The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Fiji has decided to privatise Navesau Adventist High School in Tailevu, Ra, from this academic year, 2019.
The decision follows the Fijian government’s implementation of the Open Merit Recruitment Selection System (OMRSS) in 2016, which meant religion could no longer be a factor in choosing the heads of religious schools.
This has become an issue for the Church, and especially at Navesau, one of two boarding schools the Church owns in Fiji.
“We have been gradually stopped/stymied from teaching periods of Bible as a subject,” said Trans Pacific Union education director Bev Norman. “The only time we can hold the classes are from 8-8:40am. However, day students arrive at 8:30. This is unacceptable.”
The decision to privatise Navesau comes after a lack of productive dialogue with the government.
“The Adventist Church in the past three years has written to the Ministry of Education, and has had discussions with the former and current permanent secretaries, the Minister of Education and with the Prime Minister on the subject of considering faith or religion as a criteria to be included in the selection of teachers and school leaders appointed to Adventist schools, but on all occasions our request was denied,” said Dr Nemani Tausere, education director for the Church in Fiji.
The Adventist Church is not alone in looking to take action; however, it is the first denomination to declare it will privatise a school.
“The Seventh-day Adventist Church supports the call made by the head of the Catholic Church recently to include faith as a criteria in the selection of leaders for faith-based schools,” said Pastor Joe Talemaitoga, general secretary of the Adventist Church in Fiji.
The other private systems are watching with interest to see how the government responds.
The Fijian government claims to offer universal, free education by paying teacher wages and funding schools around the country.
However, at Navesau, the Church will now be responsible for the salaries of teachers and staff, and the school will no longer receive the Ministry of Education (MOE) grant.
“We are privatising Navesau because of our faith that is based on the truth of God’s Word, the Bible,” Dr Tausere said.
“The Church commends the MOE on the introduction of the OMRSS. However, the Church believes that in the field of education, unlike some other departments in government, the MOE should consider an additional and important criteria—faith—in the selection process of teachers and school heads.”
More than 95 per cent of schools in Fiji are owned and operated by faith-based organisations.
“The role of teachers and especially school leaders in the operation of schools is vital in the total development of a child, mentally, physically, socially and morally,” Dr Tausere added.
“Faith is the heart element in one’s performance and is not discriminatory.”