Bula Vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.
Let me start by welcoming all of our students home to the Ballantine Memorial School. This enrolment day is unlike any other, as you prepare to return to your classrooms and resume face-to-face learning after over three months spent at home.
Throughout my service as prime minister nothing has made me prouder than the progress we’ve made in educating our children, from the introduction of free education, free textbooks and the subsidised transportation to school, to our commitment to build better, more resilient school buildings, to the historic opportunities provided to students aspiring to higher education. I’m proud to say it is young women whose educations have seen the greatest benefits from that agenda of progress.
So, for me personally, closing Fiji’s schools as part of our campaign of COVID-Containment was not easy, even though we knew it was the safe and necessary course of action. At that time, no one could say with certainty how long our students would need to stay at home, particularly given how devastating the virus had proved to be in other countries.
But it has now been 102 days since Fiji confirmed its first case of the coronavirus, and 72 days since we recorded our last case. I know for some of us, that may feel like a lifetime ago given how much we’ve achieved in such a short span of time. Thanks to our decisive action and the diligent efforts of our healthcare heroes and disciplined forces, all of our patients have since made full recoveries and Fiji has completely contained the virus.
Looking at the faces of the students here today, each ready to get back to the business of in-person learning, reminds me that every sacrifice made over the past 102 days has been well worth it. I know many of our doctors, our nurses, our police officers, our RFMF personnel – particularly those who are parents – have motivated themselves through many sleepless nights by imagining this very occasion: The day their children could return to school. I want to thank every one of those Fijians, as well as each of our students here at Ballantine Memorial and all across the country for your patience during the months you’ve stayed home and stayed on top of your coursework as much as possible.
I’m proud to announce that the new campus you’ll be returning to has received an over 660,000-dollar upgrade to its single and duplex teacher’s quarters.
Investing in high quality quarters is about more than providing teachers with a sense of physical safety and security and it’s about more than granting them comfort. These investments express to our teachers that we value them and their contribution to Fijian society. In that way, this project is direct investment in both the wellbeing of our teachers and the quality of the education they provide our children.
To the students here today – and to every student in the country – I know I speak for every parent in Fiji, when I say how excited we are to reconnect you with your friends and your teachers and see you continue your educational journeys in the classroom. But as you do, bear in mind that many of fellow students around the world don’t yet have this same opportunity; many of them will be learning at-home for quite some time to come.
Be thankful; and put that gratitude into practice every day of the next term. Work hard, study hard, be kind to one another, and – together – let’s press Fiji’s education revolution onwards, and let’s do it as safely as it can be done.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you. And welcome back to Ballantine Memorial School.