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Wel­come and In­tro­duc­tion

I-wel­come you all to this first ever ECE Con­fer­ence or­gan­ised by Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, Her­itage and Arts in col­lab­o­ra­tion with: De­part­ment of ECE: Univer­sity of the South Pa­cific; De­part­ment of ECE: Fiji Na­tional Univer­sity; De­part­ment of ECE: Ful­ton Univer­sity Col­lege; De­part­ment of ECE: Marist ‘Cham­pag­nat In­sti­tute; and the Early Child­hood As­so­ci­a­tion Fiji.

First and Fore­most, I would like to thank all the ECE teach­ers who have trav­elled from all the var­i­ous re­gions to be part of this func­tion to­day. More im­por­tantly, I also thank you all for the im­por­tant roles that you all are play­ing in nurturing our lit­tle and in­no­cent chil­dren.

The main ob­jec­tive of or­gan­is­ing this con­fer­ence is to col­lab­o­rate with im­por­tant stake­hold­ers to fa­cil­i­tate qual­ity Early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion for ev­ery child and as such, de­velop a strong foun­da­tion for fu­ture ed­u­ca­tional ex­cel­lence.

Con­fer­ence theme and the con­text

The con­fer­ence theme is “Cher­ish­ing and Ed­u­cat­ing our Chil­dren for an

Equal and Pros­per­ous Fu­ture Fiji” and the Bain­i­marama Govern­ment has com­mit­ted it­self to in­vest per­sis­tently into ed­u­ca­tion and two years down the lane, the progress and pos­i­tive achieve­ments in the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor is for every­one to see. Coun­tries around the world are now con­verg­ing on the ar­gu­ment that the most im­por­tant in­vest­ment for se­cur­ing a pros­per­ous fu­ture is to in­vest in our chil­dren. Mak­ing and se­cur­ing a strong foun­da­tion for our chil­dren at the bud­ding stage will pretty much shape and de­ter­mine the fu­ture prod­uct. Early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion is a cor­ner­stone to the suc­cess of an ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem. The de­mands are in­creas­ing as well as the chal­lenges faced by our chil­dren in this glob­alised world, thus, there is a great need to echo greater aware­ness and de­vel­op­ment of this im­por­tant sec­tor. The most im­por­tant peo­ple in the ECE sec­tor are our in­no­cent chil­dren and their early years are very im­por­tant. Early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion does not re­fer to kinder­garten schools only, as com­monly re­ferred to, but rather, it cov­ers all forms of ed­u­ca­tion and at all places from birth till the age of eight years. It in­cludes ed­u­ca­tion at home, at re­li­gious places, at day care cen­tres and pre-schools up to Year three stud­ies in a pri­mary school. These set­tings pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for dif­fer­ent kinds of ed­u­ca­tion to be given to the child, an op­por­tu­nity that should not be wasted if we want to mould our child in his or her for­ma­tive years so that we se­cure a pros­per­ous fu­ture for them.

Growth of men­tal and phys­i­cal abil­i­ties progress at an amaz­ing rate and a very high pro­por­tion of learn­ing takes place from birth to age eight. It is a time when chil­dren, par­tic­u­larly, need high qual­ity per­sonal care and learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ences. When chil­dren are young, they are learn­ing sponges. Ev­ery new ex­pe­ri­ence, ev­ery word they learn, ev­ery be­hav­iour they adopt is an in­vest­ment in a more fruit­ful fu­ture. You can never ever cre­ate a greater im­pres­sion on a per­son than when they are in their early child­hood years. Early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion is about im­prov­ing and mould­ing the holis­tic child, which will even­tu­ally form the ba­sis of their life long jour­ney thus; this strong foun­da­tion will even­tu­ally lead to a strong so­ci­ety and na­tion. The ECE teach­ers play a piv­otal part in the de­vel­op­ment of this foun­da­tion in our na­tion as they form that link which con­nects the chil­dren from their home to school. Our early child­hood teach­ers need to ded­i­cate them­selves to help­ing chil­dren learn, grow and de­velop to their full po­ten­tial and to help­ing par­ents, fam­i­lies, and com­mu­ni­ties build strong com­mu­ni­ties. We are a coun­try of di­ver­sity: Di­ver­sity in cul­tural and re­li­gious ac­tiv­i­ties, life style, food, cloth­ing and fes­tiv­i­ties.

This di­ver­sity must be re­flected in our ECE cen­tres… via ac­tiv­i­ties, posters, dra­mas, etc. Our ECE teach­ers and school man­agers must have the knowl­edge and sen­si­tiv­ity to men­tor and ed­u­cate all stu­dents well. To do so, we must un­der­stand how cul­ture, lan­guage, so­cioe­co­nomic sta­tus and gen­der in­flu­ence teach­ing and learn­ing.

Lastly, we must also play our part, at this early stage to ex­pose tech­nol­ogy to our chil­dren. We nei­ther can sur­vive by be­ing obliv­i­ous to tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ments nec­es­sary for liv­ing and work­ing in con­tem­po­rary so­ci­ety. The cur­ricu­lum that we have must ar­tic­u­late creativ­ity amongst our chil­dren and method­ol­ogy of dis­course at ECE cen­tres will be a blended mode con­sist­ing of dra­mas, group ac­tiv­i­ties, mu­si­cal ac­tiv­i­ties and vis­ual arts and dis­course on moral val­ues. We need to dis­cuss amongst our chil­dren, to­day’s fam­i­lies, friends, so­ci­ety and the chal­lenges that they face and how it could im­pact them. Con­tem­po­rary is­sues in the so­ci­ety can also be dis­cussed and view­point con­verged upon. We need to give them an al­ter­na­tive home, a home away from their home. Only then will we be able to see and have a com­plete child with us. In this process, we will be able to ab­sorb any prob­lems they may have or be fac­ing at home.

Democrati­sa­tion of ed­u­ca­tion for a knowl­edge-based so­ci­ety

The Prime Min­is­ter of Fiji, hon­ourable Bain­i­marama, has stated long back that the na­ture of fu­ture Fiji will be de­ter­mined by how we nur­ture and ed­u­cate our chil­dren now. Hon­ourable Prime Min­is­ter is de­ter­mined to de­liver a knowl­edge based so­ci­ety where peo­ple hav­ing knowl­edge of all fac­tors of pro­duc­tion and as­pects of life in the so­ci­ety will rise above vari­ables of eth­nic­ity, re­li­gion, class sys­tems and make de­ci­sions based on logic, rea­son­ing and an­a­lyt­i­cal skills. The Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, Her­itage and Arts, over the last two years has in­vested cease­lessly to bring­ing about the high­est lev­els of qual­ity to all as­pects of the Fi­jian ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor. Much needed re­forms and trans­for­ma­tions have been in­jected into the Ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor and this is con­tin­u­ing so that the en­vi­sioned tar­gets of ac­ces­si­bil­ity, equal­ity and qual­ity is reached at.

Qual­ity out­put at the na­tional level re­quires qual­ity in­puts, qual­ity (ef­fi­cient and cost ef­fec­tive) ser­vice de­liv­ery and for this, we need a mind-set pegged firmly on qual­ity al­ways think­ing big. The Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goal (SDG) Tar­get 4 is “To en­sure in­clu­sive and eq­ui­table qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion and pro­mote life-long learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for all”. Thus, ob­tain­ing a qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion is the foun­da­tion to im­prov­ing peo­ple’s lives, sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment and lead­ing to a knowl­edge based so­ci­ety.

In ad­di­tion, the Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goal (SDG) Tar­get 4.2 on Early Child­hood De­vel­op­ment aims to “en­sure that all girls and boys have ac­cess to qual­ity child­hood de­vel­op­ment, care and pre-pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion so that they are ready for pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion.” In pur­suance of this ini­tia­tive, the Govern­ment of the day, to­gether with the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, Her­itage and Arts has rolled out var­i­ous ini­tia­tives to en­sure that chil­dren from a young age are nur­tured in all as­pects of their de­vel­op­ment so that they live in and cre­ate bet­ter so­ci­eties for all. This is in essence of our road to­wards democrati­sa­tion of ed­u­ca­tion where every­one par­tic­i­pates in our ed­u­ca­tion road map. In the past, the rich and ur­ban dwellers had a dis­tinct ad­van­tage in ac­cess­ing ed­u­ca­tion. Those days are gone. Un­der the Bain­i­marama govern­ment, ev­ery Fi­jian will now be al­lowed to re­alise their dreams The Fi­jian peo­ple, no mat­ter where they are lo­cated in Fiji, are now given ac­cess to all forms of ed­u­ca­tion based on the key pil­lars of fair­ness, equal­ity and qual­ity. Our ul­ti­mate aim for ECE in Fiji is to see that all chil­dren have free and easy ac­cess to Early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion and at­tain qual­ity learn­ing for over­all de­vel­op­ment but as al­luded to ear­lier on, this ed­u­ca­tion starts from home. The min­istry has taken the chal­lenge that all in­equal­i­ties will be rooted out at its in­cep­tion and as such, any hin­drance that our chil­dren may face to have ac­cess to qual­ity early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion will be rooted out. It is now manda­tory that all pri­mary schools must have an as­so­ci­ated ECE cen­tre. This is not only li­able for ur­ban schools but also for ev­ery ru­ral and mar­itime zones. Some par­ents in the past had cho­sen not to even send their chil­dren to ECE cen­tres cit­ing travel and fi­nan­cial is­sues. Ob­serv­ing this first hand, the Prime Min­is­ter, hon­ourable Bain­i­marama has taken off the bur­den from par­ents who have to travel long to drop and pick their chil­dren. The Govern­ment is en­sur­ing that ECE cen­tres are made avail­able in the vicin­ity of the vil­lage and set­tle­ments so that “no child is left be­hind” in their quest to go to Early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion cen­tres.

Pro­fil­ing ECE

To date, we have 938 ECE cen­tres in Fiji reg­is­tered un­der Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, with 1235 teach­ers look­ing af­ter 14,544 stu­dents (Re­fer to ta­ble above).

Early Child­hood Ed­u­ca­tion

Early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion re­quires alot of care, parental love and nurturing. ECE teach­ers are more than just teach­ers. We, the stake­hold­ers in ECE are re­quired to shower our end­less love, care and warmth, teach ba­sic lit­er­acy, nu­mer­acy and gen­eral knowl­edge and in­cul­cate the rich­ness in di­ver­sity amongst our chil­dren. This is also the time to in­still in them good health habits. But we alone can­not do this. We need the whole com­mu­nity. We be­gin from home where learn­ing be­gins and then move to all other for­mal and in­for­mal struc­tures which con­trib­ute to the shap­ing of minds of our chil­dren. We then move to the ECE in­fra­struc­ture providers, the man­agers and I wish to pose a ques­tion to all ECE providers…. what are your ob­jec­tives? Is it to make money or is it to part­ner with us to nur­ture and shape the fu­ture of these chil­dren by pro­vid­ing a for­ward look­ing foun­da­tion ed­u­ca­tion? I wish to im­plore on you to plough back all grants re­ceived into a con­tin­u­ous process of up­grad­ing the ECE in­fra­struc­ture.

We as­sure the par­ents of Fiji that we will do all we can to help them ed­u­cate their chil­dren even while they are at home. We in­tend to de­velop re­sources us­ing lo­cal ex­am­ples which baby sit­ters and nan­nies can use while they are look­ing af­ter the chil­dren at home or at day care cen­tres. In ad­di­tion, ed­u­ca­tional car­toons us­ing lo­cal ex­am­ples and names will be de­vel­oped as chil­dren love car­toons.

Con­clud­ing re­marks

The dream of achiev­ing qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion can only be achieved if all stake­hold­ers work to­wards one vi­sion, that is, chil­dren to be our pri­or­ity and we need to de­liver the best.

The teach­ers play a piv­otal role in build­ing a strong foun­da­tion and im­prov­ing the lives of our chil­dren. We wish to be­gin at a much early age as we be­lieve if we take con­trol of their early for­ma­tive years, we would be able to set a firm foun­da­tion of de­liv­er­ing a knowl­edge based so­ci­ety.

In so do­ing, we are all gath­ered here to ask cer­tain crit­i­cal ques­tions on early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion, take a stock take of what we have and how pre­pared we are and con­verge on cer­tain com­mon strate­gies and base re­sources that must be present at all ECE cen­tres and ac­quire a more rel­e­vant and for­ward look­ing cur­ricu­lum frame­work for use by our ECE teach­ers.

I wish all par­tic­i­pants a very fruit­ful dis­cus­sion and do hope this be­comes the sin­gle most sig­nif­i­cant step to­wards rev­o­lu­tion­is­ing ECE in Fiji.

Vinaka and Dhanyavaad!

Be­low is the ad­dress by the hon­ourable Min­is­ter for Ed­u­ca­tion, Her­itage and Arts, Ma­hen­dra Reddy, at the the Early Child­hood Ed­u­ca­tion (ECE) con­fer­ence to­day.

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