The ‘new normal’ – Schools more relevant than ever

Youths take advantage of the Ministry of Agriculture’s program. Picture: SUPPLIED

International Day for Education 2022

Successful students does not only refer to those that have joined the formal workplaces or industries but they are also those who are living and contributing positively to the success of rural communities.

These sentiments sum up perfectly the successes of technical and vocational institutes in molding students to becoming skilled tradespeople who have become positive influences in the communities they have established themselves in.

In addition, the current COVID-19 global pandemic has forced all industries to adjust how they are to carry out their businesses under a ‘new normal’. These of course includes the very same vocational and technical institutes.

Hence, ‘Changing Course, Transforming Education’ is an apt theme that describes the current global situation as humanity commemorates the annual ‘International Day of Education’ (IDE) on January 24.

In bringing this theme closer to home, the Fiji – Australia Alumni Association, a non-profit organization established and registered in 2020 has chosen to raise visibility on the non-formal education sector like the technical and vocational institutes on the fantastic work they have done for our young Fijian students who have not made it to the major universities or colleges because they are just not cut out for the academic world.

Instead these students have signed up to undertake vocational training and have proven their exceptional ability to thrive in their chosen trade or skill.

At the outset, we the Association support the view that there is nothing wrong with these students who chose vocational or technical institutes to upskill them and in fact, there is not enough done to market these types of alternative educational options.

The Association which is made up of Fijian alumni who studied in Australia and returned home to contribute to the development and growth of Fiji as well as help in fostering productive relationships between Fiji and Australia identified at least two of these institutes that deserve acknowledgement for their programs – the Centre for Appropriate Technology and Development (CATD) at Nadave, Bau and the Navuso Agriculture Technical Institute just outside Nausori.

Permanent secretary of iTaukei Affairs, Pita Tagicakirewa under whom CATD is his responsibility, who spoke to the theme of IDE explained there was a need to put more emphasis on technical and vocational training as they were driving force of the economy of any government.

“At CATD we include short courses of various skills that is relevant to the need in the rural communities, which is besides their mainstream skills,” he said.

Mr Tagicakirewa explained the institution was established in 1980 with the objectives of improving the standard of living in the rural sectors of Fiji through the development of technical skills and services and to promote better leadership qualities necessary to enhance and facilitate community development.

“Students who enroll at CATD are nominated from their villages, to their district rep, and the respective provincial councils. Management of CATD then conduct the interviews of students before a final list is sent back through the same system – the provincial councils, to the district reps, and to the village headmen. This means the provinces are paying the fees for their students.

“CATD is really making a difference as our target group are those that are categorised as ‘disengaged learners’ who are drop-out students from the formal education system and have been part of the rural community for more than two years,” he said.

He said one of the strengths of the institute was the 70 per cent practical lessons and 30 per cent theory learning components that students were exposed to daily in their classes.

“The composition of students in a class must have 15 males, representing 14 provinces, one from Rotuma and two females. All the provinces are represented in all the trades that CATD offers annually, which is in line with the training department’s motto of ‘Enriching the Unreached’,” Mr Tagicakirewa said.

CATD courses are 18-months long and on offer are: automotive mechanic – light engine; small and two-stroke engine mechanic; welding and fabrication; plumbing and sheetmetal; cabinetmaking and joinery; and carpentry

On the other hand, NATI is focused on producing ‘Future Replacement/ Commercial Farmers for Fiji’ and its enrolment is open to anyone interested in becoming a full-time agriculture entrepreneur.

NATI director, Uraia Waibuta explained they had transformed a normal vocational school to become the producer of Future Replacement/ Commercial Farmers
for Fiji.

“That is where the demand and need is at this point in time. During COVID, when all sectors of the economy where on stand still, agriculture was the only sector moving. So it is a thriving and most sustainable industry if you wish to invest in, be it short or long term.”

He said for youths to consider Agriculture as the option, was still not considered seriously by the young generation.

“They still prefer to take up white collar and blue collar jobs. Little do they know, that the Way Forward for Fiji and the world now was the green collar job – becoming a farmer.”

A program review was done in 2019 where a revamped curriculum was produced called ‘The Navuso Way’ and its ‘Certificate in Agriculture (Integrated) Level 4’ was approved and accredited by the Fiji Higher Education Commission.

“Our students after completing the three years’ training program will have to return back to their own land. Not returning back to their village or return to seek employment. They return to become future replacement farmers for Fiji. For those that do not have land, the Institute assists in providing them with land.

“We offer land lease titles through iTLTB to our students that prefer to lease their own mataqali land or iTLTB will allocate a piece of five-acre lease lot, to those that do not have access to land.That had started in 2019 and is now progressing,” Mr Waibuta explained.

Further he said, apart from the Land Lease Title offered to students after graduation, the Institute also provide students with land while undertaking the training program to plant their own crops.

“All crops planted and harvested by students are sold in the Institute market and income generated is deposited into students own bank account. During graduation they will also be given their own bank account.

“If they also prefer to take driving classes which they pay from the sales of their own farm produce, they will also receive a driving license during graduation.

“The Ministry of Agriculture will take them is as a young farmers in their respective localities and offer them assistance from the ministry’s on-going program as a startup.”

Mr Waibuta added monies saved from the Institute by each student would be used as the young farmers’ contribution towards any development works once he or she was out in the farming environment.

NATI intends to increase its enrolment to 60 students for 2022.

  • BRENDA RAGI is the president of the Fiji – Australia Alumni Association. The views shared in this article are the author’s and not of this newspaper.

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