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Address by the Minister for Education, Heritage & Arts Mahendra Reddy

Address by the Minister for Education, Heritage & Arts Mahendra Reddy
Minister for Education, Mahendra Reddy.
March 07
11:00 2017

The VCs from the 3 Universities;

The representatives from various organisations/groups; officials from Ministry of Education, Heritage and Arts; other distinguished guests; and Ladies and gentlemen.

 

 

Good Morning, Ni Sa Bula Vinaka! and Warm Greetings to one and all.

 

  1. Introduction

The Outlook of Worldwide 21st Century Education

Throughout the world, governments are now converging on the notion that an effective education system can directly contribute to poverty and hardship reduction as well as contribute to long term economic growth and stability.

Acquisition of knowledge and skills improves individual’s earnings potential and ability to invest wisely in their future and those of their families.

Educating women and girls is particularly transformative; raises their earnings potential, allows them to have a say in household affairs and be treated with dignity and respect.

As stated by UNICEF, in a 2000 paper titled “Defining Quality in Education”, Continuous assessment and improvement can focus on any or all dimensions of system quality: learners, learning environments, content, process and outcomes.

Thus, Countries now are making increasing investment into:

n Quality content;

n Quality procedures: quality management of teaching staff and human resources;

n Instituting Quality student experiences at school;

n Quality Learners: motivating quality home experiences including health which are connecting school life (home curriculum);

n Quality learning environment in schools: manageable class sizes, benchmarking quality assurance at levels including delivery of facilities, infrastructure and technology; and

n Quality outcomes.

As stated by the UNESCO office in Nairobi, during the 2017 Ministerial SDG4 Regional Forum for Eastern Africa on “Ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”, participants discussed common emerging areas and innovative practices. Based on countries national roadmaps, a call for greater policy coherence in a number of areas emerged. These are the areas we are seeing education world-wide move towards:

n Empowering disadvantaged communities or groups through innovative Quality Education and equal access for all. That is, to align preventative strategic planning to combat the multiple barriers to education and ensuring no one is left behind;

n Further developing quality early childhood development and education given its vital role in building foundations for quality future learning;

n Implementing accessible Quality Technical and Vocational Education and training (TVET) including the need for a regional framework and sharing of good practices to improve quality of instruction, learners’ skills and status of TVET qualifications and certification in general;

n Strengthening teacher professionalization through training and incentive schemes;

n Developing learning assessment frameworks that use effective methodologies to provide evidence where teaching and learning needs to improve;

n Collating accurate and reliable statistics and education indicators through the development of effective monitoring and evaluation frameworks for evidence-based policy-making;

n Developing contemporary ECE, Primary and Secondary syllabus and curriculum;

n Creating safe schools where student’s health, welfare, gender sensitivity and well-being are second to none;

n Developing greater Public-Private Partnerships Approach to foster better relationships and at the same time attract investment for the betterment of students; and

n Most importantly, developing greater empowered Parental Engagement in the education of children.

 

  1. The Outlook of Education locally

Ladies and Gentlemen, the successful implementation of the Bainimarama Government’s brainchild: “to create a knowledge based society,” which is in line with SDG4: “Ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”, depends on a strong political will and the dedication to drive forward with changes to existing ideas, structures and plans. The Bainimarama led FijiFirst Government over the years has shown this commitment through the enormous growth, progress and development and which is certainly a testimony of the level of commitment that is rendered to the Education Sector today.

Gone are the days where groups of people were sidelined due to their ethnicity, gender, social and economic status. Now, the movement is to put every child to school and improve the quality of service to them. Fiji is looking at topics such as, Climate change, Global warming, women input into policy making, issues of disaster preparedness, sustainability of natural and cultural resources, preservation of culture and traditions, fight over NCDs and health issues and other pressing topics with great interest now.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Fiji has been successful in its bid to be the Chair of this year’s United Nations climate change meeting, known as COP 23.

Our Honourable Prime Minister is heading this campaign and we are certainly proud of being the first Pacific nation to fulfil this role. Now, our education system must also reflect this topic rigorously as this issue affects not only our nation but many other regional island nations.

Many small islands, rural and indigenous peoples’ communities are on the frontlines of climate change and the education system cannot be ignorant to this knowledge base.

Ladies and Gentlemen, after taking over the helm at the Ministry of Education, Heritage and Arts, we have shown a strong and unrelenting commitment to improving the education system.

To put it across in simple terms, the system was out-dated and a hindrance to the development of the nation as a whole. The equation was not balanced because while on one hand modernisation and globalisation was having a deep impact on the people, we had stagnant systems which did not comprehend the progress the world had made in education.

 

  1. Accessibility to Education

in the 21st Century

Ladies and Gentlemen, education in this era is clearly focused on the needs of the child. Governments have to take education to the people, especially, in a country where people are spread across all areas. There is no doubt that an educated society is the essential tool to break the shackles of poverty. However, if accessing education is fraught with obstacles, then the selected few, the privileged and connected are the only ones whose children can attain education. This is a recipe for long term inequality, hardship and poverty. Education must be seen as a public good and as a right for everyone.

In light of the above, Compulsory Education schemes have to be rolled out to ensure that demand side issues are negated. For example, in Australia, the Government has mandated the entry age of compulsory education as 6 and the exit age as 15.

Also, going to school is compulsory for all children in New Zealand aged 6 to 16. In Fiji, we have instituted compulsory education till Year 12. We have not put any age barrier so as to give opportunities to all those who had dropped out of school before and at the same time raise the bar of education potential for the student.

Countries such as, South Korea, has based their tremendous advancement and growth to their continued pursuit of making it mandatory to educate its people. The level of education in South Korea is very high and therefore, the resultant competency of the students and the people are also high which in turn contributes significantly to economic growth and development.

Access to education is the top priority of the Fijian Government. Access being physically and economically accessible, education accessible to the disabled and special needs group, education accessible by all ethnic gr-oups, education access through eased transport and travel, education accessed through removal of technology barriers, education accessible to both genders under no limitations and access to education with relentless progress at benchmarking quality, equity and just pedagogies.

We have guaranteed accessibility to education by eliminating all costs of education right from ECE to University level. Education in the 21st century requires stakeholders to re-look at pre-school and kindergarten education and coordinate intervention to raise the standard and quality of learning.

This is the foundation of learning and it cannot be ignored as early intervention programmes combined with positive early experiences and interactions are vital for preparing quality learners.

With the Government’s free education policy, enrolment numbers in schools have shot up (as demonstrated in Table 1 & Fig. 1 above for Primary) and (Table 2 & Fig. 2 on Page 15 for secondary). Schools are given grants per student, which is used by them to uplift their resource base, make developments to the physical environment and invest in the educational necessities of the children.

Additionally, we are assuring accessibility to education through removal of divisive policies. Our Toppers Scholarship Scheme has been highly successful with students benefitting through their merit.

The Loans Scheme is also given out to deserving students to complete their higher education and under no circumstances are any deserving students deprived of this support.

The number of students who are benefiting from these schemes has continued to increase from 2014 (as demonstrated in Table 3 on Page 15).

Furthermore, Ladies and Gentlemen, to facilitate the demands of education in the 21st century, we have guaranteed accessibility to education by eliminating Transport issues of students and in some cases, transport issues of teachers.

The bus voucher scheme has eased the daily financial constraints of parents and it’s a huge success. Over the past two years, we have given out 36 Boat and engine to schools where children as well as teachers had to cross waterways to reach school.

To ease travel issues of students, we have built new hostels and made renovations to some existing ones. Now the children can stay in the hostels and dormitories and study from there without having to travel long distances daily.

To cater for children whose aptitude lies in Technical Education and thus, do not wish to pursue the Higher Education stream, we

CONTINUES ON PAGE 15

Rise in Fire cases  >P76 have established Campuses of Technical College throughout Fiji offering short courses as well as award courses up to Level 2 in various trade areas.

 

  1. Quality Teacher Preparedness,

Delivery and Teaching Pedagogies

Ladies and Gentlemen, the above deals with how access to education has been made possible by our Government, however, the final output and thus, outcome of a knowledge based society requires us having a dynamic education system, evolving over time and dealing with contemporary issues.

Education in this period cannot stay rooted to age old teacher preparedness systems or non-progressive teaching skills and teaching methodologies.

The child in the 21st century is different with diverse needs and similarly the educators have to be dynamic, well trained and transformational.

Teachers need to comprehend the situation of teaching and learning in this current time, upgrade and up skill themselves and become highly productive. Children no longer respond fully to age old ‘talk and chalk’ teacher practices or ‘teacher does all’ routines.

Ladies and Gentlemen, teaching has two components, subject matter knowledge and Pedagogy of teaching. Subject matter knowledge is not really an issue given that all teachers are qualified holding Diploma and Degree in their respective subject areas.

However, pedagogy is a critical variable in teaching. It deals with having the required knowledge and practice to teach and enhance learning by students. It deals with specialist knowledge and skills on subject matter delivery.

Teaching Pedagogies, particularly, in secondary schools, must be continuously enhanced so that we can improve the learning environment and have the students captivated. From my observation, given the plethora of distractions, this is one of the most important challenges facing Fijian children today.

On this note, I wish to quote from a recent article, published in the Australian Journal of Education in 2016, titled“Multimodal representation during an inquiry problem solving activity in a year 6 science class: A class study investigating co-operation, physiological arousal and belief states” by Gillies, et. pp. 111:

“Teaching students to use and interpret different representational tools is critically important if they are to be scientifically literate, to understand how scientific ideas and concepts are represented and to appreciate how scientists think and act.

Moreover, students not only need to be competent at using and explaining representations and learning new representations quickly but they also need to have opportunities to work co-operatively with others as it is through interactions between learners, tools and the environment that learning occurs.”

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Rise in Fire cases  >P76

The above calls for more student centred learning, interactive and participating teaching and learning process.

That is, teacher education needs a major shift, away from a predominant focus on specifying the necessary knowledge for teaching towards specifying teaching practices that entail knowledge and doing. This will require a move from a preoccupation on curriculum to pedagogy of teacher education.

 

  1. Delivery and Teacher Job Satisfaction

Ladies and Gentlemen, further to the above, a key factor for effective delivery, apart from having subject matter knowledge is job satisfaction. If a teacher is not satisfied with his/her current job, then it will affect their delivery. According to a research article published by Lester titled “Teacher Job Satisfaction Questionnaire” in the journal, “Educational and Psychological Measurement” in 1987, he notes that there are 9 key variables contributing to Job Satisfaction of Teachers:

The index consists of:

(i) Supervision: This factor measures two aspects of supervision: supervisory behaviour and interpersonal relationships. Positive and accommodating interpersonal relationships in the schools will make the teacher want to be part of the school and most importantly be happy to contribute to the overall achievements of the school.

 

(ii) Colleagues: This factor looks at interactions with work colleagues, including group outcomes, group interdependence and social interactions. Collaborations and social interactions will strengthen the working relationship amongst colleagues which will have positive outcomes. A positive interaction in a team sets the tune for collaboration which inculcates a ‘family approach’ to teaching and learning.

(iii) Working Conditions: This factor relates to environmental characteristics of the teaching situation, including the physical conditions of the working environment and school policies. Everyone needs a good physical environment to work in. We are continuously focusing on the improvement of infrastructure and resource facilities in schools to ensure positive results in teacher delivery. When teachers are under no pressure at assembling resources under compromising situations, they are more ready to focus on their tasks, then when the situation is otherwise.

 

(iv) Pay: Items in this factor measure satisfaction with the salary received by teachers, as well as how the teaching salary compares to other professions. A good salary will surely motivate the teachers and the Government of the Day has always ensured that this area is looked upon.

(v) Responsibility: This factor measures accountability for one’s teaching work, responsibility to help students learn and the opportunity to partake in school policy decision-making. Once teachers take this major responsibility of accountability, teacher delivery will also improve. Teachers have to take ownership of the school and the children they teach. They must understand that the students they teach will go onto lead the country and therefore, the responsibility lies on the teachers on how best to mould them.

 

(vi) Work: This factor measures satisfaction with daily tasks of the teacher, including opportunities to be creative and work autonomously. The drive to meet tasking and ensure that due dates and time frame are followed as planned is the mark of an effective teacher. Making compromises to work over other things

is the opposite of effective teachers. For e.g., work does not mean spending maximum hours of school time in the sports field, preparing athletes, it is time well spent with students teaching them to learn academic subjects. Many times, teachers have overstepped work commitments and ended up pushing students into channels of activities which are not related to curriculum. This may be over emphasis on sports and other extra-curricular drives.

(vii) Advancement: Items in this factor measure the teachers’ perception of opportunity for advancement, such as, change in status, promotion or increased wages. We are giving all teachers the opportunity to upgrade their qualification. Make themselves marketable and thereby they fairly have a shot at promotion. Also, teachers need to be abreast with the latest technology and teaching aids. Our children are already there, some teachers are still ‘techno-shy’, which hinders their delivery and student learning in this modern era.

(viii) Security: This factor includes items measuring perceived stability within the school, specifically school policies related to tenure. The safety and security of teachers is paramount as is the safety and security of students. Once our teachers are confident in their school environment, their performance is heightened trickling down to improved student performances.

(ix) Recognition: This factor measures level of attention, praise or notice given by supervisors, students and parents. Teachers have always carried that ‘status’ in society. We do not want teachers to be ‘tools of fear’ to students and the communities. We want them to earn their respect and be role models, whom the students look upon to eliminate their issues. Teachers have to be multi-talented and student service focused and then they will make a place in the lives of the students, which is by far the greatest acknowledgement any teacher can get in this noble profession.

When one examines these variables for Fijian Teachers, we will note that we are doing fairly well. However, we can make improvements on several of the variables such as; Recognition, working conditions and supervision. This is supported by the fact that there are hardly any resignations from teaching to join other labour markets except for those who are migrating to another country.

 

  1. Commitment from Teachers

Although we are targeting means and ways to improve teacher delivery and job satisfaction through various developments, collaboration and incentives, that 100% level of commitment and passionate involvement from some of our teachers is still missing which has an impact on teacher delivery. This is best indicated by the % of teachers who are absent from school and those who report to school late, (as demonstrated in Table 4 & Fig. 3 below) for Secondary teachers and (Table 5 & Fig. 4 below) for Primary teachers. For the secondary teachers, the data is as follows and it is quite alarming.

The Ministry of Education looks forward to adopting measures over the next 4 years to enhance teachers’ job satisfaction as it will contribute positively towards effective delivery.

 

  1. School Infrastructure Improvement and Managing Class Size

I, now, wish to speak on Quality of School infrastructure which has a strong bearing on the learning environment as well as it contributes to job satisfaction as it affects delivery by teachers. In line with Ministry’s Pillar 3, which focuses on the improvement of infrastructure in schools, we are fully committed to ensure that it achieves the target of quality infrastructural development in all schools. We have inherited a large number of schools, particularly those in the interior and maritime zones which had been neglected of basic annual maintenance. In 2015, we have provided financial assistance for a total of 276 projects amounting to $6.9m while, in 2016, we have assisted for 278 school projects amounting to $6.1m.

We are very mindful that not only we need to have quality school infrastructure but also good quarters for teachers in interior and rural areas.

Ladies and Gentlemen, at present we are also looking at ways on how we can manage class size. There have been comments made by some arguing that class sizes in our schools in Fiji are too large. Is this really true?

At the national level, our class sizes are well below 45 (which is as stipulated in the Education Act), as demonstrated in Table 6 below.

Generally, the class size is larger in the urban schools compared to the rural schools for both Primary and Secondary schools.

A perusal of the data by Education districts also reveals that class size, on an average is within acceptable range (as demonstrated in Table 7 below).

The above table shows that the class size for Primary school is the lowest in Eastern district with the value 9 and the highest in Suva with the value 31. In the case of Secondary schools, Eastern district has the lowest class size with 22 and Suva has the highest class size with 32.

The problem of large class size is in some schools between Suva/Nausori corridor, (as demonstrated in Table 8 below).

The above table shows that the class size for Primary schools, Year 1 (Class) to 8 is around the same ranging from 19 to 21. The largest class size for Primary school is in Year 2. In the case of Secondary schools, Year 9 (Form) to 13 the class size ranges from 25 to 28. 18

In schools, located in the Suva/Nausori corridor, some schools have very large class size while some have very small class size. So the problem of overcrowding is not due to lack of space, but because of parents preference for a particular school over the others.

 

  1. School Heads and their Leadership Model

The Job Satisfaction index talks about supervision and leadership. There is no doubt that the quality of school leadership is very significant to determine the culture of the school and consequently, has an impact on job satisfaction and delivery. The Heads of schools (Principals and Head Teachers) play a critical role in the overall performance of any school. There is a lot of research supporting this thesis including a recent 2016 article by Sebastian, Allensworth and Huang titled “The role of teacher Leadership in How Principals Influence Classroom Instruction and Student Learning,” , published in American Journal of Education, vol 123, no 1, where the authors argue that School Heads play an important role in promoting teacher leadership by delegating authority and empowering teachers in ways that allow them an influence in key organizational decisions and processes.

The Fijian schools current delegation model is more top centred and this area needs further research and brainstorming on how and what the Heads can further delegate to teachers. The research shows that effective Principals use teacher leadership to improve the school learning climate while they work directly on professional development and school program coherence.

 

  1. Creating safe schools where students’ health, welfare and well-being are second to none

Ladies and Gentlemen, job satisfaction and thus, quality delivery and education can only be achieved when students are healthy and safe. Health and nutrition of children cannot be compromised as this has a direct effect on their performance. We are extremely serious when it comes to the health, welfare and well-being of the child. Our policies are in place and these direct the action plan to ensuring the safety of the child. We have trained teachers in basic OHS and First Aid and they are now working on training their students. In 2015, a total of 629 teachers and in 2016, a total of 2386 ECE, Primary & Secondary teachers have been trained in OHS and Basic First Aid. The Primary & Secondary teachers have been trained in both First Aid and OHS while the ECE teachers have been trained only in Basic First Aid. In 2017 till date, 134 teachers have been trained.

In addition, we have rolled out policies such as, the new Canteen and Food Policy which has been done while considering the health of the child. We have also put in place important directions for student pick up especially, in ECE Centres and lower Primary schools to eliminate cases of abduction.

In this era, we cannot condone any form of Corporal punishment or ill treatment or abuse for whatever reasons. We have to move away from those barbaric practices and treat children with respect. Our zero tolerance to corporal punishment also encompasses the children’s right not be belittled or verbally abused. Those who do not follow this law will have to face the full brunt of the law.

The Ministry and the School Administrators are concerned about the rise of student indiscipline cases particularly, in urban schools. This prevalence of indiscipline in some schools in urban areas clearly demonstrates that urban schools need additional support in order to protect our vulnerable children. This is a problem not specific to Fiji but being grappled world-wide and quite a lot of research have been undertaken to examine the mitigating factors. For example, a recent study published in vol 55, issue no.3 of the Australian Journal of Education, in 2016 by Fogelgarn and Lewis titled “Are you being your best? Why students behave responsibly” argue that “morally driven classroom management practices are likely to produce more self-aware, morally autonomous, responsible students who conscientiously aspire to be the best that they can be at all times”. On this, we have urged our School Heads to develop moral values programs in our schools within the ethos of the school so that our children are guided at all times.

However, moral values education begins at home and there is no substitute for it.

 

  1. Developing empowered parental engagement in the education of children: Family support for learning

This leads me to our Pillar IV strategy: to engage parents in their children’s education. Our children go through many disturbances and issues which are prevalent in the modern society. They cannot deal with these things alone. If they don’t get parental love and care, they will search for love outside their home and that’s when they could be exploited.

The modern day students need their parents to openly discuss issues with them, understand their feelings and developments in them and thereby guide and support their progress in life. Our parental engagement framework, the ‘home curriculum’ guides parents to adopt certain practices which will create positive learning experiences for the child.

 

  1. Concluding Remarks

Ladies and Gentlemen, the world is focusing towards an education system which is child-driven and output oriented. We need to continuously direct our Education system towards the same in order to achieve quality education for our 21st Century children. Together, we can do this. The Ministry, our teachers, parents and school management are the key drivers of this vision. Laxity on the part of either party will make this vision difficult to achieve. I do hope we join together and forge ahead as a national movement to educate every Fijian for a journey to prosperity for future Fiji.

 

Feedback:  rachnal@fijisun.com.fj

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