One of the major reform in the Mauritian educational sector is free education which has been implemented at the primary and secondary level for more than a decade and recently applied at the tertiary level. The picture of this reform project is that it provides equal opportunities for all learners to have free access to education. Following these changes, democracy, in terms of equal opportunity, is desired. However, after my engagement with theories, the perception that free education leads to democracy is challenged. To attain democracy, free education is not the sole factor that must be taken into account; other pillars such as social and economic background also need to be considered. Sen, in his discourse, relates democracy to freedom and freedom itself depends on several aspects such as social and economic arrangements, and health facilities (Sen, 1999). To attain a democratic society, the above-mentioned aspects needs to be aligned with education.
When looking at the aspect of free education in Mauritius through the lens of Sen’s discourse, many flaws are revealed. Education may be free; however, for learners to have access to this free education, they need to be equipped with resources and materials. Here, the socio-economic freedom of the individual (family) plays a decisive role; if it happens that the learner does not have the freedom to buy the required materials for school, the effect of equal opportunity negates itself. Similarly, the unfreedom of health facilities proves to be a hindrance in achieving equal opportunity in education. Learners having mild psychological or physical handicap encounter several difficulties, in terms of infrastructural facilities, monitoring, and curriculum, to have access to education. For such type of learners, specialized schools are operating however, as mentioned before, the education they receive differs from ‘the normal’ one; hence there is no equal opportunity for them.
We have seen previously that the educational system does not cover all the areas required to have democracy due to some unfreedom that Sen discussed. Conversely, “Democracy as a form of life” is the definition that Dewey formulated (Dewey, 1923). (McClintock, 2007) explains that according to Dewey, schools need to be perceived as part of the community and execute the civil duties similar to all other institutions. Extending the view of Dewey, democracy can be explained as the way we live together and communicate with each other. In addition, living together in modern society demands public exchange and this is not possible without educated citizens. We can infer that both Sen and Dewey discussed freedom and democracy respectively and that both concepts are connected.
Having indulged with the theories, several questions are raised, how democratic is the educational system? Also, to what extent does the system take into account the needs of individuals to enable them to lead a good and democratic life? From the arguments discussed above, we can gather that lack of certain forms of freedom results in unequal opportunities among learners which implies that democracy cannot be attained.
Furthermore, the exercise of choosing subjects which is a crucial step for further studies is carried out by the students, and the choices that they make will direct them to the careers that they wish to pursue. The concept of choice discussed here is thought that it belongs to the learners. However, having engaged with the theories, it is found that the learners were given the illusion of making a choice, where in reality, the choice has already been made for them, they are directed towards those premade choices by several influences such as the job market, availability of jobs in the different sectors. For instance, taking into consideration the escalating demands in the technology sector, computer science has become a popular subject that students are choosing. Similarly, with the boom in the tourism industry; at the secondary level, the student is prone to choose travel and tourism as a subject, where they recognize that at the end of their studies, they will certainly get a job.
Dewey argued that democracy is frequently and logically linked in our minds with freedom of action, overlooking the significance of freed intelligence which is essential to direct and to warrant freedom of action (Dewey, 1937). Unless freedom of individual action has intelligence and well-versed conviction behind it, its manifestation is almost sure to result in confusion and disorder. Similarly, the democratic idea of freedom is not the right of each individual to do as he pleases. While the idea is not always, not every so often, articulated in words, the elementary freedom is that of freedom of awareness in addition to whatever degree of freedom of action and experience is essential to yielding freedom of intelligence (Dewey, 1937). Therefore, it can be gathered that the concept of choosing a subject by the students is not a democratic one, seeing as their choices are influenced by the several factors listed above.
The choice given to students is a superficial one; for instance, in the selection form, all science subjects are grouped in one column, the account, and economics in another and the art subject in another column, students opting for science can only choose the science subjects. As a result, learners are not provided with the flexibility to choose subjects from different sides. Consequently, seeing that the subjects are discussed and provided by the government, the question of how much freedom do students have to choose their subject, rises. Learners are given the choice to take decisions that have already been made by the government. From a philosophical perspective, we can question the concept of democracy and freedom with regards to the idea of choice. To what extent does democracy caters for diversity when the choices have been made for learners and how the education system is able to claim that it promotes the holistic development of learners when students are facing unfreedom of choice.
Furthermore, the educational reforms made aims at promoting the holistic development of learners and to equip them with 21st century competencies. While we speak of 21st Century Education, it should be noted that being conscious of the fact that amendment is not solely driving the system right, but make sure that our system delivers the correct education as well; one that benefits our pupils, which is significant to them and gets them involved in their own education. This context necessitates a change in the ways in which we conceptualise and envisage education. The education we provide should help young learners attain a degree of autonomy as adults, empowered with the ability to learn and survive in an increasingly complex world.