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Remarks By The Minister For Education, Heritage and Arts Mahendra Reddy

Remarks By The Minister For Education, Heritage  and Arts Mahendra Reddy
March 16
10:31 2017

The Permanent Secretary for Education Iowane Tiko; the president  of the Fiji Principals Association Kamlesh Prasad; the directors from the Ministry of Education, Heritage and Arts; other senior staff from the headquarters; and principals of various schools throughout Fiji.

 

Good morning, ni sa bula vinaká! and Warm Greetings to all!

 

1.0 Introduction

It is my pleasure to meet and address you all again and officially open the   119th Fiji Principals Association Conference today. I also bring to you warm greetings from our Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama. At this juncture, I wish to thank you all for your hard work, effort and commitment that you have rendered towards your schools and the Fijian communities at large. Your leadership of schools following the aftermath of Cyclone Winston was exemplary.

Ladies and gentlemen, last week, we organised the 2017 Education Forum where key stakeholders of education in Fiji collaborated and deliberated upon educational issues, strategies and planning which will pave the way for greater benchmarks of achievement. Collaboration of people who have similar interests in education is perhaps one of the most essential tools of modern education systems across the world. Success or failure of education systems can on occasions be singled out to the level of healthy partnerships that exists between all stakeholders of education. As School Heads, you are the drivers of the 21st century education. You are in direct contact with the children, their parents and the community and through you, all the transformations and reforms flow to the system. Principals, you are the single most important agent of change who are leading, guiding and mentoring our teachers who are setting the foundation for realisation of our children’s dreams.

Therefore, when I get to meet you all together twice in a year, it is indeed a bonus as this is the platform where so much important discussions can take place and which will directly assist us to raise the bar of excellence and service that we give to the children, the parents and to our beloved nation.  Hence, whatever I say here, it is to be taken in the spirit of helping our children realise their dreams.

 

2.0 Education in the 21st Century

Ladies and Gentlemen, the international community, having realised the importance of education in transformation of households for a prosperous future, has outlined a number of goals to be realised by 2030, with Goal 4 of the 17 goals, requiring countries to provide inclusive and equitable education for all. However, other Goals such as SDG1 ‘No Poverty’, SDG 2 ‘Zero hunger’, SDG 3 ‘Good health and well-being’, SDG 5 ’Gender equality’, SDG 6 ‘Clean water and sanitation’, SDG 8 ‘Decent work and economic growth’, SDG 10 ‘Reduced inequalities’, and SDG 13 ‘Climate action’, are some goals that can be effectively achieved when education is fully accessible and children are able to participate in it.

In this educational journey, we are not trying to address the current generation of children only, and nor are we addressing problems for contemporary Fiji only. We are in the process of setting a foundation for education delivery and ideological, philosophical and mindset change for current and future generation of children for a secure and prosperous future Fiji. Ladies and gentlemen, we are preparing our students for the needs and demands of the 21st century careers, which will mandate them to know how to think critically, solve problems, to innovate, to collaborate and thus, meet the demands of the changing job markets.  Time and again we need to reflect on the rapid changes and increasing demands of our society due to globalisation.  We need to be aware of the fact that what was considered good education few years ago is no longer enough for our children to attain success in their careers and handle challenging societal demands. We cannot be rooted to past practices and ideologies and use that to educate children of the present era because circumstances and expectations have changed dramatically. Change is vital for the progress of any individual, group or organisation and education is seen as the single most important ingredient of the change process. Schools, therefore, have to offer situations and an environment which inculcates these attributes and thereby supporting students’ holistic growth and development. Our aim is to deliver to our children the highest quality education contextualised to demands of this era. This is where we need leaders who are empowered with 21st century skills. A leader is a facilitator of change, he/she is a manager of change and more so, he/she is an ambassador of change.

Ladies and gentlemen, we need to change ourselves to bring about change. We need to keep abreast with key global developments, realise the needs of the child and take action.  All School Heads must up skill and re-align their educational priorities. You need to be Inclusive leaders, as excellence can only be achieved through inclusive leadership.  Thus, the theme of the Conference is highly fitting given the dynamic direction we have paved for education in Fiji. The Fijian education system is going through a major overhaul in terms of quality and excellence and we need empowered and inclusive educational leaders who can bring about positive changes in the lives of our children.

 

3.0 Theme and Context: “Excellence through Inclusive Leadership”

Ladies and gentlemen, inclusive leadership is about building networks and connections with people and organisations that play important roles in your school. Inclusive leadership requires our school leaders to be collaborative, dynamic, passionate, committed, creative, courageous, culturally accommodative, need to do multi-tasking and lead by setting examples. The expectation of the 21st century education rests on the ability of school heads to steer their schools towards excellence. By partnering with teachers on effective practice, professional development, resource allocation and student learning, Principals are the primary gatekeepers of both the process and the outcome.

School heads in the current time need to be empowered to explore various domains of inclusive leadership. All stakeholders of education need to be included in the schooling process. These include teachers, children, private and public sector enterprises, the school management, the parents and community at large. One of the aspects of inclusive leadership that we have relentlessly channeled in the education system is to fully involve parents in the education of their children.  We are working with parents to be at the front line of their child’s education and take ownership of their achievements. The latest development is that we are embarking on motivating parents to create their own ‘home curriculum’ to strengthen the child’s learning and overall development.

Ladies and gentlemen, our Government has revolutionised the entire education system by first acknowledging that access to education is right of every Fijian and then, progressively, removing all obstacles to accessing education by all Fijians. We have eased their difficulties and stood tall to our promise of prioritising education. All children deserve to be given access to quality education without any compromises. We have got children back in the classrooms, even during this country’s most challenging times, but we are depending on school heads to spearhead this movement in their schools. This is where inclusive leadership traits will support school heads delivery of services to the children. No child, seeking knowledge, must be excluded from or given access to unequal educational opportunities. School heads also have a crucial role to play in ensuring that the schools physical and cultural environment guarantees the health, well-being and safety of children and should therefore, continuously liaise with other stakeholders to upgrade, improve and lift the environment standards.

 

Some of the Characteristics of inclusive leadership are:

 

(i) Collaboration – Leaders can never work in isolation. Education in the 21st century is about shared decision making, about partnerships and inclusivity of stakeholders.

The Fijian communities that you lead are many and varied. The lifestyle, culture, needs, and habits of people are different. The skills of interacting with the community, management, parents, children, NGOs and organisations at large is what makes a leader stand out from the rest. Create a school family or network of connections and partnerships which focuses on student achievements. I am confident that as advised you all are rigorously implementing Pillar 4 in your schools. You must value people’s thoughts, reflect, create a shared school vision, include and accept teamwork and partnered pathways.

Further, ladies and gentlemen, inclusive leaders understand that people are most collaborative when they feel safe to contribute without fear of embarrassment or punishment. They understand that power dynamics, dominating styles and low tolerance of differences can stop team members from speaking up. They focus on building trust across the group, establishing a set of guiding principles, for example, that encourage people to contribute without fear. In addition, have your outreach programmes, involve the parents, have an ‘open door’ policy and make the community know that they are part of the school. Shift the ownership of the school to the children and their parents and take up the role of the facilitator.

A first hand example of great collaboration that I intend to give you is: The schools in the Ra and Ba/Tavua Education District were devastated by Tropical Cyclone Winston. However, the education districts with the school heads, teachers, children, parents and the communities worked together to get better results in 2016 when compared to 2015. This is when we talk about the number of schools attaining a greater than 50 per cent pass rate in the Year 12 and 13 external examinations.

 

For example:

In the Ba/Tavua District from 14 schools, in 2015 the per cent of schools attaining greater than 50  per cent pass rate in Year 12 exam was 86 per cent and for Year 13 exam, it was 79 per cent.

However, in 2016, this percentage increased to 100 per cent in year 12 and 86 per cent in Year 13. Similarly, in the Ra District, which was one of the most severely affected, the year 12 figure shot up to 100 per cent from 50 per cent in 2015 and Year 13 went up to 83 per cent from 50 per cent in 2015.

In fact, these are the only two districts where all 100 per cent the schools have attained a greater than 50 per cent pass rate in Year 12 examinations.

This is a clear case of collaboration at a time of great despair and suffering.

(ii) Ladies and gentlemen, another feature of inclusive leadership is for leaders to be just and fair. On many instances, school heads have used my name and names of other senior education officers to implement things in their schools. This has to stop. Teachers have their rights and they are to be treated with dignity. Undermining their self-respect is the worst thing a school head can do. This is the start of ‘staff rift’ which is unhealthy in a school environment.

Also, some school heads have a habit of having that ‘special team’ around him or her. This is again the opposite of inclusive leadership. Teachers voicing their concerns quickly get into the bad books of the school head and the greatest problem with this is that the school heads focus shifts from the key vision of the school to personal rivalry and bias. This situation has to stop. There is only one team in school, headed by you and no preferential treatment should be given to any person under any circumstances. This is modern inclusive leadership.

 

(iii) The other characteristic of inclusive leadership relevant to Fijian schools is for school heads to be dynamic and visionary. Leaders adopting the inclusive leadership approach have to be vibrant and self-motivated. The leader must develop great passion and commitment towards his or her school. No school is good or bad, it is the human resources, managed by their leaders who create the image of the school. School heads in the current era must frequently ask themselves on what they are doing right and what they are not doing. A leader must have the answer to the issues in the school and the answer is not about ‘shifting the blame’.

For example, last week, I highlighted on the late arrival data of teachers. I am confident this also includes some of you. My question to you is that if this is happening in your school, what have you done so far? ‘Shifting the blame’ entirely on the teacher, traffic or commitment is not the answer. Empower the teachers on their roles. Be creative and think outside of the box to solve the issue.  Talk to the teachers and together work out a solution. Include education officers and have a positive discussion, the outcome of which must be in the best interests of the children who are already in school waiting for the teacher. On this note, I intend to remind you that I do not expect to see school heads misusing their arrival, departure or leave allocations. I do not want school heads to indulge in unnecessary work out of school, but focus more on monitoring, supervising and planning.

A great leader leaves a legacy behind. Be ready to take on the challenges and be passionate about it. If you are going to a school where the results have not been good last year, take the challenge and improve the results this year. If you are in a school where there are consistent indiscipline cases of students, ensure that this year you implement changes which eliminate the indiscipline issues. Passionately drive your teachers towards the short term and long term vision of the school. Make a mark in the school

 

 

(iv)         Ladies and Gentlemen, another trait of an inclusive leader is one who adopts cultural integration and understanding. This feature of a School Head is mandatory in Fiji, where our children and the communities that you serve are highly multi-ethnic. Schools in the past, which used to serve particular ethnic groups only, are now highly diverse in terms of racial composition. Today, Fijian schools serve as one of the biggest platforms of racial integration and interaction. The blending of diverse ethnic groups of children, teachers, parents and school community is our vision and we are robustly injecting this in the Fijian education system. As School Heads, you must be ready to serve anywhere in Fiji. While you understand your culture and values well, you must also keep abreast with cultural values and lifestyle values of those children, teachers and parents you serve. Leaders must understand the ‘cross-cultural’ dynamics at work in the community and use that to make effective decisions. We at the Ministry are looking at leaders who can ‘fit’ into any school culture and values and flourish.

Perhaps, the greatest tool you carry is ‘respect’. Respect the values of your children, teachers, parents and the community and their collaboration, teamwork and dedication to school will certainly be strengthened. An isolated leader who fails to value all the ethnic groups fairly creates a gap in participation which is for the schools progress. These may be seen through, lack of attendance at Parents-Teacher Interview, low turnout at school events and negative viewpoints from community on school.

 

Being 21st Century Principals, you all need to be: Leading, Learning and Building.  As Principals, the students should be your first, last, and foremost concern as we seek to address the needs of the whole child.  It is the Principal, who brings it all together, providing the administration and instructional leadership needed to generate the improvements we all seek. It is the Principal who empowers the teachers, encourages the students, and involves the community in ways that have lasting impact. It is the Principal who leads the improvement efforts needed to deliver the results our policymakers, community leaders and families now expect. Effective Principals have the vision, courage, wisdom, and professional knowledge to lead learning communities that create opportunities for all children to achieve their highest potential. As conveyors of best practice, promoters of learning, and protectors of the whole child, our nation’s Principals drive schools to lead, learn and build.

 

4.0 Our Output: Student Performance measured by Examination Results

 

By now, you all should know where you and your school stand in terms of the External Examination results of 2015 and last year. Ladies and Gentlemen, our main concern remains the low pass rates for Mathematics and the three science subjects.

In some schools, there hasn’t been any improvement from 2015 and in 2016.  My question to you all is:

  • What have you done to improve performance in these subjects?
  • Have you spoken to your teachers?
  • How effectively are Maths and Science classes conducted in your schools?
  • Have you asked the teachers to provide specific strategies to improve pass rates in these subjects?
  • Are you monitoring those strategies?

 

If we examine the district wise performance, then we note that there is a marked improvement in all districts.  However, improvements are needed in the divisions of Eastern, Cakaudrove and Suva.

When we examine individual school performance, there are three methodologies to ascertain this. Firstly, we can use percent pass rate.

The second methodology ranks students position in a subject compared to all students doing that subject in Fiji. In this way, all students rank are obtained and then a school rank is obtained based on how the school’s students are ranked at the national level. Using this methodology, the top 15 schools are slightly different.

The last methodology is based on what number of students scored in the top 10% bracket of the mark. Again, this methodology provides a slightly different picture of the top 15 schools.

Principals, questions for you are:

  1. If your School was in top 15% in 2015 and has gone down in 2016, what are you doing?
  2. If your School is in the next quartile, what are you doing to move up to the top quartile?
  3. If your School is in the third and fourth quartile, what are you doing to move up?

 

             Have you identified the weaknesses in your school from last year which has impacted the results and tried to strengthen these?

             Are you closely monitoring your teachers – what they are delivering in the classroom, how effectively are they utilizing their preparation periods?

             Are you overloading your teachers with unnecessary paper work which hinders effective teaching and learning time?

             Are there regular Professional Development sessions on teaching strategies/pedagogies to guide the new teachers and motivate the others?

These are some of the questions to ponder upon to reach the desired standards.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the child spends the greater part of his/her day and teenage life in school. As such, we are duty bound to protect them, educate them, love them, value them and prepare them for the future; not by setting mere targets but by aiming for perfection. The child is the most precious gift for their parents and we must give them that same value. Every child is a genius in his/her own way and our job is to recognize that talent, polish it and pave a path for the child to succeed thereon. You must rise up to the occasion and not destroy the trust and social capital.

 

5.0 A Shift: Resources to Teaching Pedagogies

Principals, over the last two and half year, we have devoted a lot of time to upgrade our curriculum, get school resources and infrastructure in order and motivate students to participate fully in the learning process. However, there is a missing link to this equation. I am urging you all now to start searching for an effective and appropriate pedagogy to meet the expectations and situation of contemporary students.

While technology has changed, student environment has also changed along with changed expectations. The 21st century child is different with diverse needs and thus, we need to rise up and up skill ourselves to ensure students are able to absorb the new knowledge presented to them. This teaching methodology, termed as pedagogy, 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. Given the plethora of distractions that our students face, this is one of the most important challenges facing Fijian children today. The one way, teacher centered input based teaching methodology is no longer relevant. It may fulfill the Job Description of the teacher but it will fall far short of delivering the output, let alone the input.

 

6.0 Unloading our Teachers from Administrative Work

Some School Heads are loading teachers with Administrative and unnecessary paper work, thus, diverting them from the core function, which is teaching.  As per Circular 4/15, on “Reduction of paper work and documentation”, we had clearly advised the school heads that there is a need to increase teaching and learning time to allow the teachers to spend quality time with students.  Thus, School Heads were required to embrace initiatives that will lead to a reduction in paper work. However, this is not happening in most of the schools.  Quality time is still wasted on unnecessary administrative and paperwork and teachers are under pressure keeping and updating records.

 

Also, many schools are becoming grossly exam-oriented. While activities need to be designed and practiced with students, too many exams compressed in a short time frame defeats the purpose of exams. The preparation time for Exams, recovery period and remedial must be thorough and well planned. Instead schools can focus on more activity driven classes where children solve questions in class, facilitated by the teacher.

 

Just last week, one parent of a prominent secondary school in Suva raised issues whereby her child walked home from school because she did not receive the bus fare voucher as her Form teacher was absent from school.  Are Form Teachers required to give bus fare vouchers?  No, we had made it very clear that this responsibility should be taken up by the appointed Administrative officers.  Our teachers should not be loaded with this.  Because of the negligence of our School Heads, the parents are questioning us.   We need our leaders to be alert and walk our talk.

We have received complaints where teachers are still assigned by School Heads to distribute bus fare vouchers, sell in the school canteen and keep unnecessary files. Once you get your teachers involved in too much extra curricula work, the quality of their input gets compromised. Also, some School Heads are too focused in various sports activities thus,  assigning teachers to use their extra time for training and supervision. This needs to stop.

 

7.0          Student Behavior and Conduct: Our Position

Principals, while we can have a very high quality school infrastructure, good teachers and resources, if we don’t have well behaved and captive students, the investment we are making will fall short of realizing our vision. Student misconduct and few cases of drug abuse are some issues which can destabilize the entire school environment. If we don’t bring this under control, parents can also lose faith in our school system. It is for this reason that we have now decided that we will immediately remove all students from our schools who pose danger to fellow students or the teachers. Our schools are a place where children come for learning. Parents send their child to get educated for a brighter future. We have our teachers to fulfill their dreams. As such, we will, under no circumstances, tolerate anyone disturbing the schools learning environment or distracting other children from fulfilling their dreams.

 

Our School Heads are addressing our children from day one that they must conduct themselves in an utmost professional manner at all times and there is no alternative to this call. If, despite this repeated advice, we still find some students who are there not to study but to engage in mischief making, then we will immediately expel them from the School. If they want to behave like adults, then we treat them like adults. We will not endanger the lives of other students as well as our teachers by having them there. They don’t belong to our school system.  In the same breath, I am calling on Parents to talk to their children before it’s too late. Once the child is expelled, we will not entertain any appeals. Our schools are not Rehabilitation Centres. They are places for teaching and learning. We don’t have time and resources to separate out mischief-makers and rehabilitate them. Therefore, we are making a plea to parents to continuously remain engaged with their children and advise them on how they are the key bearers of the family’s collective dreams and therefore, they can’t fail as their failure will imply the failure of the entire family, friends and relatives.

 

 

8.0 Concluding Remarks

 

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 play a critical role in the overall performance of any school.

 

In Fiji, we have schools located far and beyond. There are many schools located in the rural interior and maritime zones which are doing extremely well. It is the leaders there who are making the difference. We need School Heads who have their vision for the school they serve. They have the true heart to serve the children. Some children come through varied troubled scenarios and when they come to the school, it is their place away from troubles and stress. School Heads are tasked with the responsibility to ensure that children love to come to school and find safety, security and are cared for in schools.

While these children come from varied household conditions, our Government’s vision for every child is to get educated and become equally successful. In this journey to the final outcome, we are equating our schools so that when these children come from different backgrounds, they are all equal in our schools. Via the education process in our school system, we will assure them of a uniform successful future.

Therefore, I challenge all School Heads to rise to the occasion to ensure that their schools attain excellence through quality development of children.

With these words, I now declare this Conference open and I wish all of you  thoroughly enriching deliberations and wish you all the very best in your work.

 

 

Thank you. Vinaka Vaka levu and Danyavaad

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