85,000 Fiji Students Still Studying In Tents Following Cyclone

Opposition presses government over response to education crisis

By Nasik Swami

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, May 31, 2016) – The welfare of students studying under tents and its implications on their health in schools damaged by Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston dominated the opening of the April sitting of the Fijian Parliament yesterday.

National Federation Party leader Professor Biman Prasad questioned Education Minister Dr Mahendra Reddy on whether Government had the money to fix the damaged schools or not.

SODELPA MP and Opposition deputy whip Salote Radrodro said according to statistics by the Red Cross, more than 85,000 children were still studying in tents and questioned the minister what alternative strategies the ministry had to remove students from the tents since it was too hot and not a conducive environment to study.

"What alternative strategies are in place to replace the tents since it's becoming very hot and not very conducive to children learning, particularly for children who will be sitting for examinations this year," Ms Radrodro said.

SODELPA MP Niko Nawaikula said it was three months since students had been studying under tents and asked the minister what the ministry had done to take care of the health and welfare of these students.

Responding to questions from the Opposition MPs, Dr Reddy assured the nation that the 181 schools that were damaged during the cyclone would be built by the end of the year.

"Once we have the start date, then we can give the end date but overall Madam Speaker, it is the desire of this Government to get infrastructure ready," he said.

Dr Reddy said they had qualified engineers assess the 181 schools and were now waiting to tender a few contractors to design the schools.

He said there was a process to follow before any construction work commences.

"This is not sending one carpenter down to do the assessment, given the number of schools affected, it takes time. 181 schools have been done and we are waiting for reports from maritime areas. The next step, Madam Speaker, is to get the contractors."

He said given that the ministry was dealing with public funds, the process needed to be followed.

Associate Professor at the University of the South Pacific's School of Education Prof Subhas Chandra said for children attending schools, their physical, psychological and educational welfare was paramount.

"We don't just leave them in tents. There should be a plan to say that we have to endure this for a certain short period of time until we bring in other reinforcements and try and get back to a normal situation," Prof Chandra said.

He said if things were uncomfortable, it would impact on children planning.

"There are health issues with that, secondly, it's the whole question of attention span, being able to focus and attend to things and what is going on. You (children) can have some disruption in that if you are not comfortable," he said.

Prof Chandra said the ultimate goal of Government should be to make improvements as fast as possible.

This newspaper spoke to some headteachers and school managers where students were still studying in tents and they said the situation on the ground was bad as students were struggling to study in tents because of the heat.

A school manager said it was even worse in his area as trees had been destroyed during the cyclone and students could not even sit under the tree and study during hot days.

Fiji Times Online.
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