Education Minister’s claim questioned

  • 15th January 2015
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Education Minister Reddy’s claim that 653 new teachers are to be absorbed into the primary
and secondary school system this year to reduce the long standing high teacher/pupil ratio
is suspect unless it can be  verified  against figures for total established staff allocated
to the Ministry  for 2015.

And this figure is not available either in the Budget Estimates or the Budget Supplements.

Under a new format adopted for the 2015 Budget, figures are no longer provided for approved established posts in the Budget Estimates as was the case with every Budget document in the past.

Why this vital information was removed from the 2015 Budget Estimates has not been explained by the usually long-winded Finance Minister.

The question that now arises is: Can these 653 recruits really be classified as additional teachers or will they simply be replacements for staff who either left the teaching service in 2014 or retired at the end of the last teaching year. For all we know, they may well be filling the existing positions left vacant since 2014 or even earlier.

Unless the staff establishment numbers are provided and figures for those who left the service at the end of last year are made available, as it should have been, the Minister’s claim can be seen as just propaganda.

Minister’s figures do not reconcile with Budget statement

A Budget statement under the Education Head speaks of 348 new teacher intakes – 206 for secondary schools and 142 for primary schools to improve the student-teacher ratio in Fiji but Reddy talks of 317 for secondary and 336 for primary schools, ie 653. There is no provision in Budget 2015 to pay for the additional 305  recruits.

Without full disclosure of all relevant information, it seems that the 653 new recruits will merely be filling vacant posts.

Why we say this?

According to the 2014 Budget Estimates, there were 9822 established staff teaching positions in the primary, secondary and special schools.

It is an accepted fact that at any one time some 8% of the positions in the public service  remain vacant due to resignations, deaths, retirements or recruitment freeze.

Applying this to the teaching service, at least 700 positions would remain vacant at any one time. Will these be the vacant positions to be filled by the recruits at lower pay rates? So, could this not be a clever scheme to save money for the government by cheating the recruits under the guise of “lowering the teacher-pupil ratio! Have the teacher unions woken up to such tactics?

Further, Reddy’s claim that the additional 653 recruits are being taken in to reduce the pupil/teacher ratio does not stand up to scrutiny.. To do this effectively will require providing additional classrooms as existing large classes will need to be split into 2 or more classes. But no budgetary allocation appears to have been made to build extra classrooms for the targeted schools.

Cheap Labour

It is disgusting that the Minister is exploiting Fiji’s  high rate of unemployment to use young people as cheap labour by paying these new teacher recruits much less than what they actually are entitled to under the rates of pay agreed to by the teacher unions.

This is unethical practice, reminiscent of the volunteer service scheme Dr. Ahmed Ali as Education Minister tried to implement in 1984 to hire young graduates at cheap rates. His policy had resulted in a hunger strike by the youngsters at the time supported by the FTUC. Dr Ali was finally forced to retract, and lost in the Arbitration Tribunal to which the dispute was referred. The Tribunal ruled such practice as unalwful.

One wonders whether the  FTU, the FTA and other union leaders will take up similar cudgels against Dr Mahendra Reddy’s scheme to exploit young graduates at low pays.