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.