Back to school
Thursday 23rd July 2015
Our plan had been to move the boat to a part of the lagoon called ‘the sandspit’ for a few days, to swim and snorkel, and maybe take the dinghy to the pass at slack tide to snorkel over the reputedly wonderful soft coral there. The weather, however, had a different idea, with the wind picking up to 25-30 knots, and the sandspit anchorage was more exposed than the village one, so we stayed put. We made an attempt to go round by dinghy, but were thwarted by the waves in the lagoon which were trying to swamp us. Usually the villagers have a day at the sandspit every week, doing clearing up, and the yachties join in with the work which is then followed by a jointly provided barbecue and ‘pot-luck’ lunch. This week it was cancelled.
Just getting ashore in the dinghy meant getting very wet, so we spent time on the boat. We had bought some exercise books and pencils for the school, and Steve went ashore one morning to deliver them, to make sure we didn’t leave with them still on board. He came back saying that I really must see the school as he had found his brief visit very interesting, and so this morning I donned waterproofs ready for the dinghy ride. Pepe had unfortunately come down with a cold (which she suspected was a result of some sniffles and sneezing from one of the ladies at the weaving session), so she decided to stay warm and dry on Beez, but Bear braved the weather and off we went ashore.
The school consists of several buildings around a central area, this one of sand. There are houses for the teachers who live on the ‘campus’, a building where the boarders from the other villages live from Monday to Friday as it is too far for them to travel every day and there is only the one school on the island for all three villages, and the building that houses five classrooms and an office. There is a kindergarten class (ages 4-5), years 1 & 2 class (ages 6-7), years 3 & 4 class (ages 8-9), years 5 & 6 class (ages 10-11) and years 7-8 class (ages 12-13). Education is free and compulsory for Fijian children for eight years from 5-13. Older children must go to the main island to continue their education, which I believe parents must pay for, but it may be that free Secondary education has recently been introduced – this was not clear.
The teacher’s houses are just inside the school entrance. The central yard is mainly sand.
The boarders’ living quarters. The main school building of classrooms and office.
The school office is the centre of communications for the village. The school grounds adjoin the beach.
No school bell here, the drums call the children to school.
The staff at the school were very welcoming, and we spent a happy half hour with the kindergarten class who were painting when we arrived, but soon finished up and then entertained us with singing. We enjoyed this enormously, and even more so when the children began to include us in their song and we each had to do the actions for a verse.
The class of eleven kindergarten children were painting flowers when we arrived.
They sat in a circle and sang action rhymes for us.
They found it very amusing when we joined in with the actions.
Reluctantly we left the kindergarten class and moved on to look into the other classes. There are around 70 children in the school, fairly evenly spaced by age. Although the children come to school speaking only Fijian, everything we saw on the blackboards or walls was in English, the official language. When I asked the teacher in the years 1&2 class about it, she said they speak to the children in Fijian, otherwise they would not get very far! This week all the classes were undergoing testing to check on progress – all in English. The year 2 children were being tested on shape and telling the time – in English. Hmmm. Certainly it doesn’t make it easy for teacher or learner, and they are to be admired for their achievements.
On the wall in the kindergarten classroom. Maths test on the board for 6-7 year olds in English.
We looked into all the classrooms but didn’t like to stay long or disturb them from their work. All the staff and children were very welcoming and full of smiles. I was very glad to have braved the weather as I would have been so disappointed to have missed seeing them and their school. They have very limited resources – the government supply basic consumables only, like exercise books and pencils, and if they run out before the end of the year there is no budget for more. There seemed to be very little equipment or books, and what we did see was very dated.
A quick Google search shows that not only is there awareness of the lack of materials in schools, but schemes under way to address the problem. One such plan, sponsored by the Fiji Water Foundation and the Australia High Commission, aims to provide reading book packs for children from years 1-5 in 330 rural and maritime areas this year. (http://fijivillage.com/news/330-primary-schools-in-rural-areas-to-receive-Read-to-Lead--Fiji-reading-books--2rks95/) One does wonder how relevant these materials will be to the children of Fulaga, but they must surely be more useful and relevant than what they already have. Without wishing to bring politics into the blog, it must be said that it must have been difficult to establish proper funding for a school system when it is uncertain how long a government will be in power. Hopefully the current period of stability will enable such development.
It was indeed a very interesting and thought-provoking visit, and I applaud and admire the teachers who do a wonderful job in providing for the education of Fulaga’s children, who were all happy and clearly enjoying their time in school.