The SDL government’s discriminatory policy on free education for Fijian Form 7 students has prompted Labour to slam it as racist claiming that it discriminated against hundreds of poor students from Indian and other minority families.
As the school year gets underway, a fierce debate has erupted on the need for assistance to poor students with independent surveys showing that some 10,000 students in drought stricken areas of the West may be forced to drop out of school due to financial hardship.
The Labour Party has called on the Prime Minister to re-instate the $1 million student loan scheme initiated by the People’s Coalition Government to help needy students achieve tertiary education. The scheme has been scrapped by the SDL government.
Opposition Leader Mahendra Chaudhry says the drought has only aggravated hardship among the poor caused by insensitive government policies such as the increase in VAT from 10% to 12.5% and the hike in Customs Duty on a wide range of food and everyday consumer items.
“Mounting levels of destitution, with close to 50% of the population living in poverty, is the biggest problem facing the nation today. Unfortunately, more and more of our families are getting caught in the poverty trap through
insensitive government policies,” he charged.
Mr. Chaudhry said government’s discriminatory policies on education meant that hundreds of desperately needy students from Indian and other minority communities were being deprived of their right to education and to equal opportunity.
He highlighted the following areas of discrimination:
· Completely free education for Fijian students in Form 7 regardless of an incomes criteria, ensuring that all Fijian students received free education regardless of whether they came from rich or poor families. On the other hand, assistance was denied to needy students from other communities.
· Allocation of per capita grants to Indian-managed schools for building works and purchase of resource equipment was much lower
· Discrimination in the grant of scholarships with a 70/30 bias towards the indigenous Fijian community
· Government policies discriminated against Fijian students attending Indian-managed schools. Indeed, the emerging trend in these so-called Indian schools were that they were being dominated by Fijian students.
In answer to government’s claim that Indian managed schools were getting a lot more in per capita grant, Mr. Chaudhry pointed out that this was because Indian schools tended to be bigger with substantially more students.
The truth was that, a large number of these schools tended to carry more Fijian students. For example, at Indian College (Suva) 51% of students were Fijians, at DAV Girls in Suva, 67% were Fijian students, 63% at the Suva Sangam High School, 88% at Shreedhar College, 70% at the Ahmediya Muslim College in Nasinu and 56% at Nakasi High School to cite some cases.
He charged that government’s discriminatory policy was creating a system of social apartheid, a situation that may have tragic consequences for Fijian students.
“The FLP wants to see an education policy that does not leave the poor of other communities deprived of education through lack of means,” he said, pointing out that the United Nations Committee against Racial Discrimination had condemned the SDL government’s affirmative action programme based on race.