SUVA, Fiji (Feb. 2) - The decision to proceed with free Form Seven education in Fijian schools only will have a number of consequences, some - one would hope - unforeseen and unfortunate. This policy will encourage or even force Fijian parents who have opted to send their children to Indian or other educational institutions to transfer them to Fijian schools if they wish to take advantage of this opportunity.

Most if not all will wish to do so.

This policy, aimed at assisting the poor Fijian families who cannot afford to pay for Form Seven education, will, however, assist the well-off Fijians as well as those less fortunate. And as a result, the policy will be seen (not only by Indo-Fijians) as racist, unfair and unjustified.

At the same time it will lead to segregation at Form Seven and probably in the lower forms also as Fijian parents withdraw their children from Indian schools - not because they are unhappy with the standard of education but because they wish to claim the Form Seven entitlement.

It is impossible to believe that a segregated school system was the Government's intention but it will almost certainly be the outcome of this lopsided and ill-advised policy. And this, remember, comes from a government that stands by its commitment to reconciliation. The two policies are surely not compatible and people will judge this and any other government by its actions, not by its words.

And this ill thought-out and ham fisted approach to the problem of Form Seven education for Fijians is quite unnecessary. The Government could, for instance, have declared free Form Seven education in rural schools only.

In that way some Indians might be helped - and why should they not be? - but the overwhelming share of the benefit would go to poor ethnic Fijians who make up the majority of the population in such areas. The better-off urbanized Fijians could be expected to pay for Form Seven and the racism taint could be neatly avoided.

There would be the added benefit of providing rural parents with an incentive to remain in their villages rather than drifting to the urban centers in search of a better education for their children. All school students in the bush are disadvantaged, not just the Fijians. But the fact remains that it is the Fijians who make up most of their number. They need help and should receive it. But helping all Fijians regardless of means will not help the Government in the long term. This policy needs another look.February 3, 2005


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