Fiji’s independence in 1970 saw the ushering in of a new era. One filled with hope and glory. With the hope and glory accompanied developments which to some extent define the state of our education today. If we did a stock take of the first decade of our independence, we would feel very satisfied with the speed of developments in this country, including the development of infrastructure for health and education.
Economically we were on a growth trajectory which would have delivered significant prosperity for all the people of this country. In fact in the first decade of independence we were better than some of the now well developed and prosperous upper-middle income economies. One such comparison is often made with Mauritius.
Around 1986, Fiji was better or the same as Mauritius on a number of development indicators. Mauritius grew on average of more than 5% for more than 25 years. As a result, it has today some of the best indicators of development. For example, about 87 percent of Mauritians households own homes, there is free education to all from pre-school to the University, and free health services including heart surgery for every citizen.
There are a number of explanations offered for this kind of success: good and consistent economic policies, political stability and no coups because there is no military in Mauritius, and robust Mauritian democracy that has allowed the flourishing of talents, entrepreneurship and creativity based on an identity of excellence. Mauritius is a multi-religious, multicultural and multi-lingual society so it has much in common with Fiji.
Our country, as a result of the coups, continues to languish economically. We lost the confidence, trust and goodwill of our citizens and many have left to settle elsewhere. The trend has not reversed and more qualified Fiji citizens of all races will continue to leave the country. In fact, we can say that in the last 25 years, Fiji has been gutted of talents, creativity and innovation and along with this, huge amounts of savings and capital.
Unless this trend of declining confidence in the country is reversed we are likely to continue to suffer economically. If, however, we do reverse this trend, Fiji can bounce back very quickly. This would be helped if our education system continues to nurture and promote creativity and innovation. It is creativity and innovation in our economy that will help us to grow, create employment for our youths and help reduce poverty. Economic prosperity is vital for stability and social cohesion in Fiji.
Arguing for creativity and innovation Prasad suggests three ways Fiji can help pick itself up: a national education policy, change of direction in curriculum for primary and secondary schools and the regime revisiting the decision for people to retire at 55:
In addition, as country we need to review the terms and conditions of our teachers so that we can further incentivize and motivate our teachers to give the best and also to attract the best in the profession.
|FICTU leader Attar Singh|
|FTUC leader Felix Anthony|
In this respect, the government needs to immediately remove the Public Order Amendment Act, the media decree and the decree giving media privilege to the cabinet ministers and the Essential National Industries (ENI) decree. If we want a creative and innovative Constitution for Fiji, we need to free up the people so that they can participate without fear.
I want to urge the union movement in Fiji, that is; FICTU and FTUC to unite. The union movement should always be at the forefront to support democracy and human rights as that is in the best interest of their members. Today the union movement in Fiji stands divided and in disarray.
The unification of FTUC and FICTU must come about by ensuring that a united trade union movement is not aligned to any particular political party. The FTA and FTU could play a pivotal role in unifying the trade union movement. I encourage you to do that that. In fact, both FTU and FTA should seriously explore the possibility of uniting and forming one national ‘Teachers Union”.
Prasad's full speech