MINISTER ROSY AND ASHWIN RAJ SHOW ARROGANCE AND SHALLOW UNDERSTANDING IN RESPONSE TO ARCHBISHOP LOY CHONG'S REQUEST
MINISTER FOR EDUCATION LACKS UNDERSTANDING AND SENSITIVITY
OF THE CONTRIBUTION OF RELIGIOUS ORGANISATIONS TO EDUCATION AND NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT IN FIJI
16 January 2019
The following statement was issued today by Sitiveni Rabuka, the Leader of Opposition & Party Leader of the Social Democratic Liberal Party.
I am disappointed by the refusal of the Minister of Education to consider the request from the Head of the Catholic Church in Fiji Archbishop Peter Loy Chong for dialogue on the appointment of school-heads for faith based schools.
Archbishop Peter Loy Chong with children of Tamavua Parish at their confirmation
Hon. Akbar has been supported by misguided commentary from the Director of Human Rights. The actions and pronouncements of Hon. Akbar and Ashwin Raj show their arrogance and shallow understanding of the education system in Fiji.
The request by Archbishop Loy Chong for dialogue and consultation with the government to reconsider its decision on the open merit in the recruitment of head of schools is a genuine one which needs to be addressed with sensitivity and in good faith.
Archbishop Loy Chong and Minister Rosy Akbar
The request is nothing to do with human rights or discrimination against any person. It is a matter of principle and genuine occupational requirement given the nature of these schools, which are faith based.
The current Minister of Education under the Bainimarama Regime, should learn from history and appreciate backgrounds and origin of education in Fiji. Most importantly, she should realise that 95% of the schools in Fiji are not owned by government, but rather, are built and operated by different civil society organizations, including religious bodies. Majority of the schools in Fiji are owned and operated by different religious bodies including the Christian faith, Hinduism, Muslims and other faith based groups.
As a former student of Xavier College, and given both the PM and learned AG are also products of Catholic schools, Hon. Akbar ought to know better.
Personal ego should not override national interest.
These schools have produced many national leaders and citizens who have contributed to national development, wherever they serve - in homes, in communities, civil society, corporate sector, in all levels of Government, and in international and regional fora.
St. Thomas High School, Lautoka, also owned by the Catholic Church
In January 2013, after consultationswith St.Thomas School Board Members and His Grace Archbishop Peter Mataca and Catholic Education of Fiji, St. Thomas High School was entrusted to the Montfort Brothers of St.Gabriel Bro Sahayaraj, took over as the first Principal for the academic year 2013.
The Catholic Church through its missionaries together with the Methodist missionaries introduced formal education to Fiji as an integral part of their mission.
Successive governments since independence have had a mutually productive, cooperative and cordial relationship with religious bodies running educational institutions through dialogue, mutual respect and understanding. This is one of the main reason why education in Fiji has been very successful, and Fiji had one of the highest literacy rates in the world as a result.
8 QVS and nine St John's College students studied at Marist Brothers High School following the severe damage St John's and QVS suffered when Cyclone Winston hit the country in 2016.
The marginalization of faith based institution started when government removed ethnicity from names of schools.
The regime meddled further during the interim period after 2006 when it removed external examinations from schools for a few years - this misguided action had a far more detrimental and far-reaching effect on students, families, and communities, than having schools with ethnic based names, or school heads of the same faith being appointed to head particular faith-based schools, ever will.
Like the rest of Fiji, faith-based organisations were also oppressed by the Public Emergency Regulations and the Public Order Decrees - annual religious conventions were banned, even weekly prayer meetings for Methodists, Hindus, Catholics required meeting permits from the Police during those dark days.
Unfortunately the oppression and discrimination for religious bodies and civil society in Fiji is not over, given this latest saga.
Communities who built their own schools and named the school based on ethnicity to show pride and achievement because they value the importance of education in their own respective communities. Such initiative within the community created a sense of unity, inclusiveness and self-sufficiency.
Marist Brothers High School students in a jubilant mood during the Marist Brothers bicentennial celebrations in Suva (Source)
This incident should be a wake-up call for the Bainimarama government to be sensitive to the role of religious bodies, civil society and non profit organizations in the development of education in Fiji.
The Government cannot provide all services, including education, for our growing population.
The Ministry of Education must work with, and dialogue with religious bodies who own faith-based schools, with a view to a win-win result.
Education, for the good of our future generations, is the key to our national development. It is not a zero-sum game where winner takes all, as the FFP like to “win” every battle it picks. No-man is an island, we must all work together for the good of our children.
The dismal state of our education sector demands a bipartisan approach. SODELPA recommends a National Education Commission to conduct a holistic review and listen to all stakeholders on the best way forward for our education system taking into account the demand and dynamics of the labour market.
I hope and pray that the government should take a more consultative approach and engage in robust dialogue approach in addressing all issues of national interest and those that affects the daily lives of the people of Fiji.
- ENDS -
Hon. S. L. Rabuka
Leader of Opposition & Party Leader, SODELPA