Mauritius: Between economic progress and educational challenges

published 22 May 2024 updated 28 May 2024

Vinod Seegum, negotiator and former president of the Government Teachers’ Union (GTU), shares his vision of recent developments in Mauritius, its educational challenges, and economic prospects. He underlines that the GTU and the authorities are engaged in intensive social dialogue with a view to improving public education and the status of teachers.

Impressive economic recovery

On the economic front, Mauritius has seen an impressive post-Covid-19 recovery. “Growth last year was up by 9%. Tourism is a key driver, but not the only one,” explains Vinod Seegum. In 2023, the country welcomed 1.3 million tourists, surpassing its population of 1.25 million, and is forecast to welcome 1.4 million visitors this year, boosting employment and incomes.

The government, thanks to this financial windfall, has increased the minimum wage and pensions. It has also invested in education, adds Seegum: “Primary, secondary, and tertiary education are free. Since January 2024, pre-primary education has also become free, lightening the financial burden on parents.”

Central role of the GTU in education reforms

The GTU, a union founded in 1945, plays a central role in education reforms. Seegum, who has witnessed and played a part in the reforms enacted over the past 40 years, recalls that “in 2015, there was the reform project for continuous compulsory education from age 9 to 16”. This initiative has led to the introduction of holistic teaching positions for non-exam subjects such as gardening and the arts, and the recruitment of 600 support teachers for pupils experiencing difficulties.

“We insisted on having a second teacher in the class to help the children who work more slowly,” says Seegum.

Intensive social dialogue

The GTU’s approach has evolved: “In the beginning, 25 years ago, we expressed our opposition through demonstrations and articles. Now we engage in dialogue without strikes or demonstrations,” says Seegum. The ministers have understood the value of continuous social dialogue with the trade unions in developing a well-educated population, a visionary achievement since the introduction of free secondary education in 1976.

The fight for equal pay

Today, primary school teachers are required to obtain a Bachelor of Education (degree level, the same as for secondary school teachers). Following a 34-year battle that has come to fruition, becoming more mainstream over the past six years, “the same salary is now in place for primary and secondary school teachers. It has been our biggest struggle in Mauritius,” says Seegum.

The education paradox: public versus private

Mauritius is faced with a paradox in education. Despite the high quality of state education, many affluent families prefer private schools. “The flow of children to private schools has been increasing in recent years. Sending a child to private school is a symbol of reaching a higher social status,” explains Seegum.

Moreover, the teachers in private schools are often retirees from the public sector. “Retired teachers are no longer at their best, but parents still trust them,” says Seegum. It should however be noted that ministers’ children go to public sector schools.