Though the country was still poor, depending on a monocrop economy, he placed heavy emphasis on training of teachers and raising the quality of education in well-built schools where the children would enjoy all the basic amenities, including school meal and milk.
He realised that the only way to combat backwardness, superstition, illiteracy and bad habits would be through investing in education.
He did not neglect secondary schooling either. In 1951, he opened the Queen Elizabeth College for girls in Rose Hill to cater for the girls who could not gain admission to the missionary confessional schools restricted at that time to one category of people.
The pressure brought by primary school leavers created a large demand for the opening of more private secondary schools. But the quality was uneven, the facilities inadequate and conditions of employment precarious. At first through a process of redistribution of educational opportunities, he managed to provide state aid to the non-profit making schools. Then, slowly he began to extend similar facilities to the private secondary school population through various strategies including the provision of long-distance learning by the Mauritius College of the Air, the granting of subsidies, book loans, a scheme for the payment of graduates.
The JKC was followed by the construction of a state secondary school in Rose Belle for boys and another one for girls at Pamplemousses. In the meantime, he kept developing the technical institute schools into the rural districts.
He realised that a developing country with the ambition of Mauritius "could not afford not to afford a university". So driven by his unerring vision, he sought assistance from John Griffiths, the Colonial Secretary, to provide expertise for the setting up of the projected University of Mauritius.
The first four year plan, 1971-75 set out the following as the educational goals:
The primary school failures saw themselves dropped out of the system and they went to inflate the ranks of the idle, unemployed and untrained army of young people. The headache facing the government was precisely the unskilled unemployed people in search of jobs.
Secondly, the Secondary School leavers, in ever increasing numbers, were job seekers who could not all find placement in the restricted civil service.
The problem of the educated and uneducated unemployed was one of the baffling predicaments which finally wrecked all the carefully laid out employment-creation plan conceived by experts who had framed the first four year plans .The significant achievements of the Ramgoolam administration were somewhat obscured by the chronic unemployment rate which rose to 80,000 or 20% in 1982.
Despite the pressure on the budget and the balance of payments problems, Ramgoolam never gave up on education or on health. In December 1976, on the eve of the general elections, he promised the nation free education from primary to university, a promise which he kept thanks to his capable and enterprising Minister of Education, Sir Kher Jagatsingh.
In 1976, he laid the foundation of the Mahatma Gandhi Institute with the vision of developing Mauritius as a regional centre of learning and culture in the Indian Ocean and African region. Thanks to his broad, liberal cultural and language policies, he provided hospitality for the teaching of Oriental languages in the schools side by side with English and French, thus maintaining our social and cultural stability, peace and harmony.
To help in teacher training and raise the quality of education, modernise the curricula, he set up the Mauritius Institute of Education.
His dynamic Minister of Education, Kher Jagatsingh, broadened free education to include pre-school children from the age of 4, backed up by the setting up of the Pre-School Trust Fund to act as a central, co-ordinating body, a centre of research, documentation, teacher training and school supervision and to provide pre-schooling facilities.
The over-all result is that Mauritius was to emerge among the leading countries of the world with a broad, educated , stable middle class, an almost hundred per cent rate of literacy, a qualified manpower to man the industrial and finance sectors.
By Anand Mulloo 15.9.98