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'Just as good'

Sailosi Batiratu
Sunday, February 17, 2013

A FEW weeks back I got a call from a guy I hadn't seen in more than 20 years.

I last saw Joe Qalomai when we were apprentices for the Fiji Sugar Corporation at its Lautoka mill. He was at the garage/loco(motive) shed and I used to be in the fitting/machine shop. That was in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Joe's suggestion for an article about those who were once apprentices and have since moved on meshed nicely with an idea I had been toying around with. What confirmed it was an invitation via phone from Viliame Nadakuitavuki. It was for a gathering held on Saturday, February 9 at Navuloa in Nasinu to honour Dr Isimeli Tagicakiverata.

We will return to Dr Tagicakiverata in a little while.

Mulling over Joe's idea, a few lines I had written last month, "It pays to have a qualification and the experience to back it when in due time an opportunity … comes a calling", came back to me.

And with those lines names of people I had once met on a daily basis at the FSC in Lautoka popped into my head; Ben Ali who now runs a business in Sydney and Josefa Muamua Saukilai who is also in Australia, among them.

On the local scene guy, not only from Lautoka mill, who were once apprentices but are now engineers at the FSC's four mills include Derek Mar who was once at Labasa, Amani Lum formerly of Penang, and Jemesa Matalau who was once a few years ahead of Joe at the loco shed.

A few others are now at the Fiji National University among them Alifereti Draunidalo, John Filipe and Paulo Daurewa.

Moses Hicks started as a fitting and machining apprentice at Rarawai in Ba. The last time we met he was working on his MBA at the University of the South Pacific and was then working for Coca-Cola Amatil. Pita Moku who was once an electrical apprentice at FSC Lautoka now is the technical manager for Coca Cola.

They may have started off on career paths, I don't know what drove them to it, deemed by some to be "dirty", but dirty they definitely aren't now. They weren't afraid to get their hands dirty and now are now reaping the rewards.

Back to Dr Tagicakiverata.

He returned late last year from the University of Newcastle in Australia with a PhD focusing on TVET, technical vocation education and training, titled TVET in Fiji: Attitudes, perception and discourses.

As had been mentioned in an earlier article, Forgotten millions, his interest in TVET was in a manner of speaking stoked when did research for the Fiji National University (FNU).

In a study, its findings were later published by UNESCO, Dr Tagicakiverata came across a "huge waste" in 60 villages in the maritime provinces of Kadavu, Lau, Yasawa in Ba and Viti Levu. The waste being the number of school leavers who had passed their Form Six and Seven exams but were not pursuing any meaningful employment.

Students were asked of their preferred career choice and who had been influential in their making their choice. Among iTaukei children, he says, it was found religious leaders had been the most influential followed by parents.

Dr Tagicakiverata says another factor is the environment in which a child is brought up. If he or she is surrounded by people who work in offices, teach or are in the medical profession, it shouldn't be surprising if they choose to go down a similar career path.

Most of these youths said they were back in the village because they had failed to secure any employment or a scholarship after high school. They did not have anywhere else to go.

Dr Tagicakiverata says there is no need for the investment in the education for young people to go to waste. He stresses TVET is as just as good the "mainstream" academic subjects to secure a bright future.

He says part of the problem is students having reached Form Seven all focused on securing a white collar job and not having a back-up plan. When their plans to get into teacher training or medical school go awry there is no option B.

Doing well in the required subjects is one thing, the number required by the job market is another factor determining who gets into those highly sought after jobs. To better illustrate this Dr Tagicakiverata highlighted what happened last year where there were 800 teacher graduates. Only 150 found jobs.

He says what might be a problem is those responsible for national planning do not communicate to the relevant ministry the projections for the job market. Without the relevant information careers teachers in schools cannot effectively counsel students on their choices.

The man from Muanaira in Vutia, Rewa says all those who have a hand in moulding the vision a student sets him or herself have also got to be realistic. A student who is struggling in physics and mathematics but says he or she wants to be a pilot should be encouraged to look at other career choices. Encouraging the pursuit of such an illusion Dr Tagicakiverata says will lead to disappointment for all.

He says he has yet to come across a student who had been doing well in academic subjects and decided to go straight into the TVET stream. Time and again during our talk on Tuesday he stressed that TVET is not to be viewed as a second choice, to be subservient to academic subjects.

Dr Tagicakiverata said it must be made known that to enter some trade certificate courses a student need to have reached Form Six Level. Not necessarily to have passed. From this trade certificate, and of course armed with experience and maturity, a tradesman or woman could progress to a diploma or a degree if they wished it so.

Of course they who are so inclined can move overseas. While studying in Australia, this vasu of Vabea in Kadavu says he came across several Fijians who were welders here and now reside overseas and are doing well too. Talking about some plumbers, he said they earned somewhere between $AU50-80 an hour.

"Na TVET e sega ni ka ni fail (TVET is not for failures)," he said emphasising once again that this field of study is just as good as the other. It should not be seen as being second to the academic stream.

He says questions need to be asked of the major stakeholders, primary among them, "Why is TVET looked down upon?" He admits this is going to be a challenge but is happy that government is taking the lead to change mind-sets.

Dr Tagicakiverata speaks highly of government in having taken the initiative and engaging in "transformative discourse". When in Fiji doing field work for his thesis, he interviewed Education Minister Filipe Bole and is delighted the minister and his senior officials are leading from the front. The discussion about TVET focuses not on building houses and the like, it is about engineering.

The Rewa man says government's decision to launch the agricultural scholarship is a "bold, aggressive" move. Now that government has done its part, he says the onus is on the recipients to deliver.

Still on agriculture, he said: "O keda (na iTaukei) me da vuli ga mai vei ira na Idia kei na kaijaina." (We {the iTaukei} should learn from the Fijians of Indian descent and the Chinese).

He readily admits securing capital and having the knowledge for commercial-scale farming might be a barrier as the iTaukei have always been subsistence farmers. That, Dr Tagicakiverata says does not mean we should not give it a try.

He uses the words farmer Wah Sing addressed to a gathering of accountants not so long ago where he said the iTaukei, who are the biggest landowners in Fiji, should better utilise the land. They have channelled their attention to other ventures but have forgotten about the land.

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