Analysis: How We Can Improve iTaukei Education

In 2014, a parent asked if minimum qualifying standards could be lowered for iTaukei students. The person, a mother, said this would help more iTaukei pass their examinations and make
22 Aug 2018 10:16
Analysis: How We Can Improve iTaukei Education

In 2014, a parent asked if minimum qualifying standards could be lowered for iTaukei students.

The person, a mother, said this would help more iTaukei pass their examinations and make the entry level to higher education.

She said this would help bridge the gap between iTaukei who are lagging behind and other races in education.

She was speaking at a political meeting in Sawani, Naitasiri, in the run-up to the general election.

One of the politicians present spoke with passion in response.

He said it was an insult to suggest that iTaukei were inferior and incapable of achieving the same standards as other races.

He said he started like everyone else in his village in Naitasiri, but he worked hard, passed his examinations, went to Australia for his Masters degree and passed.

He said some of his student friends, whose first language was English, failed. He said if he was able to do it, he could see no reason why others could not succeed.

The mother’s request must have been discussed in her community about a quick-fix solution to lift iTaukei education.

She was looking for some form of preferential system or Affirmative Action to increase the number of iTaukei going into higher education.

It is a sad indictment on the mentality of some of our people who are products of systems and the environment we create for them such as the Affirmative Action as advocated by SODELPA campaigner Jale Baba.

When people want standards to be lowered it should be cause for worry.

What we should, in fact be doing, is to empower our people to strive for excellence. We do not have to bring in the elements of race, religion or socio-economic status.

We give everybody a fair go and I am certain that we can make a difference irrespective of where we live provided we put in the required efforts.

In 2015, under-resourced Cicia High School, at one of the far-flung islands of the Lau Group, surprised many people when it scored a pass rate of 100 per cent in the Fiji School Leaving Certificate Examination (Year 12) and a 96.4 per cent pass rate in Year 13 Examination.

It was one of only two schools to achieve the 100 per cent pass. The other school was Queen Victoria School.

QVS has much better facilities and more resources.

So what made the difference for Cicia High School?

The then principal, Sikeli Karikaritu, said: “Cicia High is different from the rest of the schools in Fiji. We do not have good resources like every other school.

“The furniture in the school is all nailed together by our students and we utilised whatever natural resources we had in the school.”

When we listen to the rest of his account we find that Cicia succeeded through:

ν A plan and a commitment to implement it;

ν Treating it as top priority. That means it took precedence over other considerations; and

ν Hard work, sacrifice and perseverance

That experience alone would have changed the mindset in Cicia.

Self-belief has replaced the low self-esteem and Cicia has shown that no matter what our personal circumstances are we can achieve and succeed.

That’s the kind of mentality that we should inculcate in our people. Our mindset is shaped by our culture and environment

To change it we need to change the way we do things, prioritising what’s important.

If education is important, that should be at the top of the list. It takes precedence over cultural obligations and practices.

In the iTaukei culture, this can be a huge challenge. Cultural sensitivity usually influences how people act. Spending on education whether it’s books and stationery can be put on hold to fulfill a cultural or community ceremony or obligation.

It is done to avoid criticisms from members of the family or mataqali (clan). Often there is no consideration of the financial situation of individual families when contributions are called for. Some borrow money and go into debt to fulfill their cultural obligations.

No one is forced and it is a personal choice. This is why over the years iTaukei cultural practices have evolved. Some aspects have been modified to suit modern-day needs and realities.

There is a realisation that iTaukei cannot afford to carry on with some of the old practices because they hinder their progress.

This is especially true in education.

If iTaukei are serious about education then they must make the necessary adjustments.

There will be challenges at first, but over time their mindset will change when people see real improvement that is sustainable in the long term.

Education is not all about tertiary. It begins when children are born – how they are raised at home by loving parents who spend prime time to teach them and create the environment that is conducive to learning.

It sets the platform for pre-school, primary, secondary and tertiary education. When children learn early that education is important for their future they will not skip classes or play truant.

They will go through peer pressure and other distractions. But parental guidance and support are essential otherwise some children will succumb to outside pressures, lose their focus and fall away.

For the iTaukei, many live in communal settings in villages and settlements. Children who are raised there need community help which requires the collaborative support of the stakeholders.

In this case, they include the Vanua, village elders, the turaga-ni-koro (village headmen), yavusa (tribe), mataqali (clan), religious leaders, families, parents and teachers.

They must be on the same page.

They must commit to agree that they would not do anything to undermine the children’s education in their decisions and activities.

When this happens, standards will improve. Students will score higher marks in their exams. They will prepare well for tertiary education. Education does not only mean university. It includes all types of learning and training to acquire skills and qualifications to make students marketable in their job search.

We must develop a new culture of learning – not preferential treatment or Affirmative Action based on race or religion – based on equality, merit and hard work.


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