[lg policy] Fiji: The language of development

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Mon May 23 10:55:31 EDT 2016

 The language of development

Prashneel Goundar
Monday, May 23, 2016

[image: The author says while bilingualism is important in nation building,
a person's first language is very important to critical thinking. Picture:
SOPHIE RALULU]\ <http://www.fijitimes.com/images/artpics/354902.jpg>

The author says while bilingualism is important in nation building, a
person's first language is very important to critical thinking. Picture:

IN 2000, the People's Coalition government established an Education
Commission. In fact, after gaining independence, this was the first
education commission as prior to it was the 1969 Fiji Education Commission:
Education for Modern Fiji.

The commission established in 2000 included Professor Kazim Bacchus
(chair), Dr Evelyn Coxon, Professor D Sadler, Mrs Suliana Siwatibau,
Professor Subramani, Dr Esther Williams, Iosefo Nainima, Dr Akhila Nand
Sharma, Dr Helen Tavola and Philip Taylor.

The commission produced a 515-page document titled; Learning Together:
Directions for Education in the Fiji Islands. Even though the commission's
work was interrupted by the 2000 coup, the report produced by the panel was
one of the most unbiased, objectifiable, well researched report which looks
at various issues such as the levels of education (primary, secondary and
tertiary), the quality of education, early childhood education, curriculum
and assessment, special education, language policy and planning (LPP) and
other pivotal issues.

Language issues have been debated by previous governments considerably. For
example, in 2005, there was a National Language debate, during which the
then minister for education stated, "If Indians in the country lost their
language, there is a whole continent of people in India who would still
have the language". She further stated, "In the whole world only 330,000
people know how to speak in Fijian (iTaukei) and if it is lost, there is
nowhere it can be revived from, that is why the Fijian language is
important to preserve" (Word Press, 2009).

A decade later, 16 years to be precise, we have had another education
forum. However, the issues of languages highlighted by the 2000 commission,
remain neglected or resolved to a certain extent.

One of the first issues highlighted in the report discusses the improper
planning of language policy before its implementation. For example, the
Ministry of Education's project of providing conversational Fijian and
Hindi and the decision by individual school managements to introduce the
teaching of Fijian to all students has not been very fruitful because these
initiatives, though laudable, did not emanate from language planning and
therefore lacked political support, expertise and community involvement.
Furthermore, the study outlined that the teacher training institutions
certainly had no part in planning either the teaching of Fijian or the
conversational Fijian and Hindi programs.

This is precisely why even though Fiji Hindi is being taught in schools
there has not been lack of publication of textbooks in the language let
alone materials for conversational Hindi.

This is something that needs to be developed in order to control the
imbalance between the major languages in Fiji.

The imbalance between the three major languages (English, Fijian and Hindi)
has existed well before independence. In the Education Commission report of
1969, emphasis was made on encouraging vernacular teaching yet little was
conceptualised to action this.

English being the lingua franca in Fiji continues to be the dominating
language as it was when the 2000 Commission was prepared.

It stated that even though the 1997 Constitution recognised that Fiji was a
multilingual state and that the main languages (Fijian, Hindi and English)
were equal in terms of status, use and function. The reality is though,
that English remains the official language.

A simple walk into any bookshop around the country will only show shelves
filled with English literature and fewer number of books published in
iTaukei language and none in Fiji Hindi then what to say of the minority
languages such as Rotuman, Tamil, Telegu, Gujarati, Punjabi and Chinese.

Oratory contests are held throughout the year at national level for primary
and high school students on various topics such as climatic change, child
abuse, road safety and, non-communicable diseases.

The orators are required to deliver their arguments in the English
language. Why cannot the organisers have other languages and more
importantly the mother tongue promoted on the same topics?

An analysis of the media industry in Fiji can raise questions such as how
many movies have been produced in the iTaukei or Fiji Hindi languages? How
much of local content is being aired on the two television stations?

On the same note, how many books/plays/literature have been translated into
the two major languages? Consequently, can we still consider the three
languages to have achieved equal status in the country today?

A particular recommendation that was made in the 2000 report highlighted
the need to refine the concept of mother tongue (first language or L1).
Parents have the right to educate their children in their mother tongue.
Furthermore, the concept of mother tongue should be redefined, taking into
consideration regional variations.

This rule is still followed to some extent as the 1926 policy of teaching
L1 for the first three years of primary school and transitioning into
English as a medium of instruction from the fourth year.

On the contrary, the report is correct in stating that mother tongue needs
to be refined in Fiji. For example, Fiji Hindi is not the L1 for all Fiji
Indians; their L1 includes Gujarati, Punjabi, Tamil, Telegu, Malayalam, and
Bhojpuri. Fiji Hindi becomes the lingua franca for the Indo-Fijian majority
and not the L1.

Finally, the commission discussed the issue of bilingualism in Fiji. Even
though bilingualism might be increasing nation-building, the parents stated
its adverse nature. The majority of parents recognise the importance of
Fijians and Indo-Fijians learning each other's language.

At the same time they are worried that too much time devoted to languages
could affect their children's performance in other subjects. Some further
believe that since English is so important nationally and internationally,
all efforts should be directed towards perfecting skills in it.

This issue is still persisting in Fiji today as parents speak in English to
children as young as two years at home, in towns, on the bus and literally
everywhere! If the parents attitudes have not changed then there continues
to be a flaw in the education system as recent research demonstrates
clearly how effective the first language is in critical thinking and growth.

Take for example, a country such as Japan that has become one of the most
developed countries today, with new technology being introduced daily and
having an impressive track record in the automotive industry all while
still maintaining the use of their mother tongue.

The Fiji Islands Education Commission Report 2000: Learning Together:
Directions for Education in the Fiji Islands is an authoritative document
that policymakers should recourse to during implementation processes, for
guidance, to comprehend structures in the education sector and not let it
be an archived document which is left for researchers to use exclusively.

* Prashneel Goundar is a lecturer in language at the School of
Communication, Language and Literature, Department of Language and
Literature, Fiji National University. The views expressed are his and not
of this newspaper. For comments or suggestions, please email
prgoundar at gmail.com.


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