We are here to celebrate the commissioning of this new school building and the new upgraded works on your campus. But I think we all know that these new buildings will only serve their true purpose once they are filled with the energy and enthusiasm of our young people who can use them to further their educations. So, before we celebrate this development, I’d like speak on our strategy to safely re-open our schools for learning.
As you all know, we made the decision to close our schools for in-person learning during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in April of this year. That decision was taken in the best interests of students, parents, and teachers.
Young people are not immune to COVID-19 and it would have been disastrous were our students to mix and mingle in classes, potentially spread the virus, and then bring it home to infect members their families. For six months, our students, teachers and parents have handled this adversity admirably –– shifting learning from classrooms to the home while we’ve deployed vaccines to protect our people.
Thanks to our national effort to offer the proven protection of vaccines across Fiji, we are in a much better and safer place as a nation today. Over 90 per cent of adults have both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
And I thank those who are fully vaccinated for their commitment to their health and the health of the nation –– including our teachers, who have also done good work preparing learning materials for students during this difficult period.
Now we are in the process of offering the protection of vaccines to those under the age of 18. Vaccinations for those who are 15 to 17 years old have been steadily rolled out since 16th September, 2021 and last week we began vaccinations for those 12 to 14 years old so that our young people can join the hundreds of millions around the world who are also being vaccinated against COVID-19.
We are seeing very good uptake so far, and I thank the parents who have shown the responsibility to have their children protected so that we can get back safely to the lives we have missed so dearly.
As we assess the effectiveness of our vaccine rollout, we are planning to resume face to face classes for Years 8 – 13 from Tuesday 4 January, 2022.
And what a day that will be for the 160 students of the Muaira District School when they return to a campus that has been improved through 1.5-million-dollar investment from their government. For much of our history, we never saw this level of investment in our rural schools.
That was a shame, because it relegated opportunity to the realm of our urban areas.
We’ve rehabilitated three buildings, completed major structural upgrading works for two buildings and constructed a new double story, one by six building.
We’ve had to make these improvements because, as we know, COVID-19 is not the only global crisis we face. Climate change –– and the stronger storms, rising seas, flooding, and erratic weather it brings –– present the most serious threat to young Fijian’s future. In recent years, climate-driven damages to schools alone have cost us hundreds of millions of dollars.
By making investments to strengthen our schools, we actually save ourselves costs from rebuilding down the line.
Not to mention, schools should be the most cyclone-resilient structure in every community, because over 300 schools throughout Fiji serve as evacuation centers during severe weather events.
But we don’t see this purely as a cost saving exercise –– this is an investment; an investment in young people. To our parents, guardians and children here today: These new buildings have been built because we believe in you. We believe in what you can accomplish when you have the right tools and facilities.
We are confident you have the ability to realize whatever you set out to achieve. And the greatest return on this investment will be in the form of the responsible, civic-minded and highly capable citizens it helps to produce.
It was that same belief in our young people’s potential has led my government to make education free in this country and to introduce the transport assistance scheme, free textbooks, and tertiary loans and scholarship services which we have continued to fund throughout the pandemic.
Friends, when I travel across Fiji to commission projects such as this, it is because I believe, even in these moments of celebration, that there is always more that can be done. I do so because I want to see for myself and hear with my own ears the challenges you face. I do this to understand the hopes you have for your community and your children.
Meeting with you is the best part of my job as Prime Minister. Listening to people in our communities, at the grassroots, I learn more than I ever could sitting behind my desk in Suva. And I look forward to our chance to Talanoa. As always, we will do the best we can to help you with the resources we have. As always, I will only make promises that I know can be kept.
Having said this, ladies and gentlemen I am more than happy to commission the project at this school which is worth of $1.49 million and category 5 compliant.
Thank you and Vinaka vakalevu.