Fiji: Teachers’ union sharp reply to Minister on undermining the positions of school leaders

published 4 February 2022 updated 15 February 2022

The Fiji Teachers’ Union (FTU) has responded firmly to the announcement by Minister for Education, Heritage and Arts, Premila Kumar, on 20 January of a change in the minimum qualification requirement (MQR) for secondary school leadership positions. In particular, the union condemned the change as sudden and insufficiently motivated and affirmed that it has always encouraged teachers to upgrade their qualifications.

FTU General Secretary Agni Deo Singh said the FTU has registered a dispute with the Employment Court against the abrupt change brought to the MQR “to unfairly eliminate senior teachers, some of whom are currently acting as heads of schools, vice principals and assistant principals. Ironically, some of these leaders were promoted as principals of small schools in 2018 but are now being told they do not qualify to be promoted to be a principal of a medium or large school.”

FTU is on record encouraging teachers to upgrade their qualifications, Singh added, noting that FTU has a special loan scheme in place through the FTU Credit Union. This loan aims to help members borrow money to pursue further studies and upgrade their qualifications.

The FTU leader said it was “saddening” that, while FTU has this loan policy, the Ministry has abandoned the in-service training programme used by teachers to upgrade their qualifications.

FTU requests to Education Ministry

The union has urged the education ministry to:

  1. Issue written communications to individual officers or issue an official circular to advise teachers and school leaders of the change in the MQR and the timeframe given to acquire the new qualifications.
  2. Outline the reasons for appointing teachers to leadership positions, i.e. principals, vice principals, assistant principals and heads of department, if they were unqualified.
  3. Release the full texts of the following qualifications which the Ministry now deems unsuitable for promotion - Secondary Teacher Training Certificate (STTC), Diploma in Tertiary Teaching (DTT), and Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.). FTU urges the Ministry to provide the basis and a sound explanation as to why these qualifications were deemed appropriate up until now. It also wants to know which competent authority decided that these qualifications were no longer relevant.
  4. Submit the performance records of these school leaders for the past three years.

Dispute around the minimum qualification requirement

In relation to the MQR specifically, Singh challenged Minister Kumar’s claim that the MQR has not been changed and has been in place for some time now. Singh argued that a job evaluation exercise was carried out in 2017. And he highlighted that, in 2018, teachers with STTC, DTT and B.Ed. qualifications, as well as primary school teachers who were upgraded to secondary schools, were selected to go through a selection process, some being promoted.

“FTU believes that the MQR cannot and should not be changed overnight and that additional qualifications are always an added advantage, the starting line being the MQR,” he said.

Shining examples in leadership

The FTU General Secretary also underlined that, while Kumar commended teachers for being “a shining example”, the current heads of schools, “who are shining examples in leadership”, were removed by the minister.

In response to Kumar’s comments about teachers keeping up with the changes taking place in the globalised world by constantly updating their qualifications, Singh reiterated that school leaders have attended numerous workshops and capacity building training sessions conducted by the ministry over the years. “The annual 20 hours of professional development requirement also serve a purpose,” he stressed, adding, “FTU has always encouraged members to upskill and upgrade their qualifications”.

Teacher unions must be consulted

Singh further objected to Minister Kumar’s view that the ministry did not need to consult the teacher unions to make a decision on the MQR. “The Minister must read the text of the Sustainable Development Goal 4 signed by her predecessor, Dr Mahendra Reddy. It clearly states that all policies, from formulation, implementation, monitoring, to reviewing, must be undertaken with the full involvement of teachers’ representatives, i.e., teacher unions.”

He also disagreed with the Minister’s accusation that FTU works against its own members, fighting for mediocrity in the system, rather than promoting excellence in the teaching profession.

The ministry must determine merit through a combination of factors and not only postgraduate qualification, added Singh. “Mediocrity is actually putting paper qualification with zero experience in relevant leadership positions ahead of proven performance for several years.”

If the current senior heads (for over five years in most cases) are unqualified, why were they appointed in the first place, Singh asked.

FTU firmly believes the ministry is “on a destructive path towards speeding up the already downward spiralling quality of education”, he outlined.

Value of FTU

The FTU General Secretary also criticised the fact that the education minister had “the audacity to state that (Singh’s) voice is the view of a minority group of teachers”. In fact, FTU “has over 5,000 members who know whom to trust and who know that FTU is their only voice and represents them in matters concerning industrial relations and their interest and welfare”.

However, Singh noted, FTU members do not trust Minister Kumar and her team: “Kumar's desperate attempt to divide the union is futile as our membership is a united front. Thus, it is advisable for Kumar and her team to build a healthy working relationship with the teacher unions.”

He concluded that “we are on record making constructive contributions to improve the quality of education for all the children in the nation”.