Friday, July 03, 2015

About principals of Fiji Schools

from w
When the Minister for Education accused a school of  being racist when asking for an indigenous Fijian as principal, a very good reply has been published in the Fiji Times.  The author shows that ethnicity is a fact and cultural considerations need to be addressed not ignored as irrelevant.  And I remember one time a Christian based school was given a Hindu principal because head office in Suva apparently chose the principal, not the school board.  It wasn't satisfactory in my opinion. The local people  - in the islands, in the countryside - should have a say in their school leaders, not some office men and women in Suva.

Racist or sensitive

Jioji Kotobalavu
Saturday, July 04, 2015
I am prompted to write this after reading of comments by the Minister for Education, Dr Mahendra Reddy, as reported in The Fiji Times issue of June 30, 2015.
Dr Reddy questioned the propriety of the principal, manager and leaders of a school in Nadroga in asking for an iTaukei headteacher at a primary school where the majority of the students are iTaukei. The minister was reported as saying such attitude from school heads "who are obsessed with ethnicity" needed to stop immediately, adding the ministry should determine who will be headteacher because it was paying for the salary.
Aware of
cultural context
The purpose of this article is not to criticise the minister but to highlight the importance of those in government authority being aware of the cultural context when communicating with community members in our multiethnic and multicultural society. This is to avoid the kind of intercultural misunderstanding which could lead to resentment and undermine social stability and harmony.
The minister seems to think that simply because the 2013 Constitution has made all of us as citizens of Fiji to be "Fijians", this is all that matters. It is not so, and I would advise him as a scholar of exceptional intelligence to read his 2013 Constitution thoroughly because the authors have very carefully and adroitly crafted into it several identities each with a particular constitutional purpose. Let me explain.
We, the people of Fiji
The first identity specified in the Constitution is in the preamble. It opens with the words "We, the people of Fiji". It then identifies who the people of Fiji are. They are the iTaukei and Rotumans as the indigenous peoples of Fiji, and the descendants firstly of the indentured labourers from British India, and secondly of settlers and immigrants who followed in coming to make Fiji their home.
The constitutional significance of this identity of "we, the people" is threefold. It is the people in this holistic sense who are the repository of the sovereignty of the State of Fiji. It is the people as the source of the sovereign power of the State who constituted the State of Fiji in its 2013 Constitution, providing for its system of parliamentary democracy and government, and for the human rights of all its citizens. It is the people in exercising this constituent power who have legitimated the 2013 Constitution.
The 2013 Constitution, as the constituted creation of "we, the people", then sets out several identities.
The first and most important of this is set out in section 5 (1). As citizens of Fiji, we are all Fijians, and as Fijians we have equal status and identity. This means that we are equally entitled to the rights and privileges of citizenship and that we are equally subject to the duties and responsibilities of citizenship.
In the Bill of Rights, in Chapter 2, one can see three identities referred to in it. Most of the fundamental rights enumerated in it apply to "every person" or "a person". The person here refers not just to citizens of Fiji but also include a non-citizen who has been granted the necessary visa as resident or as visitor to be in Fiji. But the political rights set out in Section 23 apply only to citizens of Fiji.
The recognition of the iTaukei and Rotumans in the Preamble as Fiji's indigenous peoples and the protection under Section 28 in the Bill of Rights of their customary ownership of their communal lands are constitutionally very significant for three considerations.
Firstly, it is the same recognition and protection that were granted to them by the British Crown when it accepted the deed of cession of Fiji's sovereignty from Fijian chiefs in 1874 and Rotuman chiefs in 1879.
Secondly, it was because of that British recognition, under its common law, of Fijian and Rotuman native titles to their customary lands, territories and resources that today the iTaukei, for example, still own 91 per cent of all lands in Fiji as their communal lands.
Thirdly, by being a party to the ILO Convention 169 on the Rights of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, the State of Fiji has recognised the right of indigenous iTaukei and Rotuman peoples under international law to self-determination. At the very least, this obligates the State and all its agents to consult the iTaukei and Rotumans on any matter that is of concern to them about their customary lands and culture.
Showing sensitivity
So, had the Minister for Education been aware of this right of the indigenous iTaukei and Rotumans to be consulted he would have been more sensitive to their concerns and carefully explained his ministry's intentions. He could have assured them he would take into account their cultural concerns in the deployment of teachers who would actually do the teaching.
The headteacher is the school's administrator and the minister could have cited the outstanding example of individuals like Amraiya Naidu when he was appointed principal of Ratu Kadavulevu School. Under his stewardship, RKS produced its best results ever in Fiji's external examinations. What was really important in the Minister for Education's reported encounter was the need to be aware of the cultural context and to show sensitivity in the way he reacted.
Splendid example
Prime Minister Bainimarama set a splendid example in recognising this when he recently officiated at a public ceremony at Raiwaqa/Raiwai. It was all done in an iTaukei cultural context with traditional ceremonies of welcome and Christian prayers. The people were acting in a cultural context and were honouring him as PM and national leader.
The PM could easily have told them that we are all Fijian citizens and equal in our right to human dignity, and to treat each other as equal in our individual human rights status and entitlement. He could also have reminded them that under the 2013 Constitution with its foundation in modern day liberalism, the State is required to remain neutral on religion and culture and to treat them as private and personal matters.
But he recognised and respected the cultural context and the free wishes of the people to honour him according to their customs and tradition. He, for his part, felt emboldened to publicly declare that iTaukei culture is safe and secure.
Proper grounding
Finally, the Honourable Minister for Education ought to know the critical importance of the proper grounding of all children in their own vernacular language, especially in their early years of education up to Year 6. For the iTaukei, the protection of their customary lands and the proper knowledge and use of their own language are the two essential elements of sustaining their culture and their indigenous identity.
So, if the manager, landowners and parents in an iTaukei primary school are concerned about the ethnicity of the teachers who are being posted there by the ministry, please do not jump to the conclusion that they are "racist" or "ethnic blinded". If you are patient and take the time in a culturally sensitive and appropriate manner to ascertain their concerns, you will surely find out they genuinely care about their children being proficient in both their vernacular and English.
If in your posting of teachers, you are not sensitive to this need for cultural differentiation, you will be perceived by the community of failing to act in good faith in discharging the public trust conferred upon you by your election to office. Worse still, you will be accused of manipulating the constitutional principle of common and equal citizenry for all "Fijians" in pursuance of a deliberate policy of cultural assimilation in schools.
* The above views are the author's and not of this newspaper

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