“Dumbing Fiji Down”. Fiji Times, 1 August 2015
Dumbing Fiji Down (Fiji Times, 1 August 2015)
Professor Wadan Narsey
If you believe that the most important current issues in Fiji are rugby sevens or Bollywood or Hollywood, then read no further.
This article is intended largely for parents who care about the intellectual development of their children, to better prepare them for the harsh globalized world.
Yes, we all enjoy entertainment, watching Bollywood and Hollywood and sports.
But I suggest that the Fiji public, led by the media and market forces, are totally overdoing entertainment, while ignoring reading, or watching serious documentaries or actually playing sports.
While all our governments have had the right rhetoric about wanting to create a ‘smart society’, the reality is that the corporate forces in our society, universities, and even government itself, are slowly but surely ‘dumbing Fiji down’.
Rugby sevens and sports
The playing of sports is indeed a desirable activity for physical and mental health, but Bureau of Statistics survey data is showing that actual sporting activities among large proportions of our people are not being given the same priority as watching TV.
What has increased dramatically, is the watching of sports.
While Fiji lurches from crisis to crisis, the public has been more and more obsessed with watching and discussing rugby sevens, the players, the coaches, the strategies, the games, the results.
That is obvious from any analysis of newspaper ‘column inches’ or time spent by television and radio stations per week, if there was any serious journalism student or academic around to document it.
If it is not rugby sevens on our screens, it is rugby union, or rugby league, or Aussie Rules, or soccer, or some other sport.
Viewers should note that commentators, inject excitement into the most boring of games.
Here is an experiment for you: turn off the volume the next time you are watching sevens or Aussie league, and see what you think then of the game you are watching.
While there are a few good educational programs such as ‘Look back in time’, or We ni yawa, or the food and nutrition programs, virtually ignored by our media are serious topics which can help our people cope better with our globalized world: use of computers and internet, science, innovation, technology, agriculture, the environment, the arts, etc.
With the rich always having better access to quality programs on Sky Pacific or other media, it is mostly the poorer people who suffer from these deficiencies in the free to air media.
Bollywood and Hollywood
Any ‘column inches’ analysis of Fiji newspapers or air time of television and radio stations over the last ten years, will document the phenomenal increase in attention paid to Bollywood and Hollywood actors and actresses, relative to more serious topics.
Our people, and especially the young, have drastically reduced the amount of time they spend on reading (fiction or non-fiction), with an inevitable deterioration in their standards of English, which all employers complain about.
Our university students will not attend free public lectures, while readily spending money to watch Bollywood entertainers and discuss them ad nauseam.
One side effect of Fiji’s preoccupation with international entertainment trivia, is the slow but certain massacre of the indigenous Fijian culture and language, again, with little public discussion.
There was a horrifying lack of debate and opposition to the shocking banning of the Fijian language from Parliament.
There is an abysmal lack of general knowledge among our young people, who can easily tell you who Bollywood or Hollywood stars are dating but not what is happening in Greece.
Just listen to our young people’s daily conversations or read the Letters to the Editor.
While the Fiji Minister of Education, Dr Reddy, is rightly pointing out that the serious deterioration in academic standards in our schools, he may himself be worsening the problem.
Government dumbing people down
Not too long ago, the Bainimarama Government decreed that all television stations MUST televise all the games of the rugby sevens international tournament so that ‘all citizens in Fiji could watch it’.
But when these tournaments were on, that was ALL that the Fiji public could see on the ‘free to air’ channels of Fiji TV, FBC and MaiTV, for virtually the entire weekend,
Was it a coincidence that last week, while the Bainimarama Government was reducing the number of parliamentary sessions to be held next year, Fiji Broadcasting Corporation was not showing the parliamentary sessions live, instead some American soap opera.
Recently months, the Bainimarama Government mounted massive and costly propaganda campaigns to encourage every citizen in the country, young and old, to think about Fiji’s proposed new flag designs, and text in their choice.
This superficial flag change, with no impact on our peoples’ lives, produced an outpouring of public response.
Yet the same Bainimarama Government refused to encourage the Fiji public to discuss or vote on the abrogation of the 1997 Constitution, or the adoption of the 2013 Constitution, or the promulgation of Media Decrees, all of far greater impact on their lives.
There was no public protest either, as there was over the superficial flag change.
Now, the Minister of Education, without examining what is happening to our university standards, has demanded that universities must lower their minimum entry requirement from 250 to 200.
While the Hon Dr Reddy reasoned that the ‘raw marks’ will not be scaled any more, it is a big jump in logic to then conclude that any student now obtaining more than 200 raw marks, should be entitled to enter university programs, when even now, university standards have been slipping.
Universities dumbing students down
Twenty years ago, as Director of Planning and Development at USP, I was horrified to find from my research that even then, a large proportion of the best secondary students from Fiji and other Pacific countries, were not coming to USP.
They were going abroad, via the rich scholarships from donors, or through private funding by parents who wanted their children to emigrate after graduation.
With USP intakes becoming of lower and lower average quality (a problem world wide), university standards have been sliding down, to ensure ‘reasonable’ pass rates and low failure rates.
This trend is worsened when university managers use student numbers as the basis for funding faculties and departments, which then have every incentive to pass as many as they can.
Some university managers penalize lecturers with high failure rates in their courses, even if the objective is to maintain decent standards.
While university administrators boast that their university is comparable to the best in the world, the reality is that they (and academics including me) send their own children, if bright enough, to genuinely excellent universities abroad, where competition forces them to perform better, instead of staying in comfort zones at the local university, collecting ‘gold medals’ and illusions of excellence.
Now, with the Fiji Minister of Education demanding a lower entry mark for our universities, expect our university standards to slip more, expect our university graduates to be of poorer and poorer quality, and expect our employers to complain more.
Add to that the trend that our experienced graduates are continuing to emigrate at horrendous levels, expect Fiji to keep on ‘dumbing down’.
Parents, you are warned.