USP Theses Collection


close this section of the library Puamau, Virisila Qolisaya Lidise

View the PDF document Fijian education : an examination of government policy : 1946-1986
Author:Puamau, Virisila Qolisaya Lidise
Institution: University of the South Pacific.
Award: M.A.
Subject: Education and state--Fiji, Education--Fiji
Date: 1991.
Call No.: Pac LC 97 .F5 P78 1999
BRN: 903415
Copyright:20-40% of this thesis may be copied without the authors written permission

Abstract: This thesis is concerned with explaining why Indigenous Fijians in Fiji consistently underachieve in formal schooling. It is particularly concerned with why affirmative action policies have not helped to narrow racial inequalities in education. It utilises the conceptual resources provided by postcolonial theory to critique the devastating impact of colonialism, to unpick written texts that claim to represent Fiji's history as well as to deconstruct the interview data. Interview data was collected in Fiji over a fifteen week period in the latter part of 1996 from 74 informants in the following six categories: Politicians, Bureaucrats, Community Representatives, Academics, Principals and Teachers. Questions asked included informants' perceptions of the way affirmative action is thought about, implemented and its consequences as well as explanations for the underachievement of Indigenous Fijians in schooling. To frame and categorise explanations for racial inequalities in schooling, I have grouped the data into three categories: socio-cultural deficit models, psychological-deficit models and historical structural models. For the firsl explanatory category, spatial disadvantage (rurality), home background and cultural deficiencies and school disadvantage were reported as significant determinants of Indigenous Fijian underachievement in schooling. Psychological-deficit models posited shortcomings in Indigenous Fijian attitudes to education and psychological problems that arise when Indigenous Fijian students live away from their immediate family as two important factors. Historical structural models point to the negative impact of the colonial experience, manifested in neocolonial educational structures of the curriculum, pedagogy, assessment and the language of schooling. Some key findings have emerged from the thesis. One is that mono-causal reductionist factors are inadequate explanations for why students fail in school. This is because racial inequalities in education are a consequence of the constant complex and multiple interactions of the dynamics of race, gender, class and rurality in the economic, political, cultural and historical spheres. The issue of rural spatiality has emerged as a key analytical category in explaining Indigenous Fijian school failure, unsettling the traditional analytical categories of race, gender and social class. As illustrated in the interview data on affirmative action, issues of social justice which accord state-provided resources to specific groups in society are highly contested and controversial. I argue that affirmative action in Fiji was a strategically essentialist intervention on the part of a predominantly Indigenous Fijian government to bring about equality of access and opportunities for Indigenous Fijians who have reportedly been disadvantaged by a colonial history. Affirmative action in Fiji did not really result in significant material transformations for the Indigenous Fijian community: raiher, the outcomes have been mixed. However, in arguing for a rethinking of affirmative action in Fiji, I make the important point that this rethinking needs to be mediated, contingent and historically specific. In other words, it needs to be grounded in the social, cultural and political realities and specificities of the Fiji context. A rethinking of affirmative action requires a reconceptualisation of the notions of race, success and merit, and hegemony. As part of this project, categories of class, place and space will be imperative in order to redefine social justice, social difference and social inequality. The complexities, ambiguities, multiplicities and tensions evident in affirmative action in Fiji indicate that there are no clear-cut or easy answers to the problems that beset Fiji's educational system. I argue that the answers, indeed, cannot be based on idealist principles of justice and equality of Western academic discourse. Instead, the-answers, whatever they may be, have to be practical, negotiated social and political solutions and compromises amongst the peoples of Fiji. I note, in particular, that spaces for radical coalitions, in some cases unprecedented, have begun to open up at the political level for this to occur. The challenge is how to fill those spaces so that people are empowered, are given agency to think and act so that a collective consciousness for the common good becomes the creed for decisionmaking.
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