November 9, 2016
The Minister for Education is behaving like a dictator by giving ultimatum to schools to enroll students in accordance with his ill-conceived zoning policy for students attending primary and secondary schools in the country.
In a circular to School Head Teachers and Principals, the Minister has directed them to enroll students in accordance with his zoning policy by this Friday (11 th November). The circular is as confusing and illogical as the Minister’s education policies. He wants zoning to be enforced but at the same time provides exceptions contrary to his zoning policy. Why then have such a policy?
The Minister says new enrolments must be in accordance with his zoning policy. Then he says existing students already enrolled outside the zone or locality are not affected. This is nonsensical.
Section 31 of the 2013 Constitution that the Education Minister is vociferously promoting, has no limitations whatsoever as far as the right to education is concerned.
This is especially in respect of students who are already enrolled in schools outside of their so called zones. The circular by the Minister states that all students enrolled from another zone will not be eligible for bus fare coupons.
Section 31(5) clearly stipulates that Government must justify it does not have the resources to apply this right if it claims it does not have the resources. This contradicts his earlier statements that all students are entitled for free bus fares.
Nowhere does the Constitution state that Government can withhold resources and deny a child the right to education.
Most importantly, the freedom to choose schools and access to quality education is a fundamental right of parents and students in accordance with the Education Act, and not the Minister’s dictatorial zoning policy. This right is being duly recognised by school heads. For example the 5 th , 6 th and 7 th Forms of Labasa College were established to cater for students from throughout Vanua Levu, not just the locality within the College.
Government as well as the Education Minister must remember that less than 1% of schools are owned and administered by Government. More than 99% of schools in Fiji are community owned – either by local communities, religious and cultural organisations.
An example of such a school is the Jai Narayan College in Suva (famously known as Indian College). It was formed by the Indian Association of Fiji. It is now regarded as one of the most reputable schools in the country and its student roll is genuinely multiracial.
Parents prefer their children to attend this College. Even the Minister knows this. Why enforce a zoning policy to deny children their right to attend a school of their choice based on reputation, facilities, religious and cultural considerations?
For the sake of choice of quality education for our students, the zoning policy must be withdrawn immediately. And we call upon all school managements not to enforce this policy because it is unconstitutional and breaches the right of students on the freedom to choice an educational institution.
We reiterate that for the sake of our education sector and access to quality education for our students, the Prime Minister must accept our proposal for an Education Commission together with a parliamentary inquiry into the Education Ministry.
Authorised by : Professor Biman Prasad, NFP Leader