Letters to the Editor | Sunday, September 24, 2023

Flying Fijians forwards at training. Picture: RODNEY DUTHIE

Rugby World Cup

I have a good feeling that the Flying Fijians can go all the way to the top in this Rugby World Cup. The fitness and skills are already there, I believe combined with that, they can “think” their way to the top with the right mental attitude and discipline. Now I have let the secret out of the bag. JAN NISSAR, Sydney, Australia

Opposition Leader

I watched him during a Parliament debate televised on TV during a heated exchange between his pack and the Coalition lads, he even “shh’s” his side to call for silence or enough. On the record the Colonel (Ret) has been with the past government long enough and today flanked by a Rear Admiral (Ret) and Major General (Ret) in the August House, I believe he is the best Opposition Leader to date to keep watch and hold the Government accountable. Keep up the good work Mr Seruiratu! AREKI DAWAI Suva

Park project disaster

When I read in The Fiji Times “Prasad: Park project disaster” (23/9), I wondered what other projects under the FijiFirst government were disasters? Surely the Govind Park construction project is not the only one? It’s a shame that Govind Park — named after one of the great sons of Fiji Justice Kishor Govind — should have such a shambolic construction project. It is also a grave injustice to the soccer mad people of Ba. Yes, a thorough investigation is indeed called for as Deputy Prime Minister Professor Biman Prasad has indicated. Rajend Naidu Sydney, Australia

Street dwellers

Street dwellers are often looked down upon by the general public. I believe this societal prejudice is rooted in various factors that contribute to the stigma they endure. There is a common misconception that street dwellers are involved in criminal activities. This stereotype unjustly taints their image in the eyes of the public. When people assume that street dwellers are criminals, they become cautious and fearful, often avoiding any interactions or assistance. Many people also assume that street dwellers may have mental health issues because of their living conditions. While it is true that some street dwellers may struggle with mental health challenges, it is unfair and stigmatising to apply this assumption broadly. This stereotype creates a barrier for individuals who genuinely require assistance. The other most disheartening aspects of the stigma faced by street dwellers is the glaring lack of empathy from many members of the public. These individuals often go unnoticed or ignored, with passersby choosing not to look in their direction and walk on. This indifference perpetuates the harmful notion that street dwellers are somehow undeserving of compassion or assistance. Another heartbreaking reality is that some street dwellers find themselves in their dire circumstances because of profound family neglect. These vulnerable youth may have experienced emotional or physical abandonment by their immediate family. The absence of love, care and support from their families forces them to seek refuge on the streets. To combat the stigma against street dwellers, a comprehensive approach is essential. This involves educating the public, engaging with communities, offering mental health assistance, reuniting families and promoting empathy. These approaches will help street dwellers lead more fulfilling lives and feel accepted in society. SANJEET PRASAD Labasa

Education summit

THE three-day 2023 National Education Summit was a timely call made by the Ministry of Education. The summit included Ministry of Education officials, Minister for Education and Ministry of Education permanent secretary, Fiji Government officials, education donor partners, non-government agencies, statutory and private organisations. Therefore, the summit was critical in paving a roadmap for a better education system in Fiji. “Education is the foundation of a strong nation,” —Gavoka. This means the summit was a strong platform to give new directions and bridge disparities in the education system in Fiji. According to Acting Prime Minister Viliame
Gavoka, Fiji has lost over 10 per cent of its experienced workforce in the past 18 months. If the trend continues in the same rate, in the next  three to four years’ time  Fiji will lose approximately 300,000 people, including  people who are on work permits, students who are on student visa and those who are part of the Pacific Labour Mobility Scheme. This is very concerning for a small country such as Fiji. An average of a teacher resigning every day. The youth unemployment rate is 37 per cent, doubled from past few years. An astounding number of school dropouts who lack basics on numeracy and literacy, there is a big disparity in student numbers by gender — more females in schools than males, more females complete secondary and tertiary education than males. What’s happening and where are we heading to in our education systems in Fiji. This is where the summit must come in probably to address the exiting issues in the education system and take education into new directions. INDAR DEO BISUN Tamavua, Suva

Those migrating

THE only lot that won’t migrate are our parliamentarians. We just have to look at their terms and conditions and hours of work and we will know why other workers are running away. Even after a four-year term they can get pension. SUKHA SINGH Labasa

Long-term plan

WHEN you have a long-term plan and are aiming for the Rugby World Cup in 2027 at the expense of this one, says a lot for the coach. Who really plans like that? One has to be very, very brave with an unwavering mind-set, while taking all the flak, criticism, insults and the likes, to come up with that and stand by it. You either have no faith in the current squad, run out of ideas on the game plan, or are using the experience in this World Cup to grow and nurture them for the ultimate success on home soil in the next Rugby World Cup. But then again if the latter happens, who will remember to relate it to your brave strategy today? Edward Blakelock Pacific Harbour

Education challenges

As I read the Ministry of Education permanent secretary’s report on the challenges faced by Fiji’s education sector because of the departure of a great number of teachers from the ministry’s employment over these years, (The Fiji Times 21/9/23) I can only say that the crisis can easily be addressed by Government alone in two major ways. (a) Recognise and restore the status of teachers according to what our Government and fellow governments of the world had agreed to and mandated to apply as members of UN. It is the ILO/UNESCO recommendations on the status of teachers. This was signed in 1966 for all teachers and in 1997 for teachers in higher education. The provisions of these two universal instruments are supposed to not only set a universal standard for the recognition of the status of teachers; but also to achieve quality standards that teachers of all countries of the world and at every level, are to maintain. Principles concerning the rights and responsibilities of educators, ranging from the pre-school are set out in these instruments. I had raised this before in the media when the past government was confusing issues about teachers’ required qualifications and unilaterally imposing working conditions outside the usual collective agreement bargaining process which the ministry was duty-bound to recognise and apply. I had also mentioned that our very own Fiji citizen and academic, Professor Konai Thaman of USP had sat on the committee, CEART, that monitored the application of the ILO/UNESCO recommendation on the status of teachers worldwide. I kindly request the Ministry of Education to use this recommendation to guide the work on the preparation of quality teachers for quality education. (b) Honour our teachers’ workers’ rights by fully restoring teachers working conditions embodied in the collective agreements which had been negotiated through collective bargaining over the years. These working conditions were negotiated on behalf of teachers by their unions, FTU and FTA and are documented as general orders by PSC, as well as the FNU Collective Agreement. The Ministry of Education must note that they do not have the mandate to unilaterally impose teachers’ working conditions. As a member of ILO, Fiji had ratified ILO Conventions 87 and 99 and under the provisions of these, all conditions of work have been agreed to be negotiated by the employer and employees through employees’ representatives. When the employer (Ministry of Education) wishes to change any condition or introduce a new one; and if the teachers also desire a new need to be met, they each table their proposals in a new “Log of Claims” and set dates for collective bargaining. Once consensus is achieved in these negotiations, an agreement on the new condition(s) is signed. Unfortunately, the last government had unilaterally removed many of these negotiated conditions and imposed new ones. Most damaging had been the introduction of contracts and the massive work burden of writing up of reports by teachers. Most critical was the removal of negotiated MQR for teachers’ posts and its replacement by the Open Merit System. We believe that as long as the elements of this OMS are still being used, and the old MQR which put work and leadership experience first rather than academic qualifications, many experienced, good educational leaders in the schools will continue to leave. I thank this Government for removing contracts, restoring rights of faith-based schools’ management to choose their heads and for inviting the two teachers’ unions to again sit at the table when postprocessing is done. May I recommend that the ministry focus on correcting the process of collective bargaining for teachers’ conditions and applying this all the time. You see, teachers are the deliverers of education. Hence, they must always be involved in an organised way, to identify their needs; students’ needs, curriculum needs and the needs or gaps in ministry’s services or management. These all impact on the teachers’ working conditions and hence can be best addressed through negotiations of working conditions which includes fair pay as recognition of teachers’ status and worth. SUSANA TUISAWAU Wainivula

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