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Labour: Making education affordable

Party opinion Labour believes that education is a basic right of every child. It is also a necessary pre-requisite for national development. It is through education that a nation can
16 Aug 2014 19:21

Party opinion

Labour believes that education is a basic right of every child. It is also a necessary pre-requisite for national development. It is through education that a nation can effectively address social problems such as poverty, unemployment, high crime rate and delinquency.

In Fiji, the burden of providing education has largely been carried by private groups, that is, religious organisations and the community. Only in the last few decades has the State taken greater responsibility in assisting, financing and equipping privately managed schools.

Despite this, the high cost of education, particularly at the tertiary level, continues to be a major cause of concern. Coupled with this is the concern that our present system and educational policies need to be overhauled to meet the needs of our developing society.

There is much hype today over the regime’s so-called fee-free education policy. The truth, however, is that in the last seven years the regime had drastically slashed the education budget, putting enormous financial burden on school management and parents.

The Education Budget was slashed from $312m in 2007 to $239m in 2008 and remained low until 2013 when it was increased to $268m. The Budget for 2014, the election year, was increased by $100m to $370m – clearly a vote-buying gesture and not a real commitment to improving education in the country.

The truth about the regime’s so-called “free education policy”?

Funded on a per capita basis, the policy benefits bigger urban schools that have a large school roll. Smaller schools in rural areas that are most in need of financial assistance receive much less and are not able to meet their full expenses. The quality of education in these smaller schools is therefore adversely affected.

Secondly, it is not a grant per se – so poor parents do not really benefit. They still have to meet the rising cost of equipping the child for school – that is pay for uniforms, bags, books etc.

Thirdly, the regime has done little to reduce the high cost of tertiary education.

Labour’s education policy focuses on cushioning the cost of tertiary education particularly for students from poor and low income families. It also aims to review education policies to make it more relevant to the needs of the nation.

Labour’s Fee subsidy Scheme:  

Labour will introduce a fee-subsidy scheme for approved degree/diploma courses; with the possibility of it replacing the Student Loan Scheme that was introduced in 1999 by the Labour Government.

Labour will, meanwhile, review the Student Loan Scheme in light of rising costs of education, students who successfully complete their courses will have the loan repayment cut by 50 per cent.

Other Labour incentives:

• Labour will ensure that State scholarships are means-tested and fairly distributed among the various ethnic communities; priority will be given to disciplines relevant to the needs of national development

• Labour will continue with fee-free education but will also provide for a part of the money to be given directly to deserving parents to be used more flexibly in the overall education of their children.

• Labour will permit the school management to use the grant money for improving or upgrading its facilities without restricting its use, as is currently the practice.

• Labour will explore the possibility of our large, well-equipped schools to be accredited to recognised universities, both local and abroad, to reduce the high cost of university education

• Labour will reintroduce final examinations at all terminal classes and forms for progress to the next. The current curriculum which allows students to progress all the way up to Year 13 without having to pass final exams in each form, is the major contributing factor to the turnout of low quality high school graduates.

• Labour will review the national curriculum to determine its relevance to the modern needs of education and to improve the quality of learning

• Labour will introduce value-based education as a core subject in schools to inculcate a healthy respect for democracy, human rights, good governance, the rule of law, gender equity and social and economic justice

• Labour will introduce a quota system to encourage students to enrol for studies in a variety of disciplines instead of going for the popular academic courses

• Labour will invest in upgrading school infrastructure in both primary and secondary schools. The condition of class rooms and furniture are appalling in many schools, particularly those in rural areas.

It is Labour’s mission to ensure that every young person is guaranteed education or training until 18, with increased percentage going on to higher education or completing advanced apprenticeship or technician level training by the age of 25.

 The opinions expressed in this column are those of the Fiji Labour Party. They are published by the Fiji Sun to enhance free and open debate ahead of the general elections.

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