WHY GOVT IS INVESTING IN EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION
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.
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.
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.