“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” This phrase was said by the all famous Nelson Mandela who after being released from prison went on to become the most popular leader of South Africa. His motto echoes today and unfortunately, many of us do not realise its true significance. In Mauritius, secondary schools do not educate their students; instead they teach their students how to pass the exams. The growing feeling amongst students and parents alike is that to have a decent job, high grades and certificates are required. They would be partially right but partially wrong as well. Education is a lifelong teaching and self-taught process that students have to be able to grasp at the very beginning of their school lives. If teachers do not lay emphasis on students being educated in a holistic manner, where all the different types of intelligence are reinforced and revisited, I am afraid that the future generation will not have the strength to change their country for the better good. This is where ELI Africa comes in, centre stage. Nowadays, teachers in secondary schools provide tuition and in Mauritius, taking tuition is sadly considered as fashionable. But some families do not have the means to pay for tuitions. Should their child suffer because of a financial problem? The answer is no. Education is free for everybody and that is the vision of ELI Africa.
At first, the word ‘ELI’ may keep you puzzled for a while. What does the word mean? It took me more than a while to figure it out. It actually stands for Experimental Learning Initiative and it stands true to the culture of ELI Africa by which they employ unconventional and yet fun methods of teaching. The student is challenged on a continuous basis which not only enhances his logical and linguistic intelligence but also develops his emotional, intrapersonal, interpersonal, bodily kinaesthetic and musical intelligence. These methods of teaching develop the child as a whole and do not concentrate only on specific aspects. As the President of ELI Africa, Vedant Seeam said: “It is all intertwined.”
On this 8th of January 2012, students as well as volunteers met at the centre in Mon-Gout to wish each other a Happy New Year and to introduce a pilot programme: the ELI Africa Corps Programme (EACP). In the sweltering heat, a ‘bring & share’ lunch took place at the centre. Boys, girls, tutors and the newest additions to the group all sat down at the same table and degusted a lunch that had been carefully prepared by several of the volunteers. With lively music playing in the background, the lunch seemed like a picture from a family lunch. Once the lunch was over, Vedant introduced the new programme. Before the introduction of this new programme, the students at ELI Africa had been involved in a Summer Fellows programme during which, undergraduate students from the University of Yale in Connecticut volunteered at the centre. The programme was well-received and the students at ELI Africa were overly happy with the outcome. They had learned a wide range of disciplines, from theatre to basketball to science experiments. However, the ELI Africa Corps Programme is different in the sense that this time, Mauritian residents themselves will be volunteering to help the students and to educate them in a holistic manner. The Mauritian residents will include students from Le Bocage International School, an International Baccalaureate school as well as students from the University of Mauritius pending the results of their interviews. The chosen students to tutor will be devoting a day of the week to ELI Africa and will be teaching subjects that they are comfortable and excellent in. The usual subjects will be taught alongside with new disciplines, such as: theatre, art, basketball and logic. The important advantage in this case would be that the language barrier disappears. With the earlier programmes, the students at ELI Africa were being taught by Yale undergraduates who could only communicate in English and for some students, this was a disadvantage since they were not familiar with English. The Corps Programme, since it is being implemented by Mauritian students, will be beneficial to the students who are weak in English. The tutors will be able to then communicate in Creole and gradually change to English, allowing the child to understand but also learn at the same time. In this sense, the children who come at ELI Africa will leave the centre one day with a feeling of accomplishment and in the satisfaction of knowing that whatever they have learnt at ELI Africa will remain with them for a lifetime. It will have made them a better person.
The ELI Africa Corps Programme is a step forward for a centre that many children depend upon. The dream is big. The dream is to allow all children, from whatever background they may be, to live in the world as an equal, with an education that surpasses bits of words on a piece of paper.