Na Vanua o Nawainovo, Vua na Turaga na Tui Nawainovo;
Turaga na iTalatala Qase;
Honourable Minister for Education;
Honourable Cabinet Ministers;
The Indonesian Ambassador in Fiji;
QVS Old Boys National Executive Committee and OBs;
Parents, Guardians and Friends;
Teachers and Students;
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Bula Vinaka and good morning – and what a morning it is, as students across Fiji settle in for their first week back at school.
This hasn’t been a usual school year. Due to the serious health concerns from COVID-19, we made the tough call to shut Fiji’s schools in the interest of student and community safety. But through the over 100 days since that decision, Fiji has waged a decisive campaign to crush COVID-19 in its tracks. We’ve ended our outbreak and haven’t seen a new case outside of a quarantine facility in 82 days.
And this week, after over three long months at home, we can welcome all of our students back to their classrooms – including here at the Queen Victoria School. I’ve been inspired to see how keen our students have been to get back to school, see their friends and return to the businesses of classroom learning. I’m sure a few here today had their uniforms ironed and bags packed days ahead of their return to classes.
Today, we can proudly celebrate your return home to QVS and the opening of your School Gymnasium.
In 2016, QVS was among the hundreds of Fijian schools devastated by Tropical Cyclone Winston. This school received an R5 damage rating –– the most severe. If you were here during that time you’ll remember why. The roof was ripped off your main school block and the beautiful campus in front of us today was littered with debris.
My Government has since invested 8.3 Million Dollars to strengthen your school buildings and, in some cases, build entirely new facilities. QVS has since welcomed new teachers’ quarters, a new mess hall and, today, we’re adding a brand-new three-story classroom building to your rapidly-modernising campus, with more new classrooms and dormitories soon to be completed.
This latest building also comes with a fully-furbished gymnasium. Now, that’s not to give QVS an unfair leg-up in the hunt for the Dean’s Trophy –– it’s for every student to use to add more physical activity to their routines.
That being said, now that contact sports are allowed to be played again, I fully expect this gym will churn out some serious rugby talent through the years to come.
Athletics are no doubt an important aspect of education – but they aren’t everything. Just like we can’t build a school out of shaky structures, we cannot build a nation on anything less than a rock-solid, knowledge-based foundation, nor can we build good citizens without strong foundations of moral principles. So, as QVS receives a new and better campus, it must strive to better serve its students, by better preparing them with the knowledge and the values a strong and inclusive Fiji demands – a nation that uplifts all of its citizens by assigning equal value to all people.
A nation that rewards individuals, not based on who they know, or even on where they went to school, but based on merit and on the contribution they are capable of making to society.
To our students here today, I know it may be hard to switch back into “school-mode” after so many months at home. The rules at school may be different from the rules at home – so act accordingly. And while I trust you’ve been staying up on your studies as much as possible, some of you may still need to catch-up on classwork. If you find yourself behind, work hard to get back up to speed. And if you see one of your classmates struggling, don’t poke fun; be patient with them, and help them make up any lost ground.
And don’t forget, most students around the world wish they could be in your shoes. As I speak, in nations ravaged by the deadly corona-virus, schools are shut – and no one can say how long for. Children are at home, they can’t see their friends, they can’t go to classes.
Because Fiji made the right moves at the right time to stop COVID-19, our schools can safely re-open.
And because of your Government’s commitment to your education, your parents don’t have to pay school fees, pay for textbooks or –– if they financially qualify – pay for your transportation to school. But do not take our situation for granted.
Keep practicing the good habits which are proven to keep us healthy, including washing your hands regularly with soap and water. Being a member of a school community comes with responsibility. Don’t think of hand-washing as a chore –– it is your duty to your teachers, your families, your schoolmates and your country. Do it yourselves, and demand those same good habits from others around you.
I’d like to end sharing the same message I shared with my grand-daughters as they returned to classes this week; work hard, stay focused, be kind to your classmates, and believe in your potential.
Seeing you – and your fellow students around the country – back at school is proof that every sacrifice we made to beat COVID-19 was well worth it – but don’t let this opportunity go to waste.
Vinaka Vakalevu – Thank you and welcome back to school.