Dr Helen Tavola identified three (3) areas as fundamental to the development of secondary school education in Fiji. Namely the Policy variables, teachers education and the government’s Grant-in-school fee subsidy. The three areas formed the basis of the research work. We take a closer look at teachers education in this review.
(Note: This paper was an assignment for a postgraduate study at the Pacific Adventist University. It is an independent review of Mrs Helen Tavola’s work on secondary education in Fiji. The work was adapted for easy reading on PNG Insight. It is part of the collection of the writer’s work on Education and Development in PNG)
Ministry of Education Fiji
Mrs Tavola carried out the fieldwork in 11 schools in different geographic areas in Fiji and among wide ethnic composition. One of the social issues that stood out was the disparity in ethnicity and population of children in schools in the colonial eras; as well as before and after Fiji’s independence in 1970.
It was ominous that Helen’s attempted to address the issues of a racial divide among the different ethnic groups and their social (and economic) standings in Fiji societies. Identifiably, the Native Fijians concentrated more on subsistence and rural agriculture in the early years of Fiji’s development. Going to school was not a priority.
In retrospect, the other ethnicities view education as a way to liberate themselves and encouraged their children to actively seek further education. This resulted in a disparity in the level of education and qualification. The Native Fijians are generally less educated than the other Fiji ethnicities.
(Dr Helen Tavola’s book is available on Amazon’s online bookstore and can be ordered in the US, Canada, UK and Australia)
Quality of secondary school education
In her doctoral dissertation titled Secondary Education in Fiji – Key to the Future, Helen Tavola used her teaching experience and research work in 11 schools in Fiji to identify challenges in achieving quality Secondary Education in Fiji.
Her work was published in 1991 by the University of South Pacific. The work predominantly centred on the social, economic, political, cultural and religious dimensions of the three different ethnic groups – Native Fijians, Fijian Indians and Chinese Fijians. It was perceived that continuous education and developments in a changing Fiji’s society are fundamental.
Fiji’s education system was (and is) funded predominantly by the Grant-in-aid education policy created in 1916. The government pays teacher’s salaries, establish curriculum and provides school materials. Schools are run independently by the churches or local communities with little government interventions in decision makings.
Inequality in Fiji’s population
The recent changes in the education policies are recognising the need for Native Fijians to participate equally in education as well as social, political and economic developments. Helen Tavola’s earlier observation was later articulated in the Refugee Review Tribunal (2009):
Race-based discrimination is pervasive, and indigenous Fijians receive preferential treatment in education, housing, land acquisition, and other areas; some jobs are open only to them. Discrimination and political and economic troubles have caused more than 120,000 Indo-Fijians to leave Fiji since the late 1980s.
Nearly 14 years after Helen Published her book on Secondary Education in Fiji – Key to the Future the context of political decisions and policy variables such as policies on education, housing and land acquisition during and after the Fiji coups was in favour of Native Fijians (RRT, 2009).
There was a growing realisation that Native Fijians needed ‘preferential’ treatment to equally participate in their country development.
Fiji Ministry of Education five challenges
Helen Tavola identified five (5) factors critical for enhancing learning in Fiji. She alluded to the fact that the Fiji government had produced many teachers with a tertiary qualification – an important factor in school effectiveness.
She said, Fiji has worked hard in this area [teacher’s training] for two decades and virtually all primary and secondary school teachers have some form of tertiary training. (p.138). However, she also states that qualified teachers are certainly necessary, but not sufficient to improve the quality of education in Fiji (Tavola, 1991).
Addressing quality at secondary schools is a holistic approach to also sustaining the other 4 factors that determine the quality of Children’s education:
- home and cultural perceptions to education,
- school resources and facilities,
- education policies, and
- curriculum and examinations.
Reassuringly, Helen stated that the number of teachers has improved with 3 teachers’ colleges producing teachers (H.Tavolo, 1991, p.90); the Native Fijians were encouraged to help their children with homework (p.105) and education policies on curriculum and examinations were based on achieving quality education (pp. 43, 59 & 62).
Furthermore, Helen clearly alluded to the fact that school management remains the main driving force for the provision of successful secondary education.
The ensuing section attempts to show Fiji’s achievements in education compared to the challenges identified by Helen nearly 15 years earlier.
Comparative valuation – worldview
The Fiji Education For All Progress Report 2000 – 2015 indicated that significant advances the education sector has been made in realising the Millennium Development Goals 2 (MDG2) 2000 – 2015, especially the access to Primary and Secondary Schools and teachers’ education.
Fiji was ranked among the High Human Development Countries (GEMR, 2017/8) just below the well-developed countries. It means that Fiji fared well in the Education, Health and Life Expectancy targets that are stipulated by the United Nations in the MDGs – global goals.
Fiji’s high number of trained teachers
J. Dorovolomo & J. Hammond, 2005 cited Helen Tavolo in their work titled ‘The Fiji Secondary School Sport and Physical Education Status Quo and its Importance to Tertiary Curriculum Development’ and said
In 1970 the number of secondary students was only 13% of the number of primary children, but by 1999 it had risen to 47%. This shows increasing access to secondary education. In 2000 there were 142,621 primary and 68,129 secondary students (Tavola 2000).
By developing nations’ standards, Fiji has a high percentage of trained teachers. For example, in 1986, 95.3% of secondary teachers and 99% of primary teachers were trained teachers (Tavola 1991: 138) (para. 1).
In fact, Fiji has taken a proactive approach to address the 3 factors (highlighted by Helen Talovo and mentioned in the introduction). The approaches to its educational needs were in line with the MDG 2000-2015. Furthermore, at beginning of the UN’s MDGs in 2000, Fiji had, already, increased its primary-secondary transition rate to 47%, and 99% of teachers were trained to tertiary level (J.Dorovolomo et. al, 2005).
Inevitably, this example shows that Fiji had clearly identified the educational challenges (Tavola, 1991) way before the MDGs were stipulated and took appropriate actions to address the needs of its children.
And, one fundamental aspect of Fiji’s high educational achievement in Global Ranking can be attributed to its well-trained teachers!
Fiji took a proactive approach to address its educational challenges. They were not complacent. In order words, the action Fiji took to improve its education standards were local approaches they knew would make a difference.
In her book, Mrs Tavola strategically stressed the key to secondary education in Fiji was developing its teachers capacity.
Fiji was able to train its teachers well years before the MDGs and SDGs – external strategies – were recommended to them.
Geo-political and cultural challenges
The five issues raised by Tavolo were, in fact, qualitative issues and more to do with schools and governance. However, there were geographical, political, and cultural disparities within Fiji’s domain that remained major obstacles to education developments, both today in the future.
Firstly, Fiji is made of more than 110 habited islands. The geographical isolation of the rural population has been a major challenge for access to education. The Education Report 2000-2015 stated that the geography of the country and the distributions of schools have resulted in some constraints in terms of accessibility (p. 12).
Secondly, since Fiji’s independence, the political environment in Fiji has been fragile. There were 4 military coups (May 1987, September 1987, 2000 and 2006) in the past 40 years with the suspension of the Constitution and military taking control of political powers.
Tavola cited the Fiji Times that the 1987 coup resulted in thousands of children facing school fee problem and dropped out of schools, and also many schools faced financial problems closed their doors (pp. 51-52). Moreover, though the Native Fijians and Fiji Indian are living harmoniously, there is obvious segregation within the communities where they led completely separate lives (Refugee Review Tribunal, 2009). Apparently, Fijian society is socially fragile.
One delicate shift in political powers can, potentially, changes the economic climate and results in the emigration of the workforce, schools fee problems and school closures.
The Fiji government (Ministry of Education) makes several changes to improve the quality of education by changing the school structure and curriculum and improving teacher’s training. Some of these changes were affected by military coups. Furthermore, Helen Tavola thinks that education is the key to social and economic prosperity for all Fijians. Teachers’ training has been identified as the key to improved quality of secondary school education in Fiji.
Fiji Education For All Progress Report 2000 – 2015. (2015). Retrieved from UNESCO: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0023/002314/231487e.pdf
GEMR2017/8. (2017). Global Education Monitoring Report (GEMR) 2017/8. Retrieved from UNESCO: https://en.unesco.org/gem-report/
Hammond, J. D. (2005). The Fiji Secondary School Sport and Physical Education Status Quo and its Importance to Tertiary Curriculum Development. Retrieved from Research Gate: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/237429062_The_Fiji_Secondary_School_Sport_and_Physical_Education_Status_Quo_and_its_Importance_to_Tertiary_Curriculum_Development
Helen, T. (1991). Secondary Education in Fiji – A Key to the Future. Suva: IPS, USP.
Refugee Review Tribunal – Australia. (2009). Retrieved from Fiji – Communal Violence: http://www.refworld.org/pdfid/4f1419b82.pdf
The work was first published in PNG Insight Blog. Let us know what you think. You can also follow us on Twitter. Dr Helen Tavola’s book is available on Amazon’s online bookstore and can be ordered in the US, Canada, UK and Australia