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Women Speak Out! A Report of the Pacific Women's Conference. October 27 – November 2


Education in Fiji. I wish that the Permanent Secretary for Education in Fiji comes to talk to you because he may give a clearer picture than I will…! There are three hundred islands in the Fiji group and over one hundred are inhabited, including the ones some of us come from. And we've been away from our islands for so long that we don't know whether we still know our aunts, and our great-grandfathers. Well, that is how education has removed people, to come over to this main island, Viti Levu, the largest one, with over 4,000 sq. miles and about 74% of the population.

Education is for everybody. It is everybody's business. Therefore, we have in Fiji, like in any other country, our own education system. Our system is administered by the Ministry of Education. We have our officers and they are far-flung officers who are living with the people, helping the teachers, helping the children, setting exams, which are sometimes rather rigid, for us all to follow, so that we may have some form of standard right throughout the country. I think that is enough to briefly say what is happening in Fiji.

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We have exams, we used to have exams galore, but thank goodness some of them have been removed. Exams to get into an intermediate class after six years in a primary school; then you sit another exam after two years to get into a secondary school. Then you sit another exam after that (after the 4th form - after three years) to be able to get to another level. Then you sit another exam in order to sit for your university entrance exam, and then when you've sat your U.E. you can get into university. So if you work all that out, that is your elimination of those people who are not fit to progress and you drop out a lot and therefore are left with a selected few who, if they are not careful, will become an elite member of a separate world, useless to other people but useful only to themselves.

However, this system, we must say, has produced and it has blessed the country in many ways. As a unionist, I can't help but look at the system critically, and I hope that you will bear with me. If you have your figures in front of you you will see there are almost the same number of girls and boys - there's not much difference - going into that factory.

The YWCA and other voluntary bodies have piloted their own pre-schools, and the women are not waiting for anybody. They've set up their pre-schools and they put their children through. I hope that one day the government will recognise the importance of such education; that the children, before they go to school, have to be prepared. The school system is too sophisticated for many of our ethnic groups, and therefore, somehow, you've got to help them to come through the system, if you're going to adopt that system. The pre-school has about 44 groups running in the country - there's probably a little more now.

Then you put them through that factory, and they come out, perhaps, at the university. When they come out, you'd be lucky to read on graduation day that there are more women coming out of that factory, and all did well in their different forms.

After pre-school, you come to the primary. Primary education means more exams - very much formal-oriented, very page 31 little informal learning. The joy of play, and game, and learning in the pre-school, where my children have picked up such a lot about life, is somehow gone when they go into the primary school, gone when they go into secondary, gone when they go into the university.

What I'm really trying to say is the fact that much of what we learn is very irrelevant to the life that we're going to live. It is very relevant to the successful ones, perhaps like me. But how about the ones who dropped out, who dropped away from the system somewhere along the line? There's nothing for them. We need a new force to cater for people to learn to respect themselves, to learn to use the opportunities that arise; and to be able to learn something in life, that life becomes meaningful.

I'm interested in women's groups because they provide a group of people who are interested in giving education to the women, to the people of the community. Men's clubs in Fiji are just socialising clubs. Women's clubs are very hard working, trying to educate and trying to develop community work. People have to be aware and develop an awareness of the needs of their community in order to help to make that community better.

What are our educational objectives? I feel that it should not just be formal and informal education but should be all that you learn to enlighten yourself for a better life. That, I feel, is much more meaningful in the Pacific if we're going to retain a lot of our Pacific traits and add on some of the things that we feel that will make life more wholesome.

What kind of a woman are we trying to produce? Perhaps you want an eloquent, intelligent, clean, healthy, nice-looking woman, so academic that she will just be able to floor everybody including the men. Perhaps your image of that woman that you are trying to create in the Pacific is not quite that. I asked a few men: “What do you want?” and they said: “I want a nice, submissive person, beautiful to look at, obedient, in some ways she can talk but she should only talk about what she is supposed to talk about.” What is your page 32 picture of this woman that we're trying to create, the New Woman of the Pacific?

We've given all our educational systems, we've given our criticisms and the things we've yet to develop on curriculum, that we'd like the women of tomorrow to learn. All they are learning now at school is very irrelevant. I say to Domestic Science teachers: “For goodness' sake, don't teach them about wool - that's useless! Learn more about handicraft, to plait things, don't just talk about it.” I went and got someone to come and teach handicraft - she does not speak a word of English, but she can plait! And that's all I want - to communicate some skills that exist in the community, that if they are not shared for the betterment of individuals and the community, they would be gone.

To conclude, I leave you with some comments and this is an old wise saying: “To be educated is to be useful.” When you are educated you're supposed to be better everyday, you're supposed to know and be very wise about things. I don't know what your educational system is creating in your countries, but I know that in my country people are getting worse, they are losing their own respect and they are becoming street people instead of being homely people; they're becoming poorer people rather than richer or respectable people, and I leave you with that thought, because I think you must depend on what you want in education, depend on what you want that Pacific woman to be, then if you clarify those thoughts then you will have more hope of working on those strategies and putting your plans down and saying “You go here, and you go there.” So that in five years' time when we do meet again, we can see what we have done - whether you've destroyed Pacific women or whether you've helped them.