A privileged first quarter starting in February
The education sector started the first quarter of 2024 in an exceptional manner, with disruptions caused by cyclonic formations and heavy rains. Seven days of school have been missed since the start of the school year, prompting some parents and educators to suggest a change in the school calendar, proposing a start of the first term in February.
The first school term, which began on January 11, ends on April 5. Recent bad weather resulted in seven days of absence for students. Currently, the discussion is focused on the methods of catching up and on the possibility of reviewing the school calendar to prevent students from being penalized.
Cyclone forecasts and heavy rain warnings, issued by weather services, allowed children to stay safe at home, but at the same time, parents had to find solutions to ensure their care. This situation was not easy to manage, according to many of them.
Mélanie, mother of three children, expresses the wish for more precise weather forecasts. She emphasizes “the importance of child safety”, but also raises the disadvantages for working parents. It offers “forecasts the day before to allow parents to better organize the care of their children during school closures announced at the last minute”.
Anil, for his part, pleads in favor of a “change in the school calendar”. “My wife and I work every day, and it is difficult to find a childcare solution for our 3-year-old son when there is no school. He attends kindergarten, but with the recent closures, we had to organize last minute solutions. In some cases, one of us had to stay at home, and in others, he stayed with my parents. A review of the school calendar would give us more flexibility to find suitable solutions,” said this dad.
Frédérique, mother of girls in Grades 9 and 10, highlights the impact of school closures on her children's education. “My daughters are in crucial classes. They cannot afford to miss classes. An adjustment to the school calendar would be beneficial, especially since at the start of each year, Mauritius is affected by bad weather. I think the first trimester should start in mid-February,” she maintains.
Suggestions from teachers
Former rector Soondress Sawmynaden advocates for a holistic approach that takes into account international and national exam timetables, as well as teacher involvement in the process. He asks decision-makers “not to make hasty decisions” to replace the lost days. “We lost a few days with bad weather. It is a fact. But you have to think before making decisions. The Cambridge Assessment International Education (CAIE) exams begin each year in mid-September and end at the end of November. The colleges then become examination centers and our teachers themselves are engaged to ensure the smooth running of the examinations by the Mauritius Examinations Syndicate (MES). Before we make a final decision, we must take all the elements into account. We must also not forget the holding of national exams, the Primary School Achievement Certificate (PSAC) and the National Certificate of Education (NCE) which are taken at the end of the year. »
Soondress Sawmynaden proposes that the school calendar remains unchanged, with the first term starting in January. However, he argues that “another organization” is needed. Thus, the first week should be used for “making contact between teachers and students and updating data”. This exercise will then provide a good basis for online courses. The next three weeks will be dedicated to distance learning, followed by a return to face-to-face teaching in February, with this modality until the end of the school year.
Dr Hassam Sakibe Coowar argues that an overhaul of the school calendar for 2025 is necessary. He suggests starting the first quarter in February, ending in April, with two weeks of vacation. The second term would run from May to August, followed by three weeks of vacation, and the third would run from September to November, with vacations in December and January. He recommends “a big return to school in February”.
The educationist maintains that if the school year begins in February, schools will be closed during the heavy rains in January. Dr Hassam Sakibe Coowar also suggests not holding assessments in the first term, while reducing the length of vacations.
Changing the school calendar is not new. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021-2022 academic year had seen significant changes. It stood out for a reorganization of work weeks, involving alternating classes, online courses, on television, and other measures put in place for students.
It should be remembered that there was an automatic promotion mechanism for certain classes, notably from Grade 10 to Grade 11, without going through an exam. In 2022, following online courses, a three-part approach for the third term was adopted. The first part took place from February 7 to April 15, the second from May 2 to July 22, and the third from August 16 (secondary) and August 22 (primary) to November 4.
Edley Maurer, Project Manager at the Child Support, Training, Integration and Rehabilitation Service (Safire), emphasizes that in the event of bad weather, classes move online, as happened on Monday 29 and Tuesday 30 January 2024. Nevertheless, he insists on the need to take into account students with learning difficulties. He distinguishes “two categories of children in all classes: those benefiting from complete family support and not having adjustment problems, as well as a percentage of children facing difficulties”.
Edley Maurer emphasizes that “students in difficulty require special attention in class”. He explains that “these children may not have a single room or live in conditions of promiscuity or violence. Some have parents who are drug addicts or in prison.” He highlights that others “pay no importance to studies, preferring to devote their time to other activities, such as hanging out in the streets”.
The Project Manager emphasizes that “children facing difficulties require a specific approach to help them study and improve their situation”. According to him, online classes are not suitable for these children, because they “need one-on-one interaction”. He points out that these children often don't even have a good meal. “Asking them to log in to take classes may be impossible for them. This risks worsening disparities between students,” says Edley Maurer.
It recommends that the authorities take into account the specific needs of students in difficulty on a case-by-case basis. He insists on “the need to consider several factors that influence a child’s development in order to promote a balanced education.” Stressing that relying solely on online classes may be insufficient for a student facing pre-existing difficulties at home, he warns of the risk of failure if these fundamental issues are not addressed.
The Safire Project Manager underlines “the importance of offering optimal conditions for online courses in order to prevent children from being disadvantaged”. He emphasizes that “many children require special, individual attention to study well.”
According to Edley Maurer, “a change in the school calendar would facilitate this interaction, while avoiding interruptions due to adverse weather conditions.”