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Seychelles:Using Creole (Seselwa) in schools: a cultural challenge

by Giovanni LIVI

Kout manche’t man dio pa gen mak

(a proverb meaning “Chop the water with an axe and it will not show”)

LomII already does a great deal to see that ACP-EEC cooperation takes social and cultural aspects into account and LomV will do more. The Creole spoken widely in the Caribbean (particularly in Haiti), Cape Verde and the islands of the Indian Ocean, is worthy of special attention here. Seychelles is the only country in the world where Creole has legal status and occupies a proper place in the nation’s development projects. A brief historical outline will explain this.

Ethnic and linguistic diversity

Since 1979, Seychelles has been running an original language experiment whereby teaching in schools in done in Seselwa-the word used in preference to “Creole” for the people’s mother tongue -following a political decision motivated by the history and structure of Seychelles society which has been stamped by the ethnic diversity of its original formation.

Most of the population of Seychelles are descended from Europeans (particularly the French, who were the first to explore the islands, with Lazard Picault, in 1742 and actually took them over in 1756, naming them after Louis XV’s comptroller-general of finance, Jean Moreau des Seychelles). The Africans arrived at the same period. The other two main sections of the population, the Chinese and the Indians, who came later, in smaller numbers, have not had any significant effect on the nation’s culture.

The 105 islands-including Mahthe home of 86 % of the population, and Praslin and la Digue, with about 11% (1988 estimates) originally belonged to France. Then the British took over when the Treaty of Paris gave them the archipelago, along with Mauritius, in 1814. The islands became independent in June 1976.

When the European population expanded, life on the plantations was French-dominated and some French colonials and African slaves already spoke Kr when they arrived. The British did not hold back Creole culture-which is thus “ firmly rooted in France and Africa. The symbiosis of all these races shaped a single culture, Kr, over two centuries of life together. Unlike Mauritius and other Kr islands, Seychelles forms only one people and everyone sees this culture and this one language as his or her own”, says M. P. Choppy, the Head of the Institut Kr.

Seychelles’ standard of living, one of the highest in the ACP Group, has enabled President France-Albert Renre-elected in June 1984) and his Government to bring in some quite remarkable welfare and social services including free education.

Seselwa, the official language

In 1981, the Seychelles People’s Progressive Front (SPPF) decided to make Seselwa the country’s first official language, followed by English and French to reflect the make-up of the population and the traditional links with Europe, Africa and Asia, which had been strengthened by technical development (see Seychelles report in The Courier No 112 - November-December 1988).

The importance of the educational reform of 1982 can be gauged from the fact that, prior to 1979, Kr had no legal status and was not used in the schools. French was widely spoken in teaching, much of which was provided by Catholic mission schools and. as the British had set up an official education system, English gained ground too, becoming the official language of education in 1944, with French as one of the subjects on the curriculum. In 1970, French was withdrawn from the first three years of the primary. Then came a fairly muddled period of linguistic shuffling, with a two-line system of education- a fee-paying grammar school lane for children from the better-off sections of society, and a free parish school lane for most of the country’s youngsters, whose opportunities there were very limited, very few of them being able to go on beyond year three of the secondary school.

As official reports show, the academic results were not very good and the failure rate was very high.

Trilingual pupils

In 1980-81, the Government went in for a policy of balanced bilingualism which was aimed at making everyone in Seychelles bilingual in French and English but cut Kr out But in 1988 Seselwa came to the fore in the nation’s education policy as the first official language, with English and French behind it, and the policy of promoting Seselwa language and culture is now both enshrined in the legislation and being put into practical effect.

With the 1982 reform, the language was able to get over a huge barrier and come into direct contact with national education, culture, training and the development of the younger generations.

“For years the Seychellois had been told that Kr was no use as a vehicle for advanced ideas, science, technology and so on. All it was good for, its detractors maintained, was domestic communication”, as M. P. Choppy emphasised. The Sector Plan of 1982, she pointed out, said that “general education as a whole used to attach little importance to improving the standard of living or the knowledge and use of the environment or to preparing for a job-i.e. the schools expected pupils to learn things which had nothing to do with the needs of economic development or the protection of the cultural identity of the nation”.

The introduction of Seselwa in the classroom is not just justified from the point of view of educational psychology. As the Plan says, “ the development of many aspects of intelligence and the development of language are closely related. If the three Rs are to be assimilated as well as the child’s state of development will allow, then teaching has to be based directly on things the child has actually experienced. This means it has to be provided in a language which the child understands properly in this case Creole”.

And the development of culture and the media has put Seselwa in the limelight, too. As Thomas and Ravel have said, “ the development of Creole literature, drama and song, the setting up of the anthropology department to study Creole culture and collect examples of the oral tradition, the extension of the language in the press and the media, the Seychellisation of programmes and the Creolisation of education are all practical achievements of this aim”.

At the same time, it was decided that there would be an educational reform whereby Seselwa, which had never been taught before, would take its place alongside English and French. This was because running the far-reaching educational reform attendant on the new language policy applied from early 1982 onwards meant that a syllabus reform Committee had to be set up to bring Seselwa in as both a subject and the language of instruction.

Creole in Cape Verde

A former Euro-MP, Willy Kuijpers, (ARC-Belgium) put the following question to the Commission of the European Communities:

“Creole has been the vernacular in Cope Verde for over 300 years and, although schools still use only Portuguese, according to the party newspaper 80 % of pupils in the second class of the grammar school fail the end of year exam in Portuguese which would entitle them to move up to the next class. The Cape Verde poet and philosopher Tomarela da Sila has therefore suggested that education in the vernacular might produce better results. The town of Boston (USA) provides an example where the education authorities give immigrant children from Cape Verde lessons in Creole as well as in English.

Can the Commision state whether a project for education in Creole in Cape Verde is being considered under Title VIII of the Third Lomonvention (or similar future provisions under LomV) with regard to cultural and social cooperation?”

Vice-President Manuel Marin replied on behalf of the (Commission:

“The Cape Verdean authorities are very conscious of the importance of Creole as part of the nation’s cultural identity.

The Government has commissioned a group of linguists to analyse Creole scientifically in order to create a basis for its effective and rational use as, for example, a medium of instruction. At the same time, the Government is eager to establish a new method of teaching Portuguese, using the methodology of foreign language teaching. Once the research has been completed, the problem of teacher training will arise.

The Commission, which is currently providing aid for the training of primary and secondary schoolteachers. will probably have occasion to support this development”

Seselwa in the classroom

In an article on the use of Seselwa in the classroom, Laureana Barhof the National Institute of Education said that “ a syllabus reform committee had to be set up to cater for implementation of the language policy in education at the very beginning of 1982. The committee’s first job was to take whatever steps were needed to bring in Seselwa as both a subject and the language of instruction, starting by studying the spelling and syntax and listing the vocabulary. Dictionaries, grammars and readers of the language had to be produced and printed and audio-visual aids and training for existing teachers were also required. The National Institute of Education was also set up in January 1981 to facilitate implementation of the teaching side of the educational policy, to help formulate the aims of education by providing details to make the political decision-making easier, to translate the aims of education laid down at political level into aims and then specific targets, and to suggest syllabuses and educational directives on ways and means”.

L. Barh146;s study analyses the role of Seselwa in relation to the other two official languages, English and French, in the kindergarten and the primary school and assesses what has been done since the 1982 reform.

It is worth noting that i) in the first four years of the primary school (P1-P4), Seselwa is the language in which all subjects (mathematics, sciences, humanities, family life, etc.) are taught; ii) it (reading, oral and written expression) is one of the subjects on the curriculum throughout the nine-year primary course; iii) it is also the language in which some subjects (art, family life, political education and extra-mural activities) are taught from year five (P5) onwards. Seselwa is taught for 6 hours and 40 minutes per week in the first term of the primary school and 6 hours in the second and third terms, working down to one hour and 20 minutes in the seventh year. The weekly Seselwa timetable so far has been as follows:

The idea of the educational reform was to fit the three official languages (Seselwa, English and French) into the teaching system so children would learn all three and be able to express themselves and go on to do advanced studies.

“English, the second official language, the Sector Plan said, will be brought in as soon as the children can read and write Creole-i.e. in the second year primary. English will become the main language of teaching as soon as possible. French is the compulsory third language and it will be studied in the primary school as soon as the children have an adequate grasp of English (to a level to be fixed later) “.

Oral English has been started in term two of Pl since 1988 and French language classes begin in term one of P4 (year three of the primary).

Assessments run in 1984 and 1987 showed that the results were positive and even encouraging, in spite of material difficulties, as Laureana Barhays. “It takes a lot of determination and effort to ensure that the basic work which has already been done can bear fruit in the very near future”.

But there is no doubt that Seselwa has revolutionised education in the Seychelles and that today’s pupils get more from their schooling than did their predecessors. Teaching in Seselwa is in complete symbiosis with the underlying Seselwa society. School and home are no longer cut off from each other.

Hours of Seselwa

The Creole Festival of 1989

The link between the popular traditions and the life of the islands was highlighted by the “Creole Festival” of 1989, which brought artists, poets, hands and tourist leaders from the islands of the Indian Ocean together in Seychelles from 25 October to 21 November. The President of the Festival, Danielle de St Jorre, the Minister of Planning and External Relations, talked of the success of this event, which had given other Governments - the Mauritian one, for example - the idea of organising a Creole day.

Mme. de St Jorre visited various ACP States in the Caribbean, and had contact with people from Haiti, and intends inviting them to the “Creole Festival” of 1990.

Rion is also putting Creole to the fore.

The Festival, run by the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) with financial assistance from the Commission of the European Communities, is, D. de St Jorre said, “en festival pour tou pep kreolofonn” (a festival for all Creole-speaking people).

G. L.