FIJI ISLAND SCHOOL CHAMPIONS RICH CULTURE

Feature

Rabi High School teaches traditional arts

By Theresa Ralogaivau

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, July 1, 2009) – Studying at Rabi High school is nothing short of a wholesome experience. There is the weaving of traditional island mats to be learnt, beading dance necklaces, plaiting raffia skirts, learning how to build canoes and the okatano. It's a fantastically exciting academic realm that beats ditching classes any day, I think.

But that's not to say that physics, maths and chemistry and the other 'more serious' subjects do not play a central role in the school curriculum.

Students are expected to face those tests. It's just that learning about things cultural gets just as much emphasis and rightly so because not everyone's going to turn out a nurse or teacher, doctor or electrician, banker or enforcement officer. Some will remain and fish their living from the sparkling turquoise sea that surrounds Cakaudrove island.

Others will carve an income from selling traditional artifacts while others will till the land and reap a bountiful green harvest provided they work hard.

So it's a curriculum that prepares its scholars for many eventualities and for that school teachers must be saluted.

Rabi High school was established early in the 1980s as a junior secondary school at Nuku settlement with an initial roll of about 50. Numbers have gradually increased to 250, forcing the relocation of the school to Tabiang, about 1985.

Over the past two years, the school has enjoyed an increasing pass rate for external examinations except for the Fiji School Leaving Certificate exam that dwindled from 68 per cent in 2007 to 62 per cent last year. The biggest challenge for students is transportation they face, often up to three times a week, according to vice-principal Benia Korauea when the lone bus or truck breaks down.

In such a situation, students either walk or stay home. However, the school, intent on improving the pass rate to more than 60 per cent for all external exams, has encouraged parents of students in external exam classes to build a bure around the school compound.

"In this way, we have 100 per cent attendance for the exam classes," Ms. Korauea said. In the physics lab, Form Six students Ienraoi Aaron and Kaeroa Vulase held a swinging pendulum and were finding the relationship between strength and force.

In the umbrella-like stands outside, Rachel Henty and Toaua Chang Benson prepared for the Form Seven finals. In the library, students pored over newspapers the school subscribed to, according to Principal Ranjishwar Prasad, so that they could keep abreast with current affairs. "We might be an island but we are not at the same time," he said. "Do you know what I mean?".

In the computer room, other students surfed the net on neat-looking Apple laptops. Despite its apparent isolation Rabi High was keeping abreast with educational technology in the hope of giving its students the chance to get off the island and into the nation's white collar workforce. The reality of the matter is that over the years many stay behind and continue life on the island.

"Some of our students have gone on Multi-Ethnic scholarships to study at the Fiji Institute of Technology," Ms Korauea said.

"So it's important that we prepare them for life on the island that largely revolves around the land and sea.

"Past leaders of the school have always emphasised the importance of teaching them canoe building, making toddy and weaving."

Art and craft teacher Tamilo Paseu says from a very young age, a Rabi child is surrounded by the cultural things that identify this ethnic group. "He goes out and plays in a canoe and the girls dance," he said.

"And when you look at a Rabian's life it is intricately woven with a canoe which he uses for fishing and travelling so he needs to learn how to make one."

The okatano is a low-roofed bure-like attachment to a Rabi home often used as a place for the family to gather for food, serious talk or just for laughter.

The special building for art and craft lessons was built to accommodate for space that is needed to build a canoe, the okatano and for getting down and dirty encouraging enjoyment in class. Cultural creations line the walls and the sound of hammering softly reverberates around the school compound.

It is an exciting academic setting to be in.

Fiji Times Online: http://www.fijitimes.com

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