Bula Vinaka and good morning to you all.
We are here today to celebrate an important milestone in education in Fiji. What the Gujarat Education Society has accomplished with this new facility will set a standard for education in our country, and we all know that quality education thrives on high standards. We need to set high standards for our children, and we need to set high standards for ourselves—for the quality of our instruction, for the way we design and equip our facilities, and for the example we set.
What our children absorb from their teachers is as important as what they are taught at home. Teachers may impart knowledge and information through instruction. They may help children develop critical-thinking skills, analytical ability and problem-solving. They may help children develop perseverance by challenging them with new assignments. They may teach leadership, teamwork and collaboration through sports and group projects and extracurricular activities.
But children also absorb values and behaviours from their teachers, just as they do from their parents and grandparents. They learn the behaviours that their teachers model every day. That’s what often makes a teacher inspiring. If their teachers are just and fair, the children will learn justice and fairness. If their teachers are patient and kind, the children will learn patience and kindness. If their teachers are tolerant of differences, the children will learn tolerance. In no small way, our teachers help raise our children and turn them into responsible, caring adults and good citizens.
Ladies and gentlemen, that brings me to the namesake of this school, the great Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, a man who was universally loved by people of good will—so much so that he became known as Mahatma, a title of reverence and loving respect given to someone regarded as holy or a sage. In fact, the title became so intimately connected with him that I think many people fully believe that his name was Mahatma. They may not even be aware of the name Mohandas.
So what does it mean when a school takes the name of such a man? Is it just a name, or should it be an inspiration? Should the Gandhi name take us beyond the quality of instruction—beyond the computers and the laboratories, the textbooks and the playing fields, the curricula and the teaching plans? Should it not inspire us to higher standards in all the ways our children learn in school, particularly in the secondary school years, when our children are knocking on the door of adulthood? I believe that you called this school the mahatma Gandhi Memorial High School because you wanted to create a living memorial to Gandhi and his teaching—something that would carry on his work and keep his teachings alive in some way through the ages.
We remember Gandhi for many things, but above all, we remember that he called on us to the highest standards of humanity—or enlightenment through education and contemplation, of tolerance and respect, of kindness and charity. He saw education as a pathway to that high standard of humanity.
He said, “Literacy in itself is no education. Literacy is not the end of education or even the beginning. By education I mean an all-round drawing out of the best in the child and man—in body, mind and spirit.”
If we achieve that with our children, we will produce a permanent legacy of tolerance and understanding, which is the single most important value we must nurture to propel Fiji into a bright and prosperous future. We depend on schools to help us do that—to help counteract the prejudice and intolerance that abounds in Fiji as in all societies. We depend on the schools to help us produce citizens who think for themselves based on what they learn and experience in school. The single greatest overarching goal of my government has been to create one Fiji, to obliterate for all time the divisions of race and faith that had held us back for so long and diverted our energies into pointless fits of distrust and anger.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Gujarat Education Society can take great pride in what it has accomplished with all its schools. And the new Mahatma Gandhi Memorial High School complex is the jewel in the crown. It is outfitted for the computer age. It has modern classrooms, science laboratories and teacher facilities. It has pleasant places for students to gather informally. It promises its 900 students a fine start in life if they choose to take advantage of what is here, and it can accommodate more students in the future.
But while we celebrate this marvellous facility, and we hold it up as a standard to which all schools in Fiji should aspire, I also remind you that it is the people of this school who will deliver quality education, who will turn out informed and enlightened young citizens ready for university or a career. This modern facility is a point of pride for them and the students that makes their job easier. But the burden is on their shoulders—to continue to inspire our children to go beyond what they thought were their capabilities, to continue to model the behaviour that we want to encourage in our young people, and to continue to educate by keeping before you the teachings of the man for whom you have named this beautiful school. A grateful country will always thank you for that.
Vinaka vakelevu. Thank you