Reddy: Government To Eliminate Gaps In Education, Ensure It Is Quality, Accessible
The following is the Minister for Education, Heritage and Arts, Mahendra Reddy’s speech during the official opening of the Special and Inclusive Education Conference yesterday at the Grand Pacific Hotel.
This conference will surely be an enriching experience for everyone. I am convinced that the goals and objectives of this Conference which is to: relate well to the 17 SDGs and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; Improve on disability data and statistics in schools; make schools and programs inclusive and accessible to all; and consolidate membership to Fiji Council of Special and Inclusive Educators, will be thoroughly deliberated upon and embedded into all the participants.
Special and inclusive education has been a vital component of the current Fijian Educational Movement.
The 2013 Constitution of the Republic of Fiji includes significant provisions for persons with disabilities including the right to reasonable access to all places, public transport and information; sign language, Braille and other means of communication; reasonable access to necessary material, substances and devices relating to the person’s disability; reasonable adaptation of buildings, practices and procedures to enable their full participation in society and the effective realisation of their rights.
Furthermore, the Constitution enshrines the right of every person to early childhood, primary, secondary and further education.
In addition, the right to access quality education in local schools is supported by various Acts and captured in the Ministry of Education’s Policy on Effective Implementation of Special and Inclusive Education.
Ladies and gentlemen, education is the fundamental right of every human being. All other rights will automatically be realised once education is filtered through every aspect of human survival.
The focus all over the world and in Fiji is the drive to provide equitable educational opportunities for all, including people with special needs and people with disabilities.
Inclusive education is a tactic that empowers all children to experience a sense of belonging within their local school.
It is based on the principle that all children have the right to fully participate in all school activities and their communities alongside their peers, and the understanding that all children can learn – if they are provided with an appropriate learning environment, appropriate equipment, and parental support.
Gone are the days when children with special needs were ignored, separated and left to rue their disabilities.
Today we are building on the strengths of these children and uplifting them to take ownership and become key contributors to nation building, peace and prosperity.
Under the Bainimarama Government, we understand that all Fijians will contribute effectively to national aspirations and people with special needs and disabilities are core to this national vision.
Ladies and gentlemen, on December 3, we will be observing the United Nations ratified: International Day for Persons with Disabilities with the theme: “Achieving 17 Goals for the Future We Want” and the MoEHA sub-theme of “Educators Connect to Achieving the 17 Goals for the Future we want”.
I applaud the efforts of this partnership between the MoEHA, AQEP and the Fiji Council of Special and Inclusive Educators for co-jointly marking and observing this day, particularly for the foresight in organising a two-day conference inculcating Policy development, human resource empowerment and awards.
The new vision as prioritised by the Sustainable Development Goals inculcates important components such as, education for all, no child left behind and to transform lives through education, recognizing the important role of education as a main driver of development.
Sustainable Development Goal 4 which ensures to provide inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all seeks to reaffirm that education is compulsory for peace, tolerance, inclusion, protection, cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversity, accountability, justice, rights and dignity, poverty eradication, human fulfillment and sustainable development.
The Bainimarama Government has tapped into the key pillars of modern educational development which includes: prioritising 100 per cent accessibility to education for all; robustly implanting gender equality; committing to quality education delivery; ensuring life-long learning opportunities for all and building an education system committed to inclusivity, being responsive and resilience and meeting the needs of children, youths and adults, which includes person’s with special needs and disabilities.
The Ministry of Education, Heritage and Arts has been bolstered with a renewed vigor to embrace education to improve lives of boys, girls, adults and person’s with special needs and disabilities.
We want to eliminate any gap in education and administer quality education is accessible by all, including the people with disabilities.
The Ministry of Education has been making efforts to strengthen inclusive education options for children with disabilities and their families across Fiji, while continuing to support the services that special schools provide children with particular and complex disabilities.
Together with the Access to Quality Education Programme (AQEP), which is funded by the Australian aid program through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Special and Inclusive Education Unit at the MoEHA has been working to pilot a model of inclusive education that allows children with disabilities to attend school close to their home.
AQEP and the MoEHA have worked together to improve children with disabilities’ access to quality education, including the employment of teacher aides, training of teachers and teacher aides in inclusive education, awareness raising sessions, regular mentoring and monitoring visits, renovations to schools to improve access and learning environments, provision of resources such as the Toolkit for Disability Inclusive Education in Fiji, equipment provision (Braille machine, white canes, desktop computer with JAWS (Job Access with Speech) software, sign language dictionaries), and water and sanitation activities. I also announce that this input will continue to grow and a clear reflection of this is the allocation under the 2016/2017 budget.
The budget for Special education in 2016-2017 budget is $3.331m consistent with the 2016 budget. However the budget was increased by $0.344m from the $2.987m in 2015.
The increase was largely due to increase in allocation for the Programme for Blind, Intellectually and Physically Handicapped.
Ladies and gentlemen, I understand that this workshop after reviewing the former Policy on Effective Implementation of Special Education in Fiji 2013 – 2016, will launch the MoEHA’s Special and Inclusive Education Policy 2017 – 2020, and its corresponding Implementation Plan.
The Special and Inclusive Education Policy 2017 – 2020 will aim to extend and improve options for students with disabilities to attend mainstream schools close to their homes, while supporting Special Schools to continue to play a key role as technical agencies, and supportive school options for the students with specific or complex disabilities who may need them.
I am confident that the implementation of this policy will add to our continued efforts in supporting our goals on ‘Education for All’.
As planned this policy will focus on the MoEHA’s priorities in relation to inclusive education for the next 3 years, and which are:
Promoting enrolment and attendance of students with disabilities;
Development of policies, standards and guidelines to institutionalise inclusive education at the national and community levels;
Ensuring the curriculum supports the learning needs of all students, including those with disabilities;
Strengthening training for teachers in the education of students with disabilities at all levels; and
Provision of appropriate supports needed to enhance the education and training of students with disabilities in Fiji.
Ladies and gentlemen, sometimes children’s educational dreams are shattered by discrimination arising from disability.
Some children are marginalised and as such disadvantaged. I want to assure you that this is going to be a thing of the past.
I am sure your Educators forum will also address issues affecting people with special needs and disabilities and reinforce better, current and effective measures to eliminate those issues.
We need highly trained, passionate Educators who are committed to this noble profession. Your input is the most important thing that will shape what the future of our innocent children will be.
I encourage you to continue your good work, up-skill yourself and when you reflect on your work, it is with the greatest pride and self-fulfillment.
The future of children with disabilities in Fiji is increasingly optimistic. Where children with disabilities have access to quality education, they are more likely to learn skills and gain confidence which assist them to attain paid work in adulthood, which can break the cycle of poverty that people with disabilities around the world are often trapped in.
Inclusive education is also beneficial for society. By educating children with and without disabilities together in the same classrooms and schools, we are creating a nation where diversity is accepted and integration and interaction a common action in education.
Through our efforts to strengthen inclusive education in schools and within Ministry systems and processes, the MoEHA is working hard to help shape this new world.
With support from our development partners, notably the Australian aid programme through AQEP, and other stakeholders of education, such as parents, teachers and communities we are positively working towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
With these words, I urge you all to continue with your dedication to this noble profession and continue set higher benchmarks and objectives to serve our children with excellence and distinction.
Thank you. Vinaka vaka levu and danyavaad.