The Republic of Mauritius is an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, to the east of Madagascar. Mauritius is the main island, ringed to the north by a number of smaller islands, namely Rodrigues, Agalega and St Brandon. The island of Mauritius is located in the southwest part of the Indian Ocean, some 800 km from the southeast coast of Madagascar. With a land area of 1,860 square kilometres and a population estimated at 1.3 million inhabitants, Mauritius has a high population density officially estimated, in 2000, at more than 585 people per square kilometre. The 1990 census showed 1,031,526 people were living on the island of Mauritius, 34,292 in Rodrigues and 170 on the outer islands. The annual population growth rate during the 1990s remained at about 1.1 percent, with most people living in the strip of towns between the capital Port Louis and the district of Plaine Wilhems.
Mauritius is a multiracial, multilingual and pluricultural country with people whose ancestors came as settlers from Europe, Africa and Asia. The largest ethnic group is that of Hindu Indo-Mauritians, which constitutes 52 percent of the population, Muslim Indo-Mauritians account for 10 percent of the population, Sino-Mauritians five percent and the general population (Europeans and African Creoles) make up around 33 percent of the population.
The history of Mauritius effectively began when Dutch settlers occupied the island from 1598 to 1710. The French took possession of the island in the early eighteenth century and brought labour from Madagascar and Africa. The early years of French occupation were devoted to settlement and development of the island as an agricultural colony. The education system that prevailed at that time was highly academic and was geared mostly towards producing the few administrators the island needed.
In 1810 the British conquered the island and it became a British colony. With the abolition of slavery in 1834 labour was brought from India to work in the fields. During the British period major political, economic and social changes took place. This had a significant bearing on the educational system. The country became independent in 1968, and a republic in 1992. Mauritius has a constitution based on the British model. Power lies with the elected National Assembly, the supreme law-making body of the island.
The official language is English, but French is widely spoken and the common lingua franca is Creole. Different ethnic groups speak Hindi, Urdu, Arabic, Tamil, Telegu, Marathi or Mandarin. To keep the cultural diversity of the island, the ancestral languages are taught in primary and secondary schools alongside English and French.
Remarkable progress was achieved in the post-independence period with the diversification of the country’s economic base and establishment of a strong welfare state. The economy experienced significant restructuring at each critical stage of its development. Starting from an agricultural economy dominated by sugar cane production, the country had become a major exporter of manufactured goods by 1990. An Export Processing Zone was created at that time, and since then efforts have been made to diversify the industrial base, which comprised mostly textiles and clothing. Rapid growth in tourism and financial services has further transformed the economy, turning it into a four-pillar economy. Mauritius is regarded as an upper-middle income economy. The GDP per capita in 2001 was US$3,787. The government’s policy is to continue to move the economy into higher-value service sectors. In the early years of the twenty-first century Mauritius has been developing its IT sector.
The country has a network of about 2,000 kilometres of tarred roads. The transport system is relatively good, allowing teachers to travel easily to and from school daily. School supplies are also easily transported. The health care system is well developed. Today Mauritius has one of the highest literacy rates among developing countries at more than 95 percent for those under 30 years of age.
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Annual population growth:
*latest data as of March 2009 from UNESCO Institute for Statistics.