26 September, 2023, 8:27 pm Central - 22°C Rain

Opinion: Surprise surprise there’s drama at the Ministry of Education!

Opinion: Surprise surprise there’s drama at the Ministry of Education!

By Yellow Bucket
Tuesday 18/07/2023

If there is an area of government that fills anyone, (who has the misfortune of having to deal with it), with absolute dread, it is Education.

This goes back well before the previous Government, but the last administration certainly brought out the worst in the bureaucrats that run this moribund (p.s. means past it) body. Something about teachers who get promoted to administration, they become set in stone. Little wonder that our students of today are still using textbooks prepared in the 1970’s.

The tragedy is that our education system should be a jewel in our national crown. Despite dismal leadership from the Ministry, Fiji boasts education numbers other Pacific Island countries can only dream about. However, any one with any contact with our schools or the products of or education system is aware of the declining standards. YB recently met an ex-Fiji resident now running English as a second language class in New Zealand. She commented that for the first time she was being sent students arriving from Fiji.

Why?? In terms of access to education, Fiji has incredible resources. There are very few Fijian children who don’t physically have access to a primary or secondary school and with three universities (the number seems to keep growing) tertiary education isn’t an issue either. It would be nice though, if more of the lawyers being pumped out, could actually draft a letter.

Let us start at the beginning. Our education system’s foundation is built on schools created and owned by community and religious organisations. Around 95% …… yes that’s right our schools have been built and continue to be maintained and physically managed by various community organisations across Fiji.

The Government provides a grant per student, pays for the teachers, and provides the curriculum. This should create a bond that could be a very powerful with local people through school committees actively involved in the education of their children in PARTNERSHIP with the Government, (who by the way they pay for as well). Tragically the opposite has occurred, and we can see it in the broken-down classrooms and 1970’s textbooks!

YB isn’t going to go into the numbers today because the issue isn’t about money. More than enough taxpayer dollars are pumped into this sector to make it work. The issue is the foundation “partnership” between the Ministry of Education (Min Ed) and the community has been broken.

What happened? Like all partnerships in life, the idea is great when we are all in love but then life sets in with its complexities and competing interests, and things get messy. This is where the tensions rise, and it begins to break down. YB still recalls the days when the beginning of the school year was beset with disputes between teachers/ Min Ed resulting in lockouts and often bitter fights over the operations of schools.

Rather than dealing with these issues in a proactive manner Min Ed decided that the answer was to impose increasing levels of control progressively reducing the powers of school committees. To the point under the last administration, that they were denied the right even to fundraise for their local school. Woe be tide a community who wanted to use the school buildings for after school tutoring or other activities!! Added to this, were increasingly draconian rules linked to receiving funds promised for school maintenance. Little wonder that a lot of committees just threw their hands up in despair and the schools steadily fell into disrepair.

But Min Ed and all those ex-teachers now administrators were happy, they had control. No longer did they need to worry about those whining school chairpersons complaining about standards. They could just be ignored, and we can go on delivering “learning” the way it has always been done i.e., the way we learnt in school.

Now of course YB in its frustration may be guilty of a little exaggeration and we acknowledge the teachers who have continued to do the best they can in increasingly difficult circumstances, our issue is not with them, but with an administration that desperately needs a shake-up.

The appointment of Dr Selina Kuraleca as Permanent Secretary for Education was greeted by YB as a sign that finally change might be coming. She brings a background as a teacher, psychologist and importantly has been actively involved in the running of schools as Chair of one of Fiji’s biggest primary schools, Veiuto Primary school. Plus, YB is aware of her courage and determination to make a difference.

No wonder Min Ed and the various teacher’s organisations are running scared!! Change is coming and their comfortable little cages are going to be rattled …… HARD.

It was a bold move by the Public Service Commission, and it could be the start of something very special because if we’re going to build a new Fiji that values democracy, the environment, the changing social structures occurring around us and, to be blunt, joins the 21st century with the rest of the world, it MUST START IN OUR SCHOOLS!

How this issue is resolved will be a critical turning point for this Government. The Prime Minister appears to have put his foot down, but truth is Selina still hasn’t been allowed to take up her position (she was supposed to have started July 3rd).

Sadly, the Minister Radrodro is no help. While the Ministry of Education has been a long-time weak link in government, he is one of the weaker links in the Cabinet and is clearly buckling to the demands of the teacher unions AND despite his protestations YB believes he may have his own issues with Dr Kuruleca dating back to when she was on the Veiuto Primary school board, with his wife to be Sainiana, and him.

Time for some bold leadership. Over to you Prime Minister!

fijivillage Straight Talk with Vijay Narayan
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