Skip to content

“Complete education” more than ORMS: a personal perspective (FT 26/1/2019)


“Complete education” more than ORMS: a personal perspective (FT 26/1/2019)

In the current debate over the use of the ORMS by the Bainimarama Government to appoint head teachers while religious authorities wish to also use adherence to  their “faith” as a necessary merit criterion (which some members of the public wrongly equating faith to “dogma”).

I suggest that one needs to go even beyond the criterion of “faith” to the concept of “complete education” which I personally received from the Catholic schools I attended, far wider and far more valuable to me personally, than the skills that are required as part of the ORMS package or narrow definitions of “faith”.

Of course, in the fifties and sixties there was some religious teaching (which could be classified as “dogma”) but by the seventies had progressively evolved to the very necessary teaching of core “morals” and “ethics” which are not limited to any one religion and all essential if our society is to combat the increasing corruption and crimes in Fiji (see yesterday’s Fiji Times story about sexual violence against the young).

But as importantly, while not ignoring the academic side, the Marist schools (Marist Brothers and lay teachers) gave me what other purely academically minded schools (or the ORMS appointed head teachers of today) would not have- a love of sports, rare life skills, and love of music which have lasted me all my life.

The sports and sporty life

Marist Brothers schools, while not compromising academic standards, also fostered sports, which I loved. And because I was in the soccer first eleven, cricket first eleven, played rugby, and was the Fiji secondary schools 1500 meters Intermediate champ, I was named Marist Sportsman of the Year, which I valued higher than my academic achievements.

No matter that when I went home with my trophy, my narrow minded Gujarati father told me “sports won’t fill your stomach, son” (he said the same again about music).

Also at Marist I was involved with the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, through which we young kids walked through the middle of Viti Levu from Sabeto Highlands to Nausori, and Vatukoula to Sigatoka, with just rucksacks and maps.

That gave great confidence in the outdoors and I remember fondly climbing Mt. Joske’s Thumb with my European dhobi kaivata, Peter Drysadale (while our two class mates Anil and Jittu slept off the bottle of whisky that they had done some serious damage to the night before).

Later in life, the early love of sport translated to being in the Fiji squash squad, being Fiji Billiards champion and representing Fiji Seniors for Golf in Melbourne.  I still play golf today, a life saver for a diabetic for twenty years.

But the fostering of sports at schools must surely be the greatest catalyst for Fiji’s multiculturalism.

The rare life skills

In Year 8 at St. Felix (now Marist Primary), I was taught by the most extraordinary Brother Bertrand, also then the Head Teacher, who taught me and some others, two extraordinary sets of life skills, basic carpentry and first aid.

Brother Bertrand ran weekend classes in concrete mixing, block laying, plumbing, woodwork and even vegetable gardening.  I take on these tasks here in Melbourne without fear (even if the quality may not be great) to the horror of my children who think these are jobs for the “tradies”, not a retired academic.

But Brother Bertrand also ran first aid classes which led to formal certificates and service with the St. John Ambulance Brigade, of which Brother Bertrand was a leading light then.

We twelve and thirteen year olds would take turns to serve every weekend at Albert Park for the rugby and soccer games, administering first aid, even for fractures, however irritating it was to be called on the field with the spectators yelling for the “Aspro Boys” (as we were then called).

And what would be unthinkable to today’s parents, we young teenagers (in pairs usually) regularly served all night at the CWM Hospital, going out with the ambulance to whichever emergency we were called.  With me then were also Dinesh Chauhan (my cousin from Toorak) and a slightly older Francis Mangubhai (my role model then later a teaching colleague at USP).

We St Johns’ boys brought in all kinds of accident cases: burns, fractures, mothers giving birth, once on a stretcher from up a gully in a Nabua squatter settlement.  I remember one horrifying case of being in the back of the ambulance bringing in a St. Giles mental patient who had tried to cause self-harm, sadly taken eventually to the morgue.

But as a Gujarati boy from Toorak, I enjoyed all the “European” meals we received from the CWM cooks while on duty there.

One bonus of that four year stint with the St. John Ambulance Brigade and tutoring by Brother Bertrand, was that I never ever feared simple medical emergencies involving blood and bones.

The music

Growing up in Toorak, we were in close proximity with the Empire Old Boys Band. But when I wanted to buy a guitar, my dear old departed Gujarati father curtly told me “music won’t feed your stomach, son. I don’t want you associating with these goondas (larrikans)” which most of them were.

But at school, Brother Placid (later Principal at Marist High) taught us three part harmony, with even Brother Placid being amazed that the indigenous Fijian students needed no lessons.

No matter that we got sick of singing “My Sarie Marais” a hundred times with no awareness of its origins in the Anglo-Boer war in South Africa, but the Marist commitment to teaching music was continued into Marist Brothers High School.

At university in NZ, while working with the Maoris in freezing works, I did buy a guitar and eventually graduated to the folk music of the sixties- Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel and others.

That love of music continued at USP, not just with the great musical student talents like Napoleoni Masirewa but my old departed USP friend and colleague Dr. Ropate Qalo.

That love of music (and harmonica playing) was rekindled in recent years when with one of my sons (Amit) took up music seriously with his mates at Yat Sen Secondary.

It continued in the company of one of my music loving architect friends, Adish Naidu, who managed to gather around him eclectic groups of different musical cultures of all kinds of musicians from different ethnic backgrounds: Ajen, Wilson, Beni, and even a Bhajanya group led by Ravindra Pillay (who once played a memorable concert at Adish’s Sigatoka farm after his mum’s funeral).

But I especially value my association with the Bilolevu Boys, a Catholic Church initiative.

The Bilolevu Boys

In my last few years in Fiji, I was fortunate to be invited to the Bilolevu Boys Club meeting in the crypt of the Catholic Church by one of its leading lights, guitarist  and singer, Joe Chang also a fellow golfer.

The “Bilolevu Boys” (a bit of a misnomer in later years) was  an initiative of the Catholic Church, originally intended to keep “boys” and young men out of mischief during their after hours.

Now mostly middle-aged men from all walks of life, they meet from Mondays to Saturday after hours, playing music and drinking grog from a huge bucket till the late hours (although there is a full-size pool table which hardly anyone uses).

Of course, there is the odd Catholic priest or brother or two, or retired like John Pickering and Bill Rounds, and even the Archbishop comes there now and then, I am told.

But the gathering was not restricted to Catholics, as there were other Christians, Muslims, and even the odd agnostic (moi).

But playing with the Bilolevu Boys taught me to heed to rhythm, timing and toning down your own contribution (not fully learnt), all essential when playing in a group, as opposed to the lazy lack of discipline that solo playing all too easily encourages.

Not only did the Bilolevu Boys one have the great musical talent and energy of Joe Chang, but also wonderful guitarists like Tito Rabaka (brother of Tom Mawi), the late Rupeni Serevi, Anthony Lockington, Fred Wollmer, Mike Whippy, percussionist Craig Strong, Jeff Narruhn, Willie Wye, Lawrence Smith, Bill Rounds,  and occasional guests Father Mika and icon Mike Reynolds, to mention just a few.   Many of them had enjoyed the education of Catholic education institutions, but not all. Readers may watch some of the clips I put on Youtube some five years  ago, for example:

What one can say is that the Catholic Church can rightly claim that their Bilolevu Boys initiative brings together people who contribute to Fiji’s multiculturalism in a very broad way (which I suggest ought to be documented in a book by the Fiji Times music journalist, Felix Chaudhry).

All the Christian education authorities have had many other similar initiatives, as documented by Brother Fergus Garrett for the Marist Brothers.

I hope that more books are written on the contribution of the Marist nuns and the priests, and all the other religious organizations in Fiji- Hindu and Muslim included.

The limitations of the ORMS

Of course there are parents who want their children to “pass exams with the highest marks possible” whether they receive an al-round education or not and they may be quite comfortable with the ORMS being used to appoint head teachers of schools.

But educationists all know that narrow academic achievement in the examinable skills do not necessarily make happy, well adjusted, citizens in later life, even if these are debatable “subjective” concepts.

Of course also, there are lay teachers without any particular “faith” who can also make good head teachers when appointed on the ORMS, but there are also many who have no great devotion to the “complete education” that is the ideal for good educationists and religious education authorities.

Ultimately, however, it is the essence of genuine “democracy” that school education authorities who are the owners of the schools and accountable to the parents, be allowed the independence to appoint their own choice of head teachers, according to their own conception of “merit”.

My personal experience (including my account above) and that of thousands of both non-Christians and Christians who have gone through Marist education systems, are testimony that their education system has worked for decades, in ways that other secular schools would not have.

“Why fix it, if it ain’t broke”.

Post-script 1

A reader suggested to me that my account was very specific to me and that the schools and principals I wrote about were very different from those prevailing today; and that the Bainimarama Government was genuinely trying to improve the quality of the schools many of which were in poor state. I do not dispute either. But there is a principle of “self-determination” which applies to education authorities just as much as it applies to countries: both entities must have the freedom to make decisions on their own behalf- even if they lead to mistakes or less than desirable results. Dictatorial agencies do not have a monopoly on knowledge or experience, and certainly do not have any right to over-ride the education authorities when it comes to management.

Postscript 2

It horrifies me the depths to which Fiji has sunk with an ever-present mentality of humiliating subservience to powerful politicians. Not a day goes by without some member of the public writing a cringing letter “humbly begging” the Prime Minister to have dialogue with the education authorities or someone or other. Prime Minister Bainimarama is seen no longer as a servant of the taxpayers, but a lord and master who must be pleaded with, in order for people to enjoy their basic human rights.

Just as Fiji people still beg (and most choose to conveniently forget) that this Bainimarama Government shamelessly ignores calls (ye, humble pleas) for the lifting of the bans on Padma Narsey Lal and Brij Lal to return to Fiji, if they wish. Shame on all the other usually loud and aggressive Ministers in the Bainimarama Government who dare not raise their voices either on the Padma Lal/Brij Lal ban. Shame on all the Indo-Fijian organizations like Arya Samaj and Sanatan Dharam and Gujrat Education Society who maintain their cowardly silence on this ban.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: