Every year, some 7,000 children age 12 drop out of the primary school system in Mauritius after having failed their Terminal Certificate of Primary Education twice. While the formal school system—mostly government schools, also known as pre-vocational schools—will absorb about 1,000 of these children annually, the rest are left on their own. The children who have dropped out of school find themselves deprived of any further education; most often, these children are from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. The Halley Movement in Mauritius (www.halleymovement.org) works to provide free education to these adolescents to help them achieve useful skills and also help them to go through a re-examination that will permit them to enroll in a secondary school for higher education. The BETA (Basic Education to Adolescents) Program provides opportunities for approximately 30 adolescents every year, from six rural regions in Mauritius. The courses in this no-fee program are provided by trained educators who are specialists in functional literacy, information and communications technology (ICT), and numeracy skills.
My responsibility, as coordinator and founder of the BETA program since 1998, has been to work with international and local organizations to design and scale up this initiative, collaborate with the government, influence partners to join in the program as funders, resolve conflicts between parents from the local communities and ethnic groups, and negotiate with education agencies to ensure access to quality education. Negotiations with state and non-state organizations have been carried out through various meetings and workshops organized by the Halley Movement to set up and establish common goals and agreement. Diplomacy focused on human rights has been used during these negotiations. Moreover, participation of the civil society has addressed the issue of school drop-outs through workshops that have been carried out in public gatherings and through sensitization campaigns among parents of low socioeconomic status.
This program has benefitted from the financial support of UNICEF, United Way, and several corporate sector partners. Negotiations have been going on with each partner, as each one has different approaches related to funding criteria and needs. With government support through the Ministry of ICT, Halley Movement has been able to cope with every single challenge—ranging from conflicts to resource management. Many times, an agreement was reached by “negotiation by exhaustion”; that is, a final deal was reached after 24 to 48 hours of negotiations, where we worked around the clock, with little rest, to reach a final deal. This experience helped our organization reach positive outcomes.
Agreements have recently been concluded with some private sector firms in the neighborhood to enlist learners in the BETA Program as “apprentices” in their firms. Skills that are required by the firms involve basic ICT knowledge and skills, proficiency in French and English, and numeracy skills. This upcoming opportunity for these marginalized adolescents will open a door for them to start earning and establish themselves in the working world. As a coordinator, I have identified the various regions and families in Mauritius who are most in need of help and guidance. As part of my work at Halley Movement, we have tried to provide the basic necessities to the children and young people to help them move ahead in life. However, I feel more can be done within this context. Unfortunately, Halley Movement cannot reach every household to identify children and young people, due to lack of volunteers and resources. We need more collaboration within the civil society to increase our impact, and reach more young people.