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Fijian education: the many good news [The Fiji Times, 10 Sep 2002]

28/03/2012

 This week’s economic summit will be devoting a whole day to indigenous Fijian development.

Quite rightly, education is considered a priority area for the 2020 Plan for indigenous Fijians.

Fijian education usually “bad” news: with unfair comparisons

Unfortunately, the data that is typically presented, gives messages of “under-performance” by indigenous Fijians, in comparison with Indo-Fijians.

Such comparisons are often unfair on the Fijian students (and on Fijian teachers).

As has been pointed out, the majority of Fijian schools are rural and not well endowed.  Fijian schools are also smaller, with smaller classes, with teachers often required to teach multiple grades.    The evidence indicates that large schools do better (and the Mixed schools and classes are usually larger).

And Fijian students are often expected to have a wider focus on sports, culture, dance and song (which turns them into well-rounded persons), while most Indo-Fijian students are pre-occupied with academic success, to the detriment of other important objectives in life.

Fijian students may therefore be expected not to do as well if judged by arithmetic averages in mathematics or english.

It is therefore quite fascinating that there is considerable good news about Fijian students’ performance, when analysed in comparable situations.

  There are also fascinating differences, when the data is disaggregated by gender.

My study last year: interesting results

  Last year, as part of a study on the financing of education, I analysed 1999 Year 6 Examinations results forSuva primary schools.

Most of them could be classifed as urban schools (thereby reducing the “rural” factor in the analysis).

Of the 2115 pupils in the sample, some 65 percent were Fijian and 35 percent Indo-Fijian.

I examined their average marks for mathematics and english.

In mathematics, there was the usual better performance by Indo-Fijians (difference of 10% in the means).

But in English, there was almost no difference between Fijians (average= 84.7) and Indo-Fijians (average= 85.1).

And disaggregating by gender threw a different light on the situation.

By far the best performers were Fijian females, with the following averages:

  Fijian females           87.9

Indo-Fijian females    87.2

Indo-Fijian males     83.0

Fijian males                81.4

Fijian females doing very well

Well, well.  Fijian female students were ahead of Indo-Fijian females, and well ahead of Indo-Fijian males, and Fijian males.  Not the typical bad news, is it?

Excellence in English translates into excellence in a whole range of professions in life in the social sciences and humanities. such as in law, economics, teaching.  Even in the sciences, skills in literacy give an advantage to those who are not so literate.

And the good news about Fijian students’ performance does not end there.

What happens to the performance of Fijians students if they are placed in “Mixed”
school environments (usually classified as “Indo-Fijian” schools)?

In thisSuvasample of 1999, some 40 percent of the Mixed school enrolment was indigenous Fijian.

Again, there are fascinating results which should encourage the Ministry of Education to greater research.

For Fijian students only, the mean  English average marks were as follows:

Mixed schools           87.9

Fijian only schools     83.5

Fijians performed better in Mixed Schools

In other words, Fijians students showed 5 percent better performance in Mixed schools, compared to the Fijian-only schools.

And the improvement was even bigger (by almost 9 percent) in mathematics averages for Fijian students.

Mixed schools           86.0

Fijian-only schools     79.1

The above data lends support to the what many Fijian parents now believe, that their children do better academically, in Mixed schools.

The gender differences and comparisons for Fijian students, throw up more fascinating questions.

Of course, Fijian females did better than Fijian males in both kinds of schools,  in both English and mathematics.

Look at average English marks for Fijian students only.

Females (Mixed schools)                 89.6

Females (Fijian-only schools)                        86.8

Males (Mixed schools)                       84.5

Males (Fijian only schools)                79.7

Females do better than males in both kinds of schools.

Why do Fijian males perform better in mixed schools?

But the Fijian male students’ average in Mixed schools was higher by 6% compared to Fijian-only schools.  Whereas the improvement for females, in going from Fijian-only schools to Mixed schools was 3%.

Almost similar results are indicated for Fijians students’ performance in mathematics, in the two kinds of schools, as follows:

Females (Mixed schools)                 82.6

Females (Fijian-only schools)                        78.8

Males (Mixed schools)                       81.2

Males (Fijian-only schools)                75.1

Again, the average for Fijian males in Mixed schools was 8 percent higher than in Fijian-only schools, while that for females was 5%.

Now why would the improvement for Fijian males, be higher than the improvement for Fijian females (in going from Fijian-only schools to Mixed schools)?

I have little doubt that the above pattern of results which are clearly evident from the Year 6 examinations data, is replicated at all levels of primary and secondary education.

Given that the improvement of Fijian education is one of the priority development objectives for the country, the above results have clear implications for Government policy.

Implications for Government education policy

First, it is clear that Fijian students do much better academically in Mixed schools (where incidentally, many of the teachers are indigenous Fijian) than they do in Fijian-only schools.

Explanatory factors may be school size, school resources, teacher qualifications and motivation, school management and motivation.

But does the superior performance of Fijian females in both kinds of schools indicate the greater importance of the gender dimension for Fijian education?

Does the evidence suggest the importance of the peer group factor for both Fijian males and females, as found in Mixed schools?

And is the peer group factor more important for Fijian males?

The results I have discussed here seem to have clear implications for Ministry of Education policy.

If the ultimate objective is the improvement of Fijian education performance as measured by examinations results, then encouraging Fijian enrolment in Mixed schools, and encouraging Fijian only schools to become multi-racial, is an obvious strategy.

The former is already happening automatically, because of the decline of the Indo-Fijian school-age population, leaving more spaces for Fijian children in Indo-Fijian schools.

But, as the Fiji Teachers Union has been requesting, Government needs to consider financially helping Fijian students, wherever they are enrolled, whether in Fijian only schools or in Mixed schools.  Currently Government provides affirmative action assistance only to Fijian-0nly schools.

Need for more research

 

Government also needs to devote very special efforts to understand and counter the under-performance of Fijian male students.

 

Government needs to do much deeper research on Fijian educational performance, than just comparing national averages, which hide the effects of many complex underlying factors.

 

And Government needs to publicise the “good news” on Fijian education, that is evidently there, and good for motivation of Fijian students.

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