I am delighted to be able to join you here today for the commissioning of your beautiful school.
I want to first acknowledge our students present here today. It’s wonderful to see you back in your classes. You experienced an event in your young lives that your parents and grandparents never have –– a global pandemic that kept you at home, away from your normal learning environment, your teachers, and friends. From the very first day our schools had to close due to our health restrictions, we made it our mission to return you to your classrooms. Seeing you back in school could not make me prouder. Fiji simply wasn’t Fiji without our schools open and filled with students who are busy with the business of learning.
The education of Fijians of all ages in all parts of the country has always been my Government’s greatest priority. The pandemic reminded us why: The only way that Fiji and the entire world have been able to fight back against COVID and regain our freedom is due to the knowledge, ideas and inventions of educated people.
Without education – we wouldn’t have the scientists who developed life-saving vaccines, or the knowledge of how to get those vaccines to every single Fijian.
Without education – we wouldn’t have the doctors and nurses who worked around the clock to keep thousands of Fijians alive.
Without education – we wouldn’t have the thousands of skilled Fijian teachers, who mobilized to try and keep students on track, so they wouldn’t lose their hard-won academic progress.
Without education – we wouldn’t have the pilots, flight attendants, and airport and hotel staff that keep Fiji’s tourism sector afloat.
Without education – we wouldn’t have the thousands of people who work within Government – and who help me make decisions every day concerning our health, security, food, economy, education, agriculture, environment, housing, roads – and so much more.
Without education, which includes the teaching of trade skills, we would not have the carpenters and engineers who helped build this very school, nor would we have the plumbers, mechanics, and other trades-people who help keep our nation running.
So please never forget how important your education is to you, your family and for Fiji. Especially in this day and age, when we have made it free for all students at the primary and secondary levels, and when so many avenues are now available to you –– whether that is the sciences, academics, hospitality, a technical endeavour, or any other path you choose for yourselves.
I want to commend all the teachers and staff of this school, and of course, the parents and guardians, for the exemplary efforts you have displayed over the last two years to help keep our children learning. I have been told that the school distributed weekly Home Study Packages and lesson notes and that teachers took the initiative to assist those with transport issues by delivering their learning material to their doorsteps.
Your passion for your students’ success is the reason Fijian schools have been able to reopen and push forward, despite the longest shutdown of the education sector in our country’s history.
This $2.1 Million new school will now cater to the Lobau, Wainadoi, Nabukavesi, Mau, Wailoaloa, Qilai, Vunisoco, Vacoko, Nakavu and Veivatuloa Villages. It will also serve the surrounding areas and stop students from having to travel to Suva to attend school every day.
I want to emphasise that my Government is not satisfied simply with being the first to provide free, compulsory education for every child. We have always said that every Fijian student must have access to an equally high standard of learning, no matter where they live – whether in a city or in a rural maritime community.
Ratu Simione Matanitobua College is now equipped with an industrial arts workshop; a computer lab; a science lab and a home economics lab. I know that a library, school hall, and more classrooms are also in the pipeline.
These are world-class facilities that enable every student to grow to their fullest potential; preparing them to be valuable Fijian and global citizens.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this is what equity for every Fijian looks like. This is what our education revolution looks like –– nobody left behind.
I express my sincere gratitude to the UAE Red Cresent delegation present here today; the Honourable Minister for Education, Heritage and Arts; and to every single person who has been a part of building a more secure future for our students here.
Vinaka vakalevu – Thank you.