Whilst school variables were critical, antecedent factors played effective supportive role

My mind was awash with a deluge of feelings of pride, of relief and of satisfaction, having been told in 1960 of my unprecedented success which entitled me to enter Form 3 at Ratu Sukuna Memorial School (RSMS) the following year. It was much, much later in my life when I rationalised that fleeting moment in history to appreciate the dynamics of school variables vis-à-vis antecedent factors that had interwoven themselves inextricably to contribute to my success.

It was at the end of the school year at Nabua Central Fijian School (NCFS) and also the end of my primary school education at Class 8. I had earlier sat the Fiji Secondary School Examination and I had placed RSMS as my first choice of secondary school to attend the following year. Head Teacher Sakeasi Sovanivalu announced over the school public speaking system that the results had been received but went further to say that my total marks in particular were the highest in the whole country for those who had placed RSMS as their first choice.

The announcement itself was unprecedented. The public speaking system was brand new to the school. We were just trying to get used to the announcements from the head-teacher that so-and-so should report to his office; and it was usually to do with disciplinary matters or other minor administrative issues. That day’s announcement, however, was totally unusual, to say the least.

For me, it came as a shock. I didn’t know how to feel and what to say at first. My mind was numb. When the announcement did manage to sink in, eventually, I was aware of the celebratory gestures from my classmates; and in the distance, from the school as a whole. It just seemed that the whole school had erupted in unison to celebrate.

In retrospect, I was proud of my success. But I had been doing well at school, in any case, since I started at NCFS. In every end-of-the-year examination since Class 4, I was in the top ten placing, thence top five and finally in the top three. Passing my secondary school entrance examination just seemed to be the natural thing as I progressed towards secondary education. I felt therefore somewhat relieved and satisfied that one chapter of my learning career had ended and the next one was going to start in the new year.

Further celebrations awaited me at home. The news of my success of course had preceded my arrival back home late that afternoon. School friends and relatives had earlier enthusiastically conveyed the news to my mother. And when I finally arrived home, I was immediately smothered with hugs and kisses. Happy tears flowed incessantly. More family celebrations, subdued as ever in the family tradition, followed.

I did go on to achieve more successes at secondary schools. I passed my external examinations – New Zealand School Certificate (NZSC) and New Zealand University Entrance Examination (NZUE). I was runner-up dux at RSMS in 1964, dux at Queen Victoria School (QVS) in 1965, and got myself a government scholarship in 1966 at Suva Grammar School (SGS).

SGC-1st15-1966[1]

In retrospect, and in my most reflective moods, I had often posed the rhetorical question of how it all happened. My family struggled to put my brother and I through school (see ‘Confronting Poverty with Stoicism Plus’). It can be imagined therefore that material pre-requisites for my schooling, from the family perspective, certainly had inevitable deficiencies. However, in terms of non-material factors, like love, care, compassion, encouragement, sacrifice, these were plentiful.  The non-materials compensated for what I lacked in the materials. I believe also that I was blessed with good genes to add to what Dr Helen Tavola had referred to in her PhD thesis: “Secondary Education in Fiji: An Investigation into School Effectiveness in a Changing Society,”[1] as ‘antecedent factors’ such as socio-economic status.

Dr Tavola also referred to ‘school variables’ that contribute to school effectiveness. This is the flip side of the proverbial coin. These contribute to educational resources or educational processes and which are most likely to affect the teaching and learning process positively in situations where finance is scarce. She deliberated on the views current at the time, with respect to those of the World Bank and other educationists that school variables were of great significance in poor countries.

During the period of my primary and secondary education, I could vouch the significance of these variables in my own educational successes. They certainly compensated where the antecedent factors had fallen short.

I was blessed with brilliant teachers right throughout my school career. My first two formative years at Naqara District School (see “Early Schooling was Fraught with Loneliness and Drudgery”) were essentially character-forming. Pauliani Nene, the head-teacher became a legend, in the eyes of some of his former students, due to his leadership quality, energy and resourcefulness in the face of what appeared to be intractable adversity.

At NCFS, all my class teachers were excellent. I was getting rounded education with sports, woodwork , basic agriculture and scouting built into the curriculum. Moreover, head-teacher Sovanivalu was a disciplinarian of the old school, so to speak. His use of corporal punishment was legendary – more so in terms of its theatrical execution in front of the school assemblies, whenever he chose to do so, rather than its intensity and frequency. Having been at the receiving end of his discipline once for stealing ripe tomatoes from the school vegetable plot, I have to say that the incident did not cause any permanent damage to my personality. My ego however may have been somewhat frayed.

As for RSMS, I was going into a school only in its second year of existence. Named after one of the great Fijian chiefs and a prominent modern leader, the school certainly attracted many excellent teachers – men and women, locals and foreigners. Mr. William Donnelley, an able educationist and an adept school leader with many years of reputation locally, was even persuaded to return from retirement in New Zealand to take up the position of Principal. The school was certainly brimming with well-disposed ‘school variables.’ The trend continued at QVS and SGS, two older prominent schools with established reputations.

The ‘school variables’ that helped shape my successes certainly played a critical role. As a factor determining school effectiveness, it was an established fact at the time; and I benefitted immensely from it. Be that as it may, it did not in any way at all diminish the value of the antecedent factors that played supporting role. My family sacrificed hugely for my schooling. What it lacked in material means was ably compensated for by, inter alia, family love and a caring attitude.

The two sides of the proverbial coin worked cohesively and complemented each other. Notwithstanding the deficiency of one side vis-à-vis the other, there can still be hope in learning, much hope, where none may seem to be obvious.

[1] See also Helen Tavola: “Secondary Education in Fiji: A Key to the Future,” 1991, Institute of Pacific Studies of the USP.


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