The coalition government of Fiji has launched a F$50 million ($23 million) back-to-school assistance scheme set to benefit around 220,000 primary and secondary school students.
The initiative, a first for the three-party coalition, will provide F$200 ($92) per child to families who earn less than F$50,000 ($23,000) per year.
Payments will begin on 25 January, according to Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Biman Prasad, and the scheme will also extend to private schools.
Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka said the scheme is aimed at ensuring that children from “lower-income homes have the best possible start to the 2023 school year.”
He cited the hardships that many families have faced in the last couple of years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the contraction of the economy, which has led to job losses. The government has therefore “redeployed funds through the current budget” to allocate money for the assistance programme.
PM Rabuka emphasised the importance of education in the coalition government’s commitment to the people of Fiji. He also noted that primary and secondary school tuition used to be free in Fiji, a policy that was introduced by the Former Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama’s FijiFirst government, and that his coalition government plans to continue with the policy of tuition-free education.
Education Ministry Aseri Radrodro recently announced that the new academic year would begin on 6 February and that schools will revert to three school terms instead of the four that were introduced following the pandemic.
The Minister said the decision was made following consultation with relevant stakeholders, however, FijiFirst MP and Former Education Minister Premila Kumar criticised the move as “regressive.”
Deputy PM Prasad defended the decision, stating that many of the reforms undertaken by FijiFirst were “haphazard [and] not thought very carefully” and that there had been no evaluation or review of their impact in the last eight years. He urged the opposition to “relax” and allow the coalition to make the changes they believe are necessary.