Education reforms an unmitigated disaster

December 17, 2015

Media Release

The Minister for Education has completely torn to shreds the true meaning and value of quality education which is a prerequisite for our younger generation to moulding them into successful and responsible citizens of our nation.

The latest in the long line of bungling by Minister Mahendra Reddy has been the claim that all Year 13 (Form 7) students have passed their external examination. A day later he gives another version by saying there wasn’t a 100% pass rate but that “none of the students failed”, and all students are eligible to enter University or various technical colleges.

For the first time in history, any person associated with education has re-defined the meaning of pass and failure. In this tragically historic case, it happens to be the Minister for Education who has created more chaos and confusion for parents, students and teachers.

The Minister must clarify what is the meaning of attainment and its relevance to the pass or failure of the students. He should not use qualification for tertiary education loans and scholarship for entry into university or technical colleges to confuse the people about pass and failure.

Furthermore, questions that we have asked previously remain unanswered. Were the examination papers for all external examinations wholly marked manually or electronically or both? Are all examination results final?

We are asking for clarification because of the chaos and confusion caused by the Minister’s misleading statements for the last month.

Firstly, Year 6 results were provisional.

The Minister wrongly blamed students for not correctly filling their Index Numbers. This added salt to injury to the students. Secondly, we have confirmation that some schools still haven’t received Year 10 results two weeks after they were released. We have sighted result sheets obtained by students from the Ministry of Education’s Examination and Assessment Unit which states it is “unofficial result notice”. Yet the Minister has been telling the nation the results are final.

To add to this confusion, the Ministry’s website has posted results for all external exam results in accordance with different education districts as provisional. This is nonsensical. The Minister must clarify what is the reality.

Thirdly, there is confusion surrounding the enrollment of Year 8 students into Year 9 due to late release of results when schools have already closed for holidays. The Ministry first advised all secondary schools to enroll Year 8 students based on their Annual Examination marks. Following the release of the results, the Minister directed schools to enroll students irrespective of their marks as per designated school zones.

We are surprised that despite bungling, incompetency and mismanagement of the education sector, the Minister continues to wrongly claim that the reforms are working.

The reforms in the education sector so far have been an unmitigated disaster.

Biman Prasad

Leader

Government should declare disaster in drought stricken areas

December 11, 2015

Media Release

Government must declare a Sate of Natural Disaster in the Western as well the Northern Divisions instead of waiting for the Fiji Meteorological Office make a technical assessment. This must also include Yasawa and Mamanuca Islands.

We already have a disaster on our hands. Government must accept this. The prolonged drought is having a debilitating effect on crops, livestock and has dried up wells, creeks as well as other water sources.

It is also clear that Government is unable to cart regular emergency water supplies to drought-affected areas. Reports in the media have well documented the plight of our citizens. On Thursday Government through the Commissioner Western said emergency water supply was only for cooking and drinking.

This means that personal hygiene of at least half of our population in these two Divisions is under severe threat. It also means that both people and livestock will have to scourge for water sources.

This is unacceptable.

In Parliament during debate on the 2016 Budget on 18th November, the NFP’s motion to increase allocation for disaster rehabilitation from $1 million to $10 million was defeated by the Fiji First Government which simply used its numerical superiority to ensure any Opposition Motion no matter how meritorious and of national importance would not be approved.

Even the Minister for Agriculture and National Disaster Management spoke against the NFP’s Motion using technicalities of classification of a drought and disaster saying any declaration would be by the Fiji Meteorological Office. This is nonsense.

Having voted against the Motion the Attorney General and Minister for Finance, following his tour of the Western Division told Fiji Village News on 2nd December that residents of Kavanagasau were drinking water from wells that had frogs in them. This alone should urge Government into action.

The immediate priority now is regular emergency water supply, not delivery of water every week, and that to only two 44-gallon drums of water. Every State resource has to be harnessed to ensure timely delivery of adequate water supply to our stricken people so that they are able to use it not only for cooking and drinking, but washing, bathing, cleaning and feeding livestock.

The next priority should be to draw up and implement a Crop Rehabilitation Programme for our sugarcane and agricultural farmers so that they are able to salvage and at the same time rehabilitate crops and livestock.

This is not a time for political posturing. Our people are suffering and his is the painful reality.

The ball is in Government’s court.

Biman Prasad

Leader

AG subverting parliamentary democracy

AG SUBVERTING PARLIAMENTARY DEMOCRACY – HON LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION CALLS FOR THE RESIGNATION OF THE AG

The Leader calls on the Attorney General to resign as he has subverted (again) the role and powers of the Speaker of Parliament and parliamentary democracy by ordering the Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence to stop looking into allegations of torture raised by lawyer Aman Ravindra Singh in the foreign media.

The Committee was meeting for the 2nd day today in Parliament following a letter from Committee Member and Opposition Parliamentarian Honourable Roko Tupou Draunidalo.

Committee Chairman Honourable Colonel Netani Rika decided to bring the meeting to an abrupt end before midday today. He told the Members that the Attorney General had called him to stop the meeting saying the Committee did not have parliamentary authority or approval to meet and furthermore that Aman Ravindra Singh had not filed a complaint with police regarding the torture allegations.

Both Opposition Members on the Committee Hon. Draunidalo and Hon Ratu Isoa Tikoca opposed this premature termination of the meeting informing Colonel Rika that the meeting was taking place under the authority of the Speaker who is the overall and sole authority of Parliament – not the Attorney General or any other Member of the Executive which is the Government.

The bipartisan committee adjourned their meeting and the Opposition Members asked the Chairman for clarification and direction from the Speaker and Secretary General to parliament.

Through his interference, the Attorney General has again, undermined the neutrality and independence of the Office of the Speaker to make decisions independently based on the sole premise of upholding parliamentary democracy.

In anything, the Attorney General should have (like any other member of the public), appeared before the Committee and made his submissions. This would have been the lawful and logical step.

This is a extremely dangerous action. Already at the beginning of this year, the Attorney General wrote to the Secretary-General of Parliament directing her to change the parliamentary office funding and resourcing formula. This matter could not be raised in Parliament after the Speaker ruled the contents of the letter were confidential in accordance with 44(12) of the Standing Orders.

And now the AG has gone a step further and through the Fiji First Committee Chairman stopped proceedings of a parliamentary committee mandated by the Speaker to meet – to look into serious allegations (torture of citizens and taxpayers).

This action by the Attorney General must be seen as a further step towards erosion of any semblance of parliamentary democracy in the New Year.

The Hon. Ratu Isoa has already tendered in parliament evidence of corruption against the Attorney General. He has interfered with the judiciary, FICAC, PAC and now a parliamentary committee.

The Leader of the Opposition calls on the Attorney General to tender his resignation.

Allegations of torture raised by Hon. Tupou Draunidalo: – basis on which Parliamentary Committee met

OPPOSITION CHAMBERS

Republic of Fiji

December 7, 2015

Colonel Netani Rika

The Chairman

Parliamentary Standing Committee

Defence & Foreign Affairs

Government Buildings

Suva

Dear Sir

Continuing allegations of torture and unlawful detention by security forces personnel

I am very concerned to read and hear of these allegations in the foreign media. Please find the latest complaint by a lawyer, Mr. Aman Ravindra Singh at the following internet link: www.radionz.co.nz/international/programmes/datelinepacific/audio/201781504/fiji-sedition-lawyer-lives-in-fear-after-torture

In addition, the abrupt departure of the former Commissioner of Police and his swift replacement by a military officer who also stands accused of having tortured civilians after the 2006 coup (Lt. Colonel Qiliho) – leaves much to be desired with regard to the issue of ‘separation of powers’ under the 2013 Constitution.

That was done not long after the equally swift and unsatisfactorily explained departure of the former commander of the military forces.

These matters are central to our committee’s oversight functions, duties and powers.

I therefore request that you call our committee to meet as soon as possible to look into these matters.

Such exercise will also go a long way to showing and encouraging ‘parliamentary transparency, good governance and constitutionalism’ – to the relevant institutions and the tax paying public.

I have copied this letter to the relevant offices and look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Hon Roko Tupou Draunidalo

Member – Defence & Foreign Affairs

Parliamentary Standing Committee

Encl: RNZI News Transcript

cc. 1. The Speaker of the Parliament of Fiji

2. The Office of the Prime Minister

3. The Attorney General’s Chambers

4. The Acting Commissioner of Fiji Police Force

5. The Acting Commander of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces

6. The Secretary General, United Nations (Peacekeeping)

PARLIAMENT HOUSE

Level 2, Government Buildings, SUVA

Tel: (679) 322 5657

 

RNZI News Transcript

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Education System

ADDRESS AT VOTUALEVU PUBLIC PRIMARY SCHOOL ANNUAL PRIZE GIVING CEREMONY THURSDAY NOVEMBER 26, 2015 BY NFP WHIP HONOURABLE PREM SINGH.

The Head Teacher, Staff & Students, Parents, invited guests and MANAGEMENT OF THE VOTUALEVU PUBLIC SCHOOL.
This is indeed a humbling moment for me. Humbling in the sense that it is with profound gratitude that I stand before you as a chief guest in an institution that has shaped the lives of thousands of people. I am sure the lessons that they learnt at this proud institution laid the foundation for their future. As I put together some thoughts to share with you, I found myself reflecting on my own school days. I must confess however I was not a student of this school but like any other primary institution in those days Votalevu Public has been an important institution in Nadi. Many recollections came flooding back. I remembered my teachings from primary school. I recalled the high calibre of the strict teachers that we had. I thought about the words of wisdom and advice that they imparted. The lessons that I learnt in school certainly helped me during my secondary school days and also during my career as a politician.
I am sure that the class 8 students ho will farewell Votualevu Public Primary will also use the lessons that they learnt at this great school to succeed in future. I know most of you will use the words of wisdom of your teachers to achieve excellence during your secondary school years. While this evening is all about rewarding the students for achieving academic excellence, one easily forgets about the role of teachers in shaping the lives of our students. I know that teachers each year are recognised during World Teachers Day but their roles and responsibilities in a classroom, in the community and in the larger society are often forgotten.
Allow me to focus on teachers and their role. From ancient times when the process of teaching and learning began, our scriptures and history testifies that the heart and mind of the teacher and the student are linked in the process of education. Teachers have different roles in our society. At home, parents just control their children. In school, a teacher has to look after as many as 50 students. Children spend at most 16 hours at home out of which they sleep for at least 8 hours, study for about 2 hours and the rest of the six is spent either watching television, working on the farm, assisting in the kitchen or laundry and nowadays very little and in many cases no time is left to be spent with parents.
In contrast, the same student spends at least six full hours out of the eight at school with his or her teachers. In this context, a teacher is a very important person in the life of a student. Six hours a day and five days a week adds up to thirty hours a week –that is the time teachers and students stay together . Such acquaintance of two human beings- one a learned scholar imparting knowledge and the other a curious student emerging from the darkness of ignorance is not an easy company.
The life of teaching and learning is full of curiosity as each day the teacher unveils a new secret in form of lessons highlighting facts and figures, illustrating via theories, stories and practical. It is full of amazement, enjoyment, enthusiasm and struggle as they chart their course to reach a stage where the teacher announces that the student has now reached a stage where he or she has learned enough and now it becomes the sacred duty of the student to use that knowledge for welfare of all the beings. In this long and important process, where parents and guardians in a way leave their children at the disposal of the teacher, it speaks volumes about the faith, trust and respect that the society has for teachers.
Of late, some sad, unfortunate and immoral incidents have led to the serious decline or loss of faith, trust and respect. I know this does not apply to Votualevu Public, but other schools in the country. Those teachers involved in such inhumane acts have and will be punished bringing disrepute to such a noble profession. But it does not mean that due to a few rotten potatoes, the whole bag is rotten. In the same way the vast majority of our teachers should not be painted with the same brush because they are indeed hardworking, sincere and dedicated to their noble profession of teaching. I salute the teachers of Votualevu Public Primary and Secondary Schools the tremendous work they have done over the many decades to help shape the lives of our students. You are a beacon of hope and symbols of knowledge and strength. I also request the society at large including the parents and guardians of students at the school to understand that teaching is a very difficult profession.
Teaching is like walking on a tightrope. It is an extremely fine balancing exercise. It is about sharing their time and energy with students whose level of intelligence is not the same. Naturally there will be academically bright students, average students and poor students. There will also be students whose parents struggle to send them to school because of the current difficult times caused by rising cost of living. Therefore a teacher has to consider all these aspects before deciding what is exactly required of him or her to deliver quality learning to students. And then teachers are also under pressure because the same economic conditions that affect students also affect teachers.
Since December 2006, they have had to adjust to a climate of uncertainty. They have had to suffer pay cuts with no indication of full recovery or restoration of the salaries. This has been restored with some increments but there is still disparity in the salary structure of teachers. And most importantly, most of or teachers themselves are also parents whose children also attend primary and secondary schools. Therefore teachers are also human beings who are affected by the pressures in life just like many parents are. Of course this does not give them the right to neglect their students or break any laws, just as parents unhappy about their children’s performance at school do not have the right to take law into their own hands by venting their frustration and anger against teachers.
However, I am pleased here at Votualevu the overall relationship between teachers, students and parents in our community has been remarkably strong and healthy. All three parties have played their part and continue to play a vital role in enhancing their partnership.
To our teachers, parents & guardians and students: What I am going to say now may not be acceptable to some but it is the truth. I believe that as responsible citizens, we should be concerned abort what is going around us because failure to do so will mean a bleak future for or present and future generations. The painful reality is that we do not know what the future holds for us as we wake up each morning. Each day is like buying time but it is also escalating or misery and suffering. We all may appear to be full of joy and happiness but are we genuinely happy? Are we certain about what the future holds for us and our children? Are we sure that tomorrow’s sunrise will bring us a brighter day full of hope and not doom and gloom? Unfortunately, the answer to the above questions is – NO WE ARE NOT SURE ABOUT WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS FOR US AS A COMMUNITY AND COUNTRY.
In the Education Sector for example, 2015 has been riddled with problems. We may have tuition-free education, free milk, free text books, bus fare subsidy which has been now reduced, and so called free water and electricity subsidy. But the fact remains that this year has been the most controversial in the education sector. We have had delays to examination results. Year Six students finally received results this week after the so-called provisional results were released which were full of errors and quickly recalled. And the Education Minister had the cheek to blame students for not filling correct index numbers for the mess caused by his own policies! Till now we have not been told whether the marking was done manually or electronically or both. And Year 8 results have been delayed. Year 8 students who before knew by now which secondary school they have enrolled in, have to undergo psychological trauma from this delay. This is unacceptable.
Then we have teachers on contracts. The contracts are renewed at the discretion of Government. And if they are not renewed, a teacher cannot challenge the decision. I have cited a contract and it stipulated amongst other things that a teacher has to retire at the age of 55 as stipulated by the State Services Decree. This contract was signed in December last year when we were already more than two months into parliamentary democracy.
The State Services Decree was repealed by the 2013 Constitution. This is illegal. Why are provisions of a repealed Decree being used to enact retirement age for teachers and other civil servants? I believe the time has come for all of us to stand up and be counted. We should no longer allow ourselves to be fooled by anyone who makes false promises and gives us pie-in- the-sky ideas to resolve our problems. We must start learning to differentiate the truth from lies – just like the knowledge that the students get from the teachers. We have to start to compare issues with reality, to make informed decisions with a clear frame of mind instead of letting emotions dictate your conscience. This is the greatest challenge facing all of us today and together we have to overcome this challenge for the sake of our children and future generations.
Vinaka Vakalevu, Dhanyavaad & may God bless our teachers and students.