This week we talk to the PMSD's Aurore Perraud who has just been put in charge of the party's education file. We ask how her party views the government's education reform, the PMSD's strategy in this election year and why, after a long absence, the party is once again looking to conquer Rodrigues.
Your leader, Xavier Luc Duval, was on a visit to Rodrigues last week. After 30 years, he suddenly remembers Rodrigues. Why and why now?
He has been leader of the opposition for only two years and you will agree that he is leader of the opposition for the republic of Mauritius and not just Mauritius. The people in Rodrigues asked for Xavier to go there because they are worried about many economic, social and political problems in their territory. That is why he went. He was supposed to go since last year, but for some reason he could not. When he managed to go last week, he visited the hospital there as he was asked to do by Rodriguans.
Well he may have been asked to go, but all the political parties there are criticising his visit and many Rodriguans are asking what is he doing here?
It is quite normal for parties there to criticise. It would be quite awkward for them to say it's good for Rodrigues that the leader of the opposition visits. But not all Rodriguans are criticising Xavier. I am an MP for constituency No.4 where there are a lot of Rodriguans and they are happy that Xavier went there.
Most people we've heard said that he had no business going there.
People in Rodrigues are literally afraid to speak their mind. Those who are not commenting on the visit are the people who are happy that the leader of the opposition of the republic of Mauritius went to Rodrigues. We know because we are in in touch with them. We also know that so many people are afraid to speak out because of the regime there. Also, I heard some people saying that Xavier is not concerned about what is happening in Rodrigues in the health sector or in the patients coming to Mauritius for dialysis. That is very unfair! I would like to remind your readers that he asked two or three PNQs on this subject and visited hospitals in Mauritius. That is why the comments I mentioned are unfair.
Many people are saying that Xavier Duval went to Rodrigues to win some seats from there in the next election. Is that true?
I am happy that you are talking about this. We are a political party and personally I don't see anything wrong with going to Rodrigues and putting up candidates there, especially if that is what Rodriguans are asking for.
So you wanted to field candidates there? Are you that desperate?
No it's that we are desperate; there is a demand. People want us to go there so we went. We don't know if we will have two candidates or even take part in elections there. I don't think it's a secret that we are interested to be there. When Mamade Khodabaccus says that our party is in all the constituencies of Mauritius, he means all the constituencies of the republic of Mauritius. So I don't think that it's a secret. I don't think we are trying to hide things or that we are ashamed. I think it's sincere, especially coming from Xavier. When he went, he saw the problems and wanted to intervene as leader of the opposition as he would have intervened here in Mauritius. It's his right to do so.
Coming to the dossier of education, as the person in charge of the education commission of the PMSD, you must have followed the reforms taking place. What kind of reflections do you have about the change from CPE to PSAC?
I am not blaming this government. The trend is that each time there is a new education minister, s/he comes up with new reforms. We have seen it with Obeegadoo, Gokhool, Dookun etc. I don't think that they, the governments, saw the education system, the students and the people in a holistic manner. It's "I am the minister, I want to leave a footprint, so I come and I change everything." It has been the first year since the implementation of the PSAC and we seen how it has been chaotic and traumatic the situation is.
What is chaotic about it?
When you have people living in the north, in Fond Du Sac, for example, and having to go to a school in Pailles or Pointe-au-Sable, this is chaotic. When you have pupils with good results in Hindi being sent to a school with no Hindi, that is chaotic. This is system is not really working.
Has it put an end of the rat race as it has proclaimed?
I think the competition has been postponed to grade 9. And we cannot say that the competition has ended at primary level because everyone wants to go to a good school, so the competition is still there.
What about private tuition? Is the situation better or worse for the pupils?
Private tuition has remained the same though you know that teachers are not allowed to give private tuition, but they still do because parents want to give tuition to their children so that they can get the best school.
What about secondary school? Is private tuition worse now that there is another exam after form 3?
The whole system needs to be reviewed. When was the last time we had a national discussion about education? What about getting parents, teachers and pupils together to give their opinion?
Why don't you think that the system is not working?
Because I know that we have 11,800 pupils at SC who did not get four credits. When you analyse the SC pass rate, we can see that it has not increased, but has remained stagnant, so those pupils at SC were those who were in standard 1 when there was no PSAC.
But the proponents of this system did not claim that there would be more passes; what they said was that there would be less pressure on the pupils...
But I think that it's a disguised way of having the same result. There is no formal ranking but the competition is still there as we have seen. If my daughter, for example, has got excellent results and I want her to go to a particular school, if there are not enough seats there, my daughter will have to go to 'x' school though she had good results. So the competition is still there.
Wasn't that the case before too?
No, before, she would perhaps have got another school not in the catchment area. Now, because of regionalisation, she will be stuck in her catchment area.
But regionalisation did not start with this government, did it?
No, but now the system is more restrictive.
Let's look at the credit system now. The government is saying you need four credits now and, as from next year, five, to go into HSC. What's wrong with that? Don't you need a certain level before admitting pupils into higher classes?
Don't you think that before asking pupils to have get five credits we should ask why is it that for so many years pupils have not been able to achieve those famous four or five credits? Who is to be blamed? Is it the pupils? Lots of people are saying that's because the pupils are not so studious now as we were at their age. Is the system to be blamed? Is it that the parents are to be blamed, because now both parents are working and they don't have time to look after their children's education and make sure they are not on their Ipad or on Facebook? Is it the government to be blamed for having come up with a very big decision all of a sudden? We have the prime minister who said that tertiary education will be free, but then we learn that to do HSC, you will need four credits. We cannot take decisions concerning the children of this country in such a piecemeal manner. It has to be holistic.
Looking at this decision about the credits in isolation, don't you think it's fair to ask pupils to have at least four credits before they can hope to go into lower six?
This decision would be fair if we give students a system in which they can really perform.
What does that look like?
A system that would cater for the problems we are having now, since the level of the pupils before PSAC is so low, so those pupils reaching form four or form five will not be able to have those four credits. So I think that we have to look at those problems that we have in the lower secondary level so that we can ask those pupils at SC to have those four or five credits.
What about free tertiary education? Do you think it's a good idea?
Of course free education is a good idea. But what type of free tertiary education are we talking about? What about the level of teaching in those institutions? I remember there were two or three PNQs that the leader of the opposition asked about the infrastructure of our public institutions. So if you don't have a good infrastructure in those institutions, why should it be free for everybody?
What do you mean? Should students be made to pay instead?
If the students don't even have a desk at the university, how will they work? There was a report that was quite damning about those institutions. It would have been better to invest in those institutions, and then in a few years, give free tertiary education to everybody. But the way it has been done is that one day the prime minister came and said tertiary education would be free, and the minister of education, who did not seem aware of the decision, suddenly said that to benefit from it, you need four or five credits.
Let's talk about the PMSD now. What are your plans?
We know that there is a general election and we are preparing for that.
Do you have 60 candidates lined up with two in Rodrigues.
(Laughs) We are present in all the constituencies, especially those where we have MPs.
Will you face the elections alone?
I bet you one million rupees that if you put this same question to any political party in Mauritius, none of them will be able to answer.
Paul Bérenger said that he would go alone and so did Navin Ramgoolam. The PMSD, on the other hand, said they will not be able to go alone. So who will you ally yourselves with?
If the PMSD said it cannot go alone, that's unfortunately because of the culture, the way people vote and think.
So let's see. It's the leader who will decide.
What is your personal preference? Suppose the PMSD were to strike an alliance with a political party, which one would you rather your leader chose?
If I had a preference, I would have talked to my leader first.
How do you feel about going back to the MSM and sitting next to Marie Claire Monty like in the good old days?
I have never thought about that.
You are in politics, but you don't think about which party you would like to go with?
I have a preference, but I don't want to talk about it with your readers. So read between the lines. This is the way I choose to answer the question.
How do you rate the chances of the MSM winning the next election?
Why should I care about the MSM? Why should I rate their chances? I have to see as a PMSD MP how we can win the election.
What are the chances of the PMSD winning the election?
It's too soon to tell. We are working on the ground. Things are very chaotic because everybody is waiting for the case in the Privy Council.
What do you think the chances of Pravind Jugnauth winning the case at the privy council are?
I think it's 50/50. Just a feeling. But I think having the prime minister of the republic of Mauritius in front of the Privy Council for a corruption case is embarrassing.
What effect will the verdict have?
It will impact his party, the alliances and the elections.
So what is your wish - that he wins or loses?
I don't want to repeat what Xavier has already said, but I am on the same wavelength. I don't wish bad on another person even if he is from another party. But I am proud that because we left the government in 2016, today we have this case in front of the Privy Council.