Opinion

Forging The Future Of Education

Modest amounts of education sees increases in income, health and gender equality, reduction in poverty, impacts on environment and tackling contemporary issues facing society. Governments in many countries recognise that
14 Nov 2014 07:48
Forging The Future Of Education
If the retention and completion of students in high school is 90 per cent, then one would assume that every child will be eligible to access university education.

Modest amounts of education sees increases in income, health and gender equality, reduction in poverty, impacts on environment and tackling contemporary issues facing society.

Governments in many countries recognise that education is the key to a successful economy, productivity, and addressing social challenges.

The Bainimarama-led government has implemented landmark policies which previous democratically elected governments have failed to deliver. There is nothing better than providing free education for children with no school fees and other costs related to purchase of books, stationery, travel cost, and other needs.

The support to innovate technology in schools is another significant development to ensure every child is computer literate before entering tertiary education or the workforce and addressing information poverty experienced in regional locations.

The government policies related to education is a significant relief for parents in regional communities who have in the past encouraged children to withdraw from schooling due to increased financial pressure to pay for travel, rising cost of text books and other demands.

A survey undertaken in a regional primary school a decade ago showed the lack of the ability of parents to provide decent quality food for their children in school.

The Government policy on education will have positive impacts on families, students, schools, and other stakeholders.

In developed countries such as Australia, United Kingdom and different parts of Europe, governments recognise the importance of education. However massive cuts have been announced with increased focus on rewarding outcomes using various educational quality measures.

In countries such as China, India, South Korea and other parts of Asia-Pacific region, increased investments are made in education at all levels due to the massive growth of human population.

In many developed countries government emphasis have been rewarding outcomes without increased focus on the means or input factors required such as resourcing (human and physical), infrastructure and other needs.

In recent years the Bainimarama led government has strengthened school accountability and governance followed by adequate resourcing with the view to innovate education at primary and secondary level.

The Government’s policy is truly aimed to widen the participation of students from all backgrounds with the view to ensure that every child has access to education at all levels irrespective of social class.

Such historic policy comes at a time when access to tertiary education in Fiji was limited for students from disadvantaged backgrounds due to their academic achievement in high school, and lack of ability for the parents to afford elite education for children.

While the government is genuinely committed to improve the life chances of individuals through education, significant work is required to innovate tertiary education. If the retention and completion of students in high school is 90 per cent, then one would assume that every child will be eligible to access university education.

I have in recent years argued that universities in Fiji need to develop innovative ways to admit students through alternative pathways rather than relying on high school achievement as the key indicator of student entry and success.

The lack of innovative and flexible ways to admit students would be inconsistent with government policy to increase the access and participation of students from all backgrounds.

If the students’ entry criteria are not innovative then many students, including those from rural schools, will always have limited access to elite courses such as medicine, law, dentistry and other disciplines which require high admission scores.

This is the case in institutions such as medical schools in Fiji where historically students from high socio-economic backgrounds have been admitted with lack of access and opportunity for first in family students to undertake elite courses.

In developed countries, significant progress has been made to develop inclusive models of admissions, curriculum and pedagogy, and support structures to assist less prepared students in tertiary education.

Studies have shown that students from disadvantaged backgrounds such as low socio-economic, first in family, and non-English speaking backgrounds who entered university through flexible entry either out-perform or have comparable results with their counterparts who entered university on the basis on high academic achievement in high schools.

The Bainimarama government’s policy would be effective and will add value if university admissions, curriculum, pedagogy, and support structures are inclusive and they are in line with government policy to increase access and success of all students in secondary education. Alignment of government and university policy will increase the participation and completion of citizens in tertiary education. The access of disadvantaged students to tertiary education will also improve the social mobility of individuals and it will undoubtedly improve the social and economic outcomes on individuals, families and society.

It is well known and also documented that the earning capacity of an individual is higher over a period of time based on higher qualifications.

As the Government implements reforms in education it is important to ensure that funding and resourcing improves educational outcomes and productivity.

The landmark policy requires some thought on important issues facing the education sector in Fiji including:

– Developing negotiated national and regional targets at primary, secondary and post-secondary education (using academic outcome and equity measures) with increased accountability on outcomes;

– Improving teaching quality in primary and secondary schools in an era where various national exams are eliminated;

– Improving the quality and standard of education which could be benchmarked together with cyclical quality assurance reviews;

– Rewarding teachers using teaching quality measures;

– Developing inclusive and flexible models of admissions and support structures in universities;

– Scholarships to focus on first in the family children to access university education;

– Increasing research outputs in universities- the key to innovation is through research and discovery which is significantly lacking in Fiji; and

– Ongoing monitoring against the targets, and rewarding outcomes.

The reforms in education require a major government commissioned review of primary, secondary and post-secondary education. Such a review was required more than two decades ago to innovate education and to ensure that our standards are comparable to those in neighbouring countries.

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