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By Cheeriann Wilson

SUVA, Fiji (FijiSUN, Aug. 31) – More than one-third of Fiji’s schools fall well below the required standards, officials say.

Opening the Education Summit yesterday, Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase said a survey showed that of 875 primary and secondary schools, 300 – most of them Fijian schools - were well below standard.

"We could see a deepening of divisions in our society, largely on racial lines," said Mr Qarase. "This is because 77 per cent of the disadvantaged schools are Fijian. There is a glaring disparity between rural schools and urban schools both in performance and facilities."

However, he noted, 4,000 children in rural schools have benefited from government grants to rural boarding schools that have been denied help.

"From the identification of grossly disadvantaged schools throughout Fiji, 300 will be targeted for improvement and upgrading. Of these 300, 296 are located in rural areas," Qarase said.

The prime minister said the decision to tackle Fijian education was not to disadvantage non-Fijian children.

"It is about removing inequality and injustice and promoting long-term peace and stability," he said. "We cannot make orderly and balanced progress in nation building if the indigenous population continues to lag, not only in education but also in other spheres of our national life."

Mr Qarase said the cost of education for parents is far too high.

"Primary schools from Class One to Class Eight have 143,000 students," he said. "The total cost to government of tuition fee assistance for these schools is close to FJ$5 million (US$2.9 million) annually. In our secondary schools, the total number of students from forms one to six is just under 64,000. Total cost to government for tuition fee assistance for these students is FJ$10 million (US$5.8 million) a year.

"If the Government did not provide tuition fee grants, the parents would have to collectively pay a total of FJ$15 million. The Government has added an extra FJ$5million annually to the scheme to benefit another 26,000 children. Children from low-income homes are helped through a scheme of remission of fees," he said.

Mr Qarase said the impression had been created that all Fijian students receive the assistance.

"This is not true. Nevertheless, we have given careful consideration to the community perceptions about discrimination. Fiji has achieved near universal primary education and more children are receiving secondary education. We have moved a long way to achieving our goal of every child having the benefit of 12 years basic education from Class One to Class Six," he said.

September 1, 2005


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