I’m delighted to be here today for the opening of the Suvavou Kindergarten – the realisation of a promise I made to your community in 2018. Today, we celebrate that promise delivered in the form of a 150,000-dollar new school building, along with new desks, chairs and classroom equipment, all of which your students can proudly call their own.
When we open new schools or school buildings, we open new worlds of opportunity for our young people. There are many stories I could tell today of how our investments in education have changed lives for the better. I could tell you of the parents who we’ve freed from the burden of school fees – and of the students who have chased their dreams of education unburdened by financial constraints. I could tell you of the teachers who – housed in newly built quarters – are able to bring their talents to rural and maritime pockets of the country. But most recently, I can tell you a story about the students of Bau Central College.
Three years ago, Bau Central College was an empty patch of cleared land.
Then, your government went to work, building a new school campus that is now filled with bright young Fijians. Only one short year after opening, three of their students put their imaginations to work building an incredible model of a renewable energy system, which went on to earn them first prize in a national scholastic competition. Their school may be new on the scene, but that didn’t stop them from going toe-to-toe with Fiji’s best and brightest. They used their government’s investment in their education to break ground on a new legacy of academic excellence – one that will carry on for generations.
That is what we want for all of the children of Fiji, including the young students of the new Suvavou Kindergarten. Those stories all begin with investments in the education of young Fijians. When we build for their future, we set the stage for their success, and empower them to use their talents, their creativity and their abilities to achieve great things, for themselves, for their families and for their country.
For those reasons I believe investments in education are the best investments we can make. And now that we’ve moved your students from the village hall into a school building of their own, their classes won’t have to go on hold every time your community holds a wedding, funeral or other community gathering. Instead, they can count on this dedicated classroom building all year long.
Friends, we’re blessed to be living in one of the few countries on Earth without a large outbreak of COVID-19, meaning our children can safely attend their classes. But the global pandemic raging overseas still has consequences for Fiji. Namely, international tourism is virtually paralysed, and that has meant government revenues have taken a big hit. Regardless, our funding towards free education has continued, meaning no family in Fiji will have to pay school fees. And I can tell you, my Ministers and I would fork out our entire salaries – on top of the pay cuts we’ve already taken – before we ever saw free education go away.
We’ve also maintained civil servant’s salaries – including teachers, so that they can focus entirely on the education of Fiji’s students. And, as you can see today, we’re pressing ahead with the construction of new schools and the upgrade of school buildings – because our efforts to raise the quality of our children’s education are far too important to go on pause due to this pandemic.
So, even in this wildly uncertain times, you should know your government‘s support to students and their families will remain. And when the dark clouds of this global pandemic do one day part, a well-educated and inspired generation of Fijian students will be ready to make the most of the possibilities that await.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.