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Fiji: Minister’s “belittling attacks” on teachers’ professionalism must cease immediately

published 24 November 2021 updated 24 November 2021

The Fiji Teachers’ Union (FTU) is urging public authorities to put a halt to the belittling of educators’ qualifications and professionalism in the public media.

FTU: Teachers are qualified professionals

In a press release, the Minister for Education, Heritage and Arts, Premila Kumar, labelled teachers as unqualified. She urged them to upgrade their qualifications from diploma to a bachelor's degree or else they would be replaced with graduates. And Kumar explained that teachers’ qualifications were tied to salary upgrades.

FTU General Secretary Agni Deo Singh responded to the minister’s claims. “The Education Minister continues her attacks on teachers and, this time around, she talks about unqualified teachers, especially those who have a certificate and diploma in teaching,” he said. “This is factually incorrect, as certificate and diploma qualifications have been recognised for decades. There is no record of a Minister for Education, Heritage and Arts ever stating otherwise.”

FTU considers the Minister’s statement to be “insulting, derogatory and demoralising, and a display of contempt against teachers”, according to Singh. He added that, so far, the entry point for a primary school teacher has been a certificate or diploma and the entry point for secondary school teacher has been a diploma or degree.

The union also disagrees with the minister’s claim that teachers who upgrade their qualifications will receive a salary upgrade. It explains that its records show that there are teachers who upgraded their qualifications in 2018 without being put on a higher salary level.

“It sounds more like a joke that the minister intends to replace experienced certificate and diploma holders by those with a higher qualification,” Singh insisted.

FTU underlines importance of teachers’ contributions

He also stressed that:

  • Many teachers graduated with a certificate and diploma, as these were the qualifications provided at teacher training institutions that were highly recognised at that time.
  • Teachers completed intensive training before they graduated from acknowledged teachers’ colleges.
  • Many teachers who graduated with a certificate in teaching have over 20 years of service with a distinguished career and remarkable performance and hold positions as heads or assistant heads of schools.
  • In 2006, the Fiji National University started to offer a diploma in teaching, another two-year rigorous training course.
  • While they have dedicated a considerable proportion of their teaching careers to serving the under-privileged, many teachers in remote and maritime schools have not had the opportunity to upgrade their qualification.
  • Due to the lack of any meaningful budgetary allocation for in-service training, teachers have missed out on the opportunity to pursue further studies.
  • Teachers, like other citizens, have financial commitments to meet, so it would be very difficult for them to take leave without pay to complete further studies.
  • Many teachers retired without having a certificate or diploma, yet they played a vital role in nurturing young minds. Apart from being educators, they were counsellors to children under their care.

The education minister is “creating unnecessary tension and stress”, the FTU leader regretted. “She must show respect to our teachers. Openly ridiculing teachers, who are nation builders, is not the solution and is not fair.”

Singh said that the FTU urges her to refrain from making baseless remarks and to familiarise herself with the functioning of the educational system. She is most welcome to meet with the union, he concluded.

FTC: Concerns about Education Minister's “belittling” remarks

The Fiji Teachers Confederation (FTC) - of which FTU and the Fiji Teachers’ Association, also affiliated to Education international, are members - also expressed its discontent and dismay with the education minister’s comments “belittling our teachers”.

While acknowledging that the Ministry is concerned about the welfare of students, FTC found it “surprising that their very own teachers, who look after these students’ welfare, are ridiculed. This is not helpful at all as far as the morale of the teachers is concerned”.

FTC went on to underline that teachers have been working hard during the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring “the continuity of learning during this period via online classes … Many teachers used personal money to purchase data for online teaching and learning to continue.”

The union confederation further recalled that World Teachers’ Day in Fiji was celebrated on 5 October, under the theme “Teachers at the heart of education recovery”. It is adamant that the focus should remain on supporting teachers for them to fully contribute to the recovery process.

According to FTC, “the denial of hard-earned salary increments and non­payment of allowances to teachers is an act of gross cheating from the Education Ministry and the State”.

Low morale amongst teaching professionals

It also warns that the morale in the teaching profession remains at an all-time low, which undermines the provision of quality education by teachers. “Teachers are not magicians. They are educators and they must be provided with the necessary support required to achieve quality education.”

Considering that Minister Kumar “is totally ignorant of the reality on the ground and challenges faced by teachers on a daily basis, as they work passionately to assist the students in their care”, FTC noted that “if she had bothered to get some factual information on large class sizes in urban schools, she would have understood the need to appoint more teachers”.

The confederation advised the education minister “to get her facts right and refrain from making belittling comments in the media, as she is only doing harm”. It reaffirmed its readiness to work in partnership with the Minister for Education, Heritage and Arts to enhance the quality of education. “However, we will not tolerate any attempt to publicly belittle or threaten our members or to treat them unfairly,” it insisted.