In a Jan. 11 letter to Minister of Education Rosy Akbar, Archbishop Peter Loy Chong of Suva requested “that the unique culture of the school be included as a criterion for merit when it comes to school head appointments.”
Religious schools in the Pacific island nation are funded by the government and the Ministry of Education appoints the principals.
Recently, the principals of two Catholic high schools were replaced by non-Catholics.
Nearly 10 percent of Fiji’s population is Catholic, and the Church operates 44 primary schools and 19 secondary schools, employing over 1,000 teachers.
Until 2016, the Church was allowed to appoint Catholics as school principals, but the implementation of the government’s Open Merit Recruitment Selection System (OMRSS) meant religion could no longer be a factor in choosing the heads of religious schools.
“Catholic schools and other faith-based schools have unique religious traditions that contributes to the education of children. Our schools have been led by a principal or headteacher of our faith until the implementation of OMRSS,” Chong wrote. “We simply and humbly request that Ministry of Education consults the School Management on appointments and that the unique culture of the school be included as a criterion for merit when it comes to school head appointments.”
Nearly two years ago, Akbar’s predecessor as education minister, Mahendra Reddy, said as long at the government paid the principal’s salary, the government would choose the principal.
“Once you privatize your schools you can appoint your teachers, you pay their salary, you look after the school and we will not interfere with you on whom you appoint or who is your teacher,” Reddy said May 1, 2017.
With Akbar’s appointment – she came into office late last year – Chong is hoping for a change in policy.
The archbishop said he was assured at a meeting last week with the permanent secretary of education that “the Ministry of Education will ensure close consultation with school managers and that the unique culture of faith-based schools will be supported.”
In a separate letter to the Catholic education community, Chong said he was “engaged in a robust dialogue” and added he was also discussing the issue with the Fiji Council of Churches.