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SUVA, Fiji Islands (January 8, 2002 – Sun)---The failures in Fijian education are without question the system's biggest problem, says Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase.

Mr. Qarase described it as a darker side to education -- a mark of shame for the nation.

He said the continuing crisis in Fijian education puts all our efforts to construct a stable, secure and well-adjusted nation at risk.

The magnitude of the challenge was underlined in the recent report of the Education Commission.

Mr. Qarase quoted Professor Subramani, one of our outstanding local academics, who said: "Fijian under achievement in all aspects of education, high dropout rates at various stages of schooling and the plight of rural Fijian schools have remained vexing problems for successive governments.

"If not addressed these can continue to result in greater exclusion, especially of rural Fijians, from access to quality education and also to the new technological and information revolution, thus further widening the educational gap between them and other groups in society.

Mr. Qarase said that the number of Fijian graduates presently in the workforce is impressive and growing. However, he added that it is disturbing that those who studied on Ministry of Fijian Affairs tertiary scholarships from 1984 to 1999 fewer then 40 percent graduated, an unacceptable waste of taxpayers’ money.

The depth of the crisis is defined most starkly among rural schools.

Most of the rural schools’ areas are in shocking conditions.

"They are so bad that many of them would be forced to close if health and safety laws were strictly applied.

"Teaching aids and even such basics as tables, chairs and blackboards are often inadequate and in some instances almost non-existent.

Some 81 Fijian schools in rural settings and in the outer islands cater to about 4,000 children who have to board for reasons of distance.

"It is distressing that little children as young as five and six are among these disadvantaged students, studying and living in such deprived circumstances," Mr. Qarase said.

"I cannot understand why successive Fijian ministers of education advocating assistance for rural schools as a top Government priority could ignore such a basic need.

"I ask further what sense was there in transferring ownership of Government rural schools to communities that could not afford the expense of operating and running a school?"

This, he said, merely added to the burden when they already are required to contribute to the cost of utilities and infrastructure, despite the 1969 Education Commission recommendation urging the Government to take over ownership and management of schools.

"Government intends to come to grips with problems I have just described, we will make things better for the children and schools.

"The F$ 217 million (US$ 95,187,050) allocation in the budget will be used to upgrade our general standards of education and where assistance is needed the most."

For additional reports from the Fiji Sun, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Fiji Sun.

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