Opinion

PM Appeals For Teamwork In Education Sector

The following is Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s speech, opening the 21st Annual Conference Of The Fiji Head Teachers Association in Labasa on Thursday   The honourable Minister for Education, the
02 Sep 2016 10:05
PM Appeals For Teamwork In Education Sector
Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama gives his statement in Istanbul, Turkey, yesterday.

The following is Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s speech, opening the 21st Annual Conference Of The Fiji Head Teachers Association in Labasa on Thursday

 

The honourable Minister for Education, the president of the Fiji Head Teachers Association and other office holders, Our Head Teachers from throughout Fiji. Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.

I regard our head teachers as being in the ranks of the most important people in Fiji.

You are leaders and role models in our communities and a source of inspiration for our young people. And you are in the front line of the most important national movement in Fiji – the education revolution that underpins our ambition to transform our beloved country into a modern nation-state.

 

Important roles

I cannot emphasise enough how important you are to that collective effort. So I’m delighted to be here with you in Labasa today to open your 21st annual conference. And to convey the nation’s thanks for the job you are doing to lead our young people to a better future and build the new Fiji.

As I keep saying in the wake of our Rugby Sevens victory in Rio and the thrill it has given every Fijian: This is a golden age for Fiji. Never before have we been so united and so proud. So we must ride that wave of euphoria – tap that spirit of intense national pride – and redouble our efforts to create a better nation. A fairer nation. Because an opportunity like this comes along very rarely in any person’s lifetime. And we must seize this moment and harness the spirit of our people to take Fiji to the next level.

Head teachers, you are critical to this effort. The way you lead your schools and inspire our young people will determine how far we can take our nation in the shortest possible time. Our young people are our future. On their shoulders rests the future of Fiji. And you are the mentors who can show them the way. The educators holding up the lantern of knowledge to light up the path ahead. For them and for Fiji.

Government’s broad vision

Let me briefly restate the Government’s broad vision that I laid out in my speech in Suva last Monday week welcoming back our Olympic Gold medallists. We intend to transform ourselves – through our education revolution and by reaching out to the world – into a small modern nation-state that rank corners of the earth. To send our men and women peacekeepers to protect ordinary people who are less fortunate than us in areas of conflict. To lead the fight on climate change. And much of this will be done in the coming years by the boys and girls who are in your schools and who you are moulding into adulthood.

As I also said on that wonderful day in our capital and again here in Labasa last Friday: We can only achieve this vision, if we display the same teamwork that our boys displayed on the field in Rio. Team Fiji – every Fijian – working together with their eyes focussed on greatness.

 

The importance of teamwork

And so today, I want to make an appeal for teamwork in our education sector. For all our stakeholders to work together in a more co-operative and collaborative fashion for our children’s sake and for our nation’s sake.

I especially want to appeal to the unions in our education sector to embrace teamwork and co-operation and to join with Government in creating the best possible outcome for our schools and our children’s future.

Unlike previous governments, we are committed to looking after the interests of every Fijian – whether they are employers or workers. And our record speaks for itself. We changed the employment laws to make them fairer. We not only introduced and increased our national minimum wage for unskilled workers, but have also overseen increases in wages in the eight different Wages Council in which the minimum wage is more than the national minimum wage for unskilled workers. So we are also committed to improving the terms and conditions of employment of all Fijian workers.

By any fair appraisal, we have also changed the paradigm of employer-employee relations in Fiji. Previous governments were seen as being either pro-employer or pro-worker. If you were regarded as pro-employer, it was automatically assumed that you were anti-worker. If you were regarded as pro-worker, it was automatically assumed that you were anti-employer. But my Government has shown that you can look after everyone’s interest at the same time. The interests of the boss or the employer and the worker or the employee.

 

Assessment by international experts

Indeed we are the only Government that is carrying out a comprehensive assessment of each and every ministry by international experts. This assessment also includes a study of salaries made in the civil service in comparison to the private sector. While this assessment is ongoing, we have already seen changes in structures and remuneration rates in different ministries. We are fervently committed to merit based appointments, paying market rates and very importantly, rewarding high performers.

 

Education unions

To the education unions I especially want to say that your people are our people. We share a common cause in wanting to put their interests first. I have always governed for every Fijian, not sectional interests, and insist on putting the interests of every Fijian first.

Unfortunately, some trade unions and trade unionists are not approaching things in the same spirit. They have not caught on to the concept of looking after everyone’s interest at the same time. They are driven by the divisive approach of the past. They are locked in the mind-set of the past. The “them and us” attitude that has held Fiji back and that we must leave behind if we are to move forward together and achieve our full potential.

 

The modern Fiji

This is modern-day Fiji. We are in the 21st century. And the mind-set of everyone has to be attuned to modern conditions, which call for co-operation and collaboration, not class warfare or the insistence on practices that have no place in a modern democracy or a modern industrial relations framework.

It is neither reasonable nor acceptable in modern day Fiji for unions in the education sector to insist on deciding who gets appointed to a particular school or where someone gets transferred. It is neither reasonable nor acceptable for them to determine who gets paid what level of salary. And it is neither reasonable nor acceptable for unions to insist that they will determine the curriculum – what is taught in our schools.

Those days are over and for good reason. Because a modern nation needs to use the services of experts and specialists within country and or to reach out to the world at large and get the best advice it can on what our children should be taught from the best minds available. Experts who specialise in curriculum development and other areas and can help us improve our performance. Not a union leader who may once have been a teacher but isn’t a specialist. And in some cases, they don’t have any expertise at all.

These people don’t seem to realise that times have changed. The old ways of doing things in Fiji are no longer the best ways and, indeed, are holding our education system back. Holding our children back.

So we are working with our international partners to modernise our approach to education by accessing some of the best minds we can find outside Fiji. While at the same time, boosting our resources in the system and doing everything we can to make your jobs as head teachers easier.

 

Improving teacher-student ratio

In the past two years alone, we have added an extra 686 teachers to the nation’s classrooms. 297 new teachers this year. 389 last year. More jobs for teachers. An improvement in teacher-student ratios, so that our children get more individual attention in the classroom as well as better facilities. And the improved teacher student ratio makes your jobs as head teachers easier and improves your ability to deliver services. I must also add that a number of these new teachers who were recruited were unemployed for a number of years and it is through our recruitment drive that they are now gainfully employed. They are also now earning the salaries due to teachers.

 

Walking the talk

So this Government is walking the talk. And we don’t need lectures from those who are placing their own narrow sectional interests before the interests of our education system and the interests of Fijian young people.

Having said that, I have instructed my ministers in all sectors to work with union representatives in a cooperative manner and in a spirit of goodwill. Let us all join hands and work to resolve our differences not in an acrimonious way, but in the new spirit that has taken hold in Fiji moreso now, since the Olympics. We owe it to the Fijian people to do so. And we especially owe it to our young people, who expect the adults in Fijian society to work together for their benefit to give them the best possible start in life and the best possible chance of success.

Head teachers, ladies and gentlemen. Yours is a noble profession, perhaps the most noble of all. For in your hands is the performance of our schools and the welfare of our young people. When you set standards of behaviour and of learning there, you set them for the whole community. When you work co-operatively with parents and your communities, you set the tone for those communities. Because especially in developing countries such as Fiji, our schools are symbols of hope and prosperity. They are places where ambitions are realised. Where dreams come true.

 

Proudest achievement

I have always said that introducing free schooling and our merit based scholarships system and tertiary education loan scheme is my proudest achievement as Prime Minister. Because I am convinced that it was the greatest single act in Fijian history in transforming the lives of ordinary people. Of ending the heartbreak of countless generations of Fijians who were too poor to give their children a proper education. Of empowering even the most disadvantaged child and giving them the opportunity to fulfil their dreams. And to have a stake in the collective dream we all have for the nation we love so much.

Head teachers, it is a great privilege for me as Prime Minister to be on the same team as all of you in working for the benefit of our young people. I wish you well in your deliberations and look forward to meeting as many of you as possible.

Vinaka vakalevu, thank you.

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