Extending the Reach of Schools
Joseph Veramu
(This paper is based on an address to the Fiji Principals’ Association in May 2002)
this group had reached Form 7 (Government
of Fiji 2000:30). These figures should be
Schools generally do not cater for dropouts.
considered in the context of Fiji’s youthful
Once students fail their external exams or
population with 62.7% below the age of 29.
drop out due to truancy, financial constraints,
Young people between the ages of 15 and
or for other reasons, the school moves on
24 make up 19.97% of Fiji’s population,
in developing those students still remain-
a total of 150,637 people. It is noted that
ing within its ambit. Principals throughout
about 16,500 young people leave school
Fiji provide leadership and innovation in
every year, of whom some 14,500 actively
their schools. They have great influence in
seek work. Only about 8,000 are able to find
bringing about positive changes that can (a)
work. This leaves about 6,500 who must be
reduce the number of drop-outs by making
absorbed into the informal economic sector
school life more fulfilling for them, and
(MYEOS 2000).
(b) help those who leave early to fit into
the socio-economic life of urban and rural
Problems Faced by Students
communities. This article looks at ways in
which these positive changes can be brought
I now turn to problems and constraints faced
about and implemented for the betterment of
by high school students. Recent research has
all students, but perhaps more particularly,
pinpointed these problems. Many students
those who are potential school dropouts.
drink yaqona and alcohol, smoke cigarettes
and marijuana and engage in premarital sex.
Current situation
If school-based programmes and counsel-
ing strategies deal directly with drug and
In 2002 we have 154 high schools educating
alcohol prevention, reproductive health
an estimated 68,500 students. While there
and values education, then students will get
have been major improvements in our educa-
some informed guidance to help them deal
tion system since independence, one factor
with their problems.
that has not changed is the external exam
system, which begins in primary school
A national survey of 1,629 Fiji students be-
and continues up to Form 7. At every
tween the ages of 13 and 15 by UNICEF-Pa-
stage of their school life, students of
cific in 1999 revealed the following data:
low academic capability are weeded out
§ Alcohol use: 40% of the young people
by these exams. As long as the system
surveyed had tasted alcohol. The pro-
exists, so will the dropouts.
portion of current drinkers was 26% for
boys and 9% for girls. 69% of the boys
Some statistics
and 54% of the girls had been involved
in binge drinking, that is five or more
In 1988, 20,855 Fiji students enrolled in
drinks in a single sitting.
Class 1. By 2000, only 3,851 students from
Pacific Curriculum Network 11 (1) June 2002

§ Kava use: three in five males and two
Services, the Fiji Red Cross, the Fiji Com-
in five females have tried drinking kava.
munity Education Association, the Drug
24% of those surveyed were drinking
Education Unit of the Fiji Police and the
kava on a regular basis.
Ministry of Youth.
§ Tobacco use: one in five young people
smoked their first whole cigarette before
It is unfortunate that some organisations like
their 10th birthday. At least 54% of cur-
the Reproductive and Family Health Asso-
rent smokers indicated that one or both
ciation have problems with principals who
of their parents smoked.
are unwilling to let them provide peer educa-
§ Marijuana use: 13% of young people
tion and counselling to students. Since there
interviewed have tried smoking mari-
is usually a very high correlation between
juana. More males (12%) than females
drugs and sex, principals are encouraged
(2%) smoked marijuana (UNICEF
to allow highly trained peer educators to
advise students in their schools.
What can be done to help?
Parental Education
UNICEF (1999: ii) suggests that, when it
comes to children and parents smoking,
Effective counseling at school can play an
schools that have a community education
important role. Students need continuous
programme or PTA should consider pro-
counseling and there should be a proactive
viding parental education on enlightened
programme of teachers appointed as coun-
child rearing methods. If schools organise
sellors, or visits from trained counsellors,
programmes with the parents, it will show
to advise students, particularly those who
parents what the school is trying to achieve
may be having difficulties in their homes.
and why, and how they can support their
Counselling will help students to cope with
children and the school’s efforts.
their studies, and the stresses that sometimes
lead to truancy, premature dropping out from
Education Reforms
school and, very occasionally, suicide.
The Fiji Islands Education Commission/
School programmes
Panel Report (Government of Fiji 2000:160-
161) has come up with recommendations
The UNICEF survey made the following
that will help provide educational reforms
for the upliftment of young people’s educa-
78% of young people currently smoking
tion and development. If implemented, these
have the desire to stop smoking. (UNICEF
recommendations could reduce the number
1999: ii) A pragmatic solution would be to
of early school leavers, and will give those
offer innovative training programmes that
who do leave early a better chance of mak-
help students make responsible choices for
ing a living.
the positive promotion of their health. A
number of organisations currently provide
§ Principals are encouraged to support
innovative training in drug education, and
programmes run by the Boy Scouts, Girl
sexual and reproductive health issues. Such
Guides, St John Ambulance, Duke of
organisations are the Fiji Council of Social
Edinburgh Award Scheme and Outward
Pacific Curriculum Network 11 (1) June 2002

Bound Programme. These extracurricular
not complete their studies to the Ministry
activities help students develop values
of Finance. I think that this practice could
that complement schoolwork and, when
be reviewed and provision made for these
students fail academically, the training
funds to be channeled back to schools to be
they have received helps them to survive
used specifically for non-formal parental
in the world outside school.
education programmes or for support of
§ The Commission also recommended that
additional resources for academically weak
experienced people in local communities
be encouraged to teach young people
traditional arts, crafts and music, and
Savings scheme
also be coaches for various sports.
§ It also recommended that links be
A savings scheme, beginning when students
established with the private sector so
enter Form 3, will be of great benefit to
local companies and businesses can
all students — those who continue up to
provide sponsorship and prizes for
Form 7, as well as those who, despite the
innovative students programmes.
best efforts of teachers, drop out of school
earlier. A savings scheme can act as a
These school-based extracurricular activities
safety net for dropouts when they leave
provide students with survival skills and
school. Yat Sen Secondary School has set
values that will help them in the harsh
up a successful scheme with advice from the
world where economic difficulties are
United Nations Development Programme.
a fact of life.
Students save in multiples of 50 cents, are
allowed 2 withdrawals per year and can
Non-Formal Training
withdraw all their money when they leave
school. The savings scheme encourages a
The Education Commission/Panel Report
culture of thrift, particularly for potential
also recommended that the Ministry of
school dropouts. If you wish to introduce
Youth, Employment Opportunities and
the scheme in your school, log on to undp.
Sports (MYEOS) be given an increased or ring UNDP on 3300399.
budgetary allocation to ensure effective
delivery of non-formal training for school-
Vocational training
leavers. I have spoken to the Minister for
Youth and youth officials and am assured
A number of schools provide multicraft
that there are concrete plans to provide
vocational education (TVET) for students
programmes for youths. The Ministry of
who have been identified as academically
Youth also has programmes in schools, not
weak and chanelled into TVET, as well
just for school-leavers.
as those who have already dropped out of
school and then been recalled and offered
Per Capita and Tuition Fee Grants
the training.
For every student who is in school,
It is important that the training offered is in
government provides a fixed per capita
line with what the job market or industry
grant and tuition fee grant. It is normal
requires in your area. A good way of
practice of the Ministry of Education to
getting information on this is to conduct
return unused funds from students who do
a small-scale survey of former students of
your vocational centre. If you find that at
least 35% of students have found jobs in
Pacific Curriculum Network 11 (1) June 2002

the vocational areas for which they were
trained, then the multicraft programme is
sustainable. If you find that fewer than
Government of Fiji (2000) Learning
35% have found jobs, then it is best to close
Together: directions for education in the
down the vocational programme and use the
Fiji Islands. Report of the Fiji Islands
available space as study space for students in
Education Commission/Panel, Ministry
the academic programme. Let the drop-outs
of Education, Suva.
in your area be catered for by government
MYEOS (2000) Draft policy on Non-
agencies, churches or NGOs who have
Formal Education; Ministry of Youth,
courses that will be more sustainable.
Employment Opportunities and Sports,
UNICEF (1999) Survey on Drug Use,
UNICEF Pacific, Suva.
Schools have important roles to play in greatly
reducing the number of students who drop
out prematurely from schools. I have noted
counseling, encouraging saving schemes,
vocational training based specifically on
the needs of the job market, drug prevention
education, parental education, and the re-
channeling of unused per capita tuition
fee grants as some of the ways of helping
students. What is needed is innovative
thinking and proactive action on the part
of principals and their staff in tackling
problems faced by potential school
Pacific Curriculum Network 11 (1) June 2002