is necessary for pre-vocational examinations, and for life in general in Mauritius, but of which most children have almost no knowledge.
Working at St. Joseph’s, we will have access to very capable staff and excellent facilities, but will also be able to serve a lot of kids who really need our help, both through running projects and through English education.
Our second meeting was with Pascal Nadal, a professor of teacher education at the University of Mauritius who has agreed to be our local education advisor. Mr. Nadal has been following our work closely, and believes that we are pursuing the right path by focusing on non-formal education and literacy, and by staying away from an academic focus. He believes that rigid formal education has limited the chances children have to find their talents and alternate paths to success. He believes that our program can have lasting change in a country like Mauritius, where “extrascholar” education and volunteerism are not common.
Our final meeting was with the Wildlife Foundation, which runs conservation programs throughout Mauritius. We introduced our program, and ran by them the idea of bringing students to the centers, running excursions with their cooperation, and having them come in to help run projects. They would love to help, and are already running workshops in schools, which can be extended to some of the schools and orphanages we are working with as well. We look forward to using their help in environmental studies and conservation projects in the future.