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Vocational Centres in Fiji Schools: A needs analysis

Clare McBeath
Curtin University of Technology
A needs analysis was conducted into the issues facing the Technical and Vocational Education sector in Fiji. Vocational Centre teachers, Principals and an Education Officer were interviewed, and their responses analysed. The survey pointed to the difficulties currently experienced by the Vocational Centres in the face of poor facilities and equipment, but was encouraging in the sense that teachers were approaching their jobs with flexibility and initiative in the face of the difficulties. The recommendations to arise from the research included rationalising scarce resources, upgrading teacher qualifications, establishing clearer pathways between the vocational programs in secondary schools and those in the centres, the determination of a strategic plan for expansion and innovation in approaches to practical placements in the workforce.


It is recognised in both the developed and developing worlds that those at the bottom of the qualification ladder find difficulty in entering the labour force and are the most vulnerable to economic downturns. Research has shown
... that those with lower levels of education have higher unemployment risks and greater chances of entering low-skilled, lower status and/or temporary jobs. ... [and] that those who have taken part in vocational education/training tend to have a smoother transition to their first job and achieve more stable employment (Agalianos, 2003, p.1).

It is for these widely recognised reasons that the Fiji Islands Government set up its Vocational Centres, attached to a number of secondary schools, and has encouraged their purpose and development.

Fiji Islands is a relatively poor Pacific island nation with a population of about 800,000. There are 157 secondary schools and 719 primary schools. Primary education is compulsory and universal. All education is conducted in English, which is the official language. The unemployment rate is reported to be rising since the political coup in 2000, although prior to that it was, officially, only 1.7% (Fiji Islands Bureau of Statistics, 2004).

Vocational Centres in Fiji: Background

There are 58 Vocational Centres in Fiji, including three Special Schools. Most centres offer one or two of the following courses, while a small number offer three or more.

Automotive Engineering
Carpentry & Joinery
Catering & Tailoring
Vocational Agriculture
Office Technology
The Vocational Centres prepare students for the Fiji Vocational Certificate (FVC), while a number are franchised by the Fiji Institute of Technology (FIT) to offer the first Stages of the Trade Certificate (roughly equivalent to Australia's Certificate III). Some centres also put their students through a Training and Productivity Authority of Fiji (TPAF) examination which enables them to achieve recognition at the Fiji National Training Council Class III level (roughly equivalent to Certificate I).

The FVC and the TPAF courses are regarded as more practical and less stringent than the FIT franchised courses. The ratio of practical to theoretical content is different between the two disparate pathways. The FVC is designed to prepare students for immediate entry into the workplace, while a pass in a franchised course gains students admission to FIT, where they go on to prepare for the Trade Certificate, or a higher qualification. This situation has created a contradiction in the role and nature of the Vocational Centres. The FVC course encourages a concentration on practical skills, and leads directly into the workforce, while the franchised courses may require up to 50% theory and cognitive development to prepare students for further study.

The franchised centres offer courses at Stages I and II, with a pathway into FIT to complete Stages III to V. Stage III is offered in a small number of rural centres, to help reduce the time the students need to live and study in the capital city, Suva, away from their homes.

Entry level

Students failing academic examinations at Form IV (year 10) level are the most likely to enter the Vocational Centres. However, as the demand for vocational courses is increasing in some areas and the available places have not kept pace, more students are entering from Form V, Form VI or even Form VII. These are typically students who have failed the academic examination at these levels, although there are exceptions.

Two issues arise from this situation. First, Vocational Centre training has attracted a poor reputation, both within the school and within the community, as a second class option, or a second chance pathway for those who fail in mainstream secondary education.

A second issue is developing in some regions. As more students are selected from higher Forms, the Form IV students, for whom the centres were first established, are unable to obtain enrolment in a Vocational Centre because of a limit on the number of places. This is creating a new group of unemployed school leavers.

Vocational teacher qualifications

Vocational teachers require two sets of qualifications, a teacher qualification and another in their skills area. Most have both, or are currently working towards their International Diploma in Tertiary Teaching (IDTT), offered by FIT. The typical situation is for a vocational teacher to be appointed on the basis of a Diploma, a Certificate or significant experience as a practitioner in a relevant area and then, once appointed, to enrol with FIT to complete the IDTT part time. The Ministry is committed to the increase of trained and qualified vocational teachers (Government of Fiji, 2002).

Some vocational teachers go on to do extension courses through the University of the South Pacific (USP) working towards a BEd. Those who don't go on with further study find it difficult to keep up with changing knowledge and skills in their teaching areas and miss the opportunity of sharing ideas and discussing their problems with fellow teachers.


A grant is paid to the centres by the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) section to help pay for learning materials and tools. In 2002 the average annual grant from the Ministry of Education was $90 per student while in 2004 it was only $55. The Ministry also pays teacher's salaries, while the communities pay for the buildings and parents pay the students' fees. Although the number of centres is growing, the overall TVET budget has decreased from $325,000 a few years ago to $197,174 in 2004. This is a result of financial problems suffered by the government after the 2000 coup, and the Director (TVET) is anxious to have the sum restored to the earlier level as soon as possible.

The centres charge the students a fee ranging from $35 to $280 annually, according to the 2002 TVET statistics. Only one centre charges no fees, although the Ministry of Education has always recommended a minimum of $30 per year to pay for water and electricity. Remission of fees, available for poor students in secondary schools, is not available to vocational students.

When a new Vocational Centre has been approved by the Chief Executive Officer (Education), a package of tools and equipment is handed over by TVET to get the courses started. Further packages are made available each year as the subject Advisers work through a standard list of equipment necessary for teaching at the FVC level. Gradually the centres build up their equipment to a point where they may begin to think about FIT franchising, but this does not happen straight away.

In the past, students graduating from two years in a Vocational Centre, used to receive a tool box, a sewing machine, or an electric or gas oven, so that they could set themselves up in self employment with their new skills. This practice was discontinued in 2001. There was a small sum in the 2004 budget for this purpose, but it is far from sufficient to reinstate the practice.

FIT has recently raised its fee for franchised courses from the $80 per course, set in 1995, to $120. For this sum, schools receive a course Prescription (outline, or syllabus), Teacher's Guide and two examination papers for up to five subjects per course per Stage. The examinations are marked by FIT staff. There is also a one-off accreditation fee of $535 at the time the compliance agreement is signed by the school and FIT.

Process for setting up new Vocational Centres

The Principal of a school wanting to open a new Vocational Centre completes a standard feasibility study form with the help of the school Management Committee and the community. TVET staff then undertake an inspection of school facilities and its ability to operate a centre safely. They check on classrooms, workshops, storage facilities, furniture and essential services (electricity and water) to ascertain their adequacy. These are all the responsibility of the school. The Advisers talk to the community if possible to assess what they feel and believe about setting up a new centre. The community and the Principal are advised if further improvements are needed to buildings or facilities. Environmental implications are also discussed.

A report goes through the Director (TVET) to the CEO (Education) and a decision is made to approve, or provisionally approve, the establishment of a vocational program. In the event of provisional approval, the school Management Committee is required to continue to work on bringing the facilities up to standard, and to employ and pay a qualified teacher. The Ministry provides some equipment to assist the school to start the program. When buildings and facilities are passed as adequate, final approval is given and the Ministry agrees to appoint and pay for a teacher, if available.

Need for a TVET policy and guidelines on Vocational Centres

TVET Guidelines were written in the early 1980s and developed further in the mid 90s, but were never finalised. The core of current practice lies within those documents, but they need revision and further development along with policy and statements of procedure. Current practice is steered more or less by the 1978 Education Act, rather than policy or guidelines. Issues needing to be addressed include teacher qualifications and on-going professional development, minimum resource needs, strategic locational priorities, security and maintenance of store rooms, the dual purpose of the Vocational Centres, relevance of the curriculum, the accreditation of new courses, the role of FIT, the role of the community and of local industry and closer regulation of accreditation by TVET. The promise of the introduction of national training standards by 2005 (Government of Fiji, 2002) furthermore raises enormous issues for policy development.

The Government of Fiji is firmly behind the establishment of Vocational Centres. However because the Vocational Centres are nominated by local communities, according to their own needs and aspirations, there is a lack of consistency in their planning and development. The distribution of Centres and the courses offered is uneven, meaning that there may be unnecessary duplication of courses and workshops in certain geographical areas and nothing in others.

Furthermore, the centres are increasing at a rate that is not viable. Some communities open centres which are unsustainable for more than two or three years. Very few of the new centres are adequately funded and equipped.

Management systems in the Vocational Centres are also inconsistent, and in some cases principals and school committees may not understand their roles within the TVET system.

Because of the need for new policy development, and the imminent rewriting of the Education Act, a needs analysis of the Vocational Centres was undertaken. The following analysis and discussion was based on interviews with 14 Vocational teachers in ten different schools, nine Principals, one Acting Principal and one Senior Education Officer. This is not a large sample, but clear patterns did emerge and the data were triangulated through reading and discussions with TVET staff familiar with Vocational Centres throughout the country.

Interviews with vocational teachers

The purpose of the interviews was to identify the areas of need in the Vocational Centres, including gaps in teacher qualifications, levels of support from the school, local industry and the Ministry of Education, the relevance of the curriculum, the numbers and standards of students and the adequacy of equipment and facilities.

Teacher experience and qualifications

The 14 Vocational Centre teachers had been teaching between 0 and 16 years. One had just started a few weeks before the interview. A small number had taught in secondary academic vocational courses (such as Home Economics or Industrial Arts) in the past, and one was still doing so in conjunction with a very small Vocational Centre class.

Table 1: Summary of interviewed teachers' experience and qualifications

TeacherCourseYears of
1.Auto Engineering3Dip in Auto Engineer'gDip in Ed (Industrial A)
2.Auto Engineering2Dip in Auto Engineer'gIDTT Module 1
3.Auto Engineering9Trade Cert AutoIDTT
4.Voc Agriculture4Dip in Tropical AgricIDTT Module 1
5.Voc Agriculture6Cert in Ag Engineer'gIDTT
6.Voc Agriculture4Cert in Ag Engineer'gIDTT
7.Carpentry & Joinery10Trade Cert (C&J)IDTT Module 3
8.Carpentry & Joinery6Trade Cert (C&J)
First Line Supervision
IDTT Module 3
9.Carpentry & Joinery0Trade Cert (C&J)Will start IDTT in 2005
10.Catering & Tailoring12FVC (C & T)IDTT
11.Catering & Tailoring9Cert in Community NutritionCert in Non-Formal Ed
BEd in Food & Textiles
12.Catering & Tailoring2FVC (C, T & Craft)IDTT Module 3
13.Office Technology2Adv Cert in OT
Cert in Computing
Will start IDTT soon
14.Office Technology16Dip in Secretarial StudiesDiploma in Education

Their skills backgrounds were varied. Four had been teachers for most of their adult lives but the majority had spent time in business or industry. All three Automotive Engineering teachers had worked in the industry as mechanics, one with the Public Works Department (PWD), one in a small garage and one had been self-employed for ten years. The three Vocational Agriculture teachers, likewise, had worked in farming, one as a Ministry of Forestry Field officer, one farming sugar with his father and one as an operative in a rice husking plant for two years. One of the Carpentry & Joinery teachers had worked with his father's carpentry business, while the other two had taught in another Vocational Centre or in the Industrial Arts secondary school program. One of the Office Technology teachers had worked for 16 years in Vocational Centres, while the other had worked in a number of different offices and in a library. Only one of the Catering & Tailoring teachers interviewed had actually worked in the field previously, and that was as a secondary Home Economics teacher for 11 years. Another had clerical and supervisory experience and the third had done community work in housing before becoming a teacher.

Teachers' qualifications in both their skills areas and in teaching were uneven. Eight teachers did not have a skills area qualifications above Trade Certificate or Fiji Vocational Certificate. Four had Diplomas and one had an Advanced Certificate.

Seven had completed teaching qualifications to Diploma level and one had a BEd from USP. Five were currently enrolled in the IDTT at FIT, and two said that they were planning to begin next year. One had a completed the BEd in Food and Textiles, and four had enrolled with USP in extension units leading to a BEd in their respective teaching areas, ie, BEd (Technology); BEd (Agriculture); BEd (Food and Textiles).

Support from the school, local industry and the Ministry of Education

Support from the school
The school in most cases expected teachers to complete their IDTT. Teacher training is certainly an expectation if the course is to be franchised by FIT. Those who had finished their basic qualifications, but who wanted to go on with further study stressed that there would be no further school support, but they would have to be self funded and self motivated.

There was an understanding in the schools that the Vocational Centres would raise money from the sale of produce or product to pay for the supply of consumables and working materials. A couple of teachers seemed grateful for extra school support in the purchase of a new computer or for attending to repairs in the workroom or allowing them to use tools or equipment from other parts of the school.

Support from community and local industry
At best, the community was aware of the work of the Vocational Centre and supportive of its efforts. In one Indo Fijian school, the vocational teacher claimed that with land leases expiring in the region, the community were highly aware of the need to maximise their opportunities for alternative employment. They valued vocational education as a means by which the less academic students would be viable in the workforce.

One teacher reported that the community was not particularly aware of the work or value of the automotive workshop, but that the students did practical placements in local garages and had no trouble finding these placements. The other two Automotive Engineering Centres reported that the students serviced the cars of the staff and school Management for their practical component. A Carpentry & Joinery teacher, new to the school and the area, indicated that one of his first jobs would be to get in touch with local industry. Another placed students both in local firms and with the PWD. Catering students were sent to local hotels for practical placement, and Tailoring students in several schools made and sold products to the community to recover the cost of materials.

Several schools reported that the teacher and the Principal were planning to go out into the surrounding villages to raise awareness and recruit further students. Others were not doing this and were finding that student numbers were dropping. In one centre, there had been an initial burst of enthusiasm from the local community, setting up a Catering & Tailoring course for 16 girls. The following year it had dropped to 11 and this year's intake was three.

One of the Agriculture teachers had set up a good relationship with a nearby Agricultural Station, and was seeking advice and seed from there. Another had had a marine specialist from USP to test the water in the school fishpond and advise on stocking it with prawns.

Support from the Ministry of Education
Several teachers mentioned course Prescriptions (syllabus statements), the $55 per student allowance, and regular advisory visits as positive examples of MoE support. One Office Technology teacher expressed gratitude to the MoE for giving her an extra computer.

An Automotive Engineering teacher complained that the Automotive Prescription was out of date. (This is an important issue, given the technological advances in the field in the last decade.) Another claimed he did not get his start up package, and had no tools for his Agriculture course. Two teachers said they would like more meetings, or workshop sessions with other teachers. They said they would appreciate TVET organising workshops in their area so that they could share ideas and talk about how they interpreted the Prescriptions.

Support for Vocational Centre courses from the school, industry and community and the Ministry of Education was uneven and inconsistent, reflecting, partly, decreasing funding available from the Ministry and the problem of some centres being set up too quickly with too little planning or insufficient basic facilities or equipment.

Relevance of the curriculum

There was unanimity among the fourteen teachers interviewed that they were happy to adapt and modify the Prescriptions to suit the students, the community, the availability of materials or the special focus of the course. From their comments it was possible to see the level of teacher consciousness of finding the best balance between practical and theoretical work and, in a number of cases, teachers were trying to strike a balance between the FIT requirements and the requirements of the FVC.

Their flexibility in adapting the syllabus in this way augers well in two ways. The teachers appeared to be coping with the varying demands of different student aspirations within the one class. Those who were capable of sitting for the FIT examinations could be accommodated, while those who would benefit from the TPAF exams or the FVC were encouraged in this direction. One school brought a small number of students back after they had finished the FVC and gave them intensive coaching towards the FIT entrance exams.

The second advantage of this level of flexibility, alongside the expectation that they could make money for the Centre, is that the embryonic concept of Enterprise Education is already there in the Vocational Centres. If in the future, the schools attempt to link the new Enterprise Education initiative in the lower classes in the school, it should not pose insurmountable problems.

Students, facilities and equipment

In every case, teachers reported that they were expecting more students to enrol in the vocational courses in the next couple of weeks. Class numbers ranged from 3 to 25 at the beginning of the school year, with only half rising to an ideal size six weeks later.

There were several reasons given for the slow arrival of students at the beginning of the school year. In one case it was reported that some students were waiting for the results of their applications to Lautoka Teachers College or to the Fiji School of Nursing. If rejected, they would return to the school and enrol in the centre. In several other cases, recruitment was still to be done from the surrounding villages, as mentioned previously. In only three centres had the full quota of 20 students been met at the beginning of the term. Three schools were still well below their quota in late March.

Whether the facilities and equipment were adequate for the expected number of students, depended largely on the length of time the Centre had been operating. One Carpentry & Joinery workshop which had opened a few weeks before, had only four work benches and eight vices. The teacher was starting class activities by installing security screens on the windows and building a secure tool shed. Electricity still needed to be connected. One Carpentry class didn't have a building, and was sharing the building and facilities with the Industrial Arts classes. This was in breach of TVET's own procedures for setting up new vocational classes.

None of the Catering & Tailoring courses visited had enough sewing machines or stoves. One new building was roomy and airy but had no stoves, no machines, no water and no electricity. All they had were tables and chairs. The Carpentry classes were busy installing storage cupboards and sinks in the new building. Another needed tables and chairs and the third complained that the school should be repairing the fly-screens, fixing the ventilation fan and putting in linoleum and ceiling fans. They also wanted kneading and baking equipment.

All three Vocational Agriculture teachers reported a lack of basic tools. One teacher had only six watering cans, two spray cans, a large fork, three spades and some cane knives, stored in a small shed attached to his living quarters. All reported that they had plenty of land. One had a large fish pond, but said it was a 45 minute walk from the school and this was proving difficult. They listed machinery, such as tractors, harrows, ploughs and rotary hoes etc, amongst the things they needed.

The automotive people were generally better off than the others. This is one of the most expensive courses to set up, and it has to be planned carefully before being approved by MoE. Two said they had up to date equipment but that they needed more. "We have a big workshop but it all needs to be serviced and running," said another. "We need a demonstration car, some MIG welding equipment and all our engines need to be running." This workshop already operated gas and arc welding equipment. The second needed EFI components, a wheel alignment machine and MIG welding equipment. The third was already buying MIG welding equipment to add to their gas and arc welding.

One of the Office Technology courses had electric typewriters and wanted to up-date to computers and an air-conditioned computer laboratory. The second had manual typewriters and wanted to up-grade to electric typewriters, and computers at a later date.

Teachers' views of the main issues facing the Vocational Centres

The first group of responses pointed to the nature and purpose of the Vocational Centres themselves. Teachers believed that the centres give a variety of advantages to the students. They provide industry experience and help students get jobs, but they also give them life skills and the ability to work better in their communities. A Catering & Tailoring teacher pointed out that sewing and a knowledge of hygiene also prepares the students for home duties and motherhood. Others mentioned students starting their own businesses or going on to further studies.

Others saw the low status of the centres as a problem. "The community sees the Vocational Centres as offering second class courses. They are not seen as the same as academic courses," one said. Another suggested that students felt that their parents just wanted to get rid of them. One claimed that students too often missed classes and were not taking study in the Vocational Centre seriously.

Several responses attempted to identify problems in the articulation patterns open to the students. Several perceived the gap between the secondary school program and the vocational program as too wide. The academic vocational program in the secondary school was described as "too theoretical" while the centres were "too production oriented". The need for another qualification level between the FVC and the FIT Trade Certificate level was also mentioned.

The remainder saw a wide range of issues as the main problems. "We must have the right machines." "We are lacking equipment." "We need more funding." "The number of students is decreasing because of competition from the private colleges." "Their low literacy levels cause problems." "We need more community involvement."

Teachers' views of the ideal future of the vocational centres

The teachers were asked their view of the ideal future of the Vocational Centres.

Three responses referred to the extension of vocational education further down the school, so that students did not have to wait until they failed Form IV to start the Vocational Centre program. One teacher wanted the academic vocational program dropped altogether and called for the centre to be open to everyone in the secondary school. This was seen as a way for the non-academic students to gain greater prestige in the school. Alternatively, according to another, there could be more practical work introduced into the academic stream.

Two teachers emphasised the need to upgrade and improve the centres. One wanted all courses to be franchised by FIT. The other wanted all modern equipment.

Training was the issue on the minds of two teachers. One was anxious that all trainers would have a chance to raise their skills area to at least Diploma level. The other stressed the importance of professional development seminars and workshops, to share problems and ideas with other schools, to meet other teachers and tell the Ministry of their problems. One said that they are too isolated and needed new ideas.

An increase in public awareness of the role of the vocational centres was the ideal future for another teacher. Parents need to understand the importance of the program and learn about the job opportunities the centres can offer their children. One teacher wanted to run three day Housekeeping courses for housewives, so that they could see how useful they were.

Several mentioned the potential for new skills development. Skills were needed to take back to the communities to help them improve. Skills were needed for self employment and for getting jobs. "The potential is rising," concluded one teacher on a positive note.

Teachers' view of what assistance is most needed

Assistance which teachers believed they most needed, apart from tools, up to date machinery and equipment as mentioned above, were text books, reference books for the library, teaching aids, overhead projectors, charts, visual aids and more help with the curriculum.

This is a serious list of needs and could be linked with the expressed concern of a number of the teachers for professional development workshops and opportunities to meet and share ideas.

Interviews with principals and education officer

All of the Principals interviewed were enthusiastically committed to vocational education. "The Vocational Centres are the answer to Fiji's economic problems," said one. "There is a bright future in vocational education. Even those who don't go on with further study will gain something useful," said another.

In a similar vein, the Principals emphasised the importance of raising vocational student confidence. They did not dwell on the concept of second class programs, or second chance options for dropouts. One Principal said he worked constantly to boost the morale of the vocational students and to increase their self respect. He visited each class each week and told them how proud he was of them. He said that he was sure that a strong vocational program also had a positives spin-off on the results of the academic students, as his school had done exceptionally well in the 2003 exams. Another supported this approach saying, "The role of the principal is to lift the vocational students' self respect. This will reduce discipline problems. Acknowledge their worth, and let others admire what they are doing."

A number of the Principals expressed pride in past students and several told stories of exceptional students who had gone on to get good jobs, or who had gone on into the higher Stages of the FIT Trade Certificate. One told of a young woman who had stayed at home in the village for two years before undertaking an Office Technology course and then getting a job as a secretary on one of the USP campuses.

Even when the students do not achieve anything exceptional, the Principals work at maximising the talents they have. "We need to concentrate on the hidden talents of our students, not just their brainpower. We need to prepare them for life." This same Principal claimed to promote students into the next class even when they did not pass, because he felt it was psychologically better for them to continue working with their age group. This is unusual in Fiji, with its rigorous examination system.

The concept of beginning the vocational program at a lower level in the secondary school had been mentioned by some of the teachers, and two Principals referred to this directly. One said that vocational education should start at Form III. "Things like auto electrics, sheet metal and plumbing could be taught alongside the academic program to prepare them early on for the world of work," he said. Another said he allows students from year 8 (Form II) into the Vocational Centre, "... where we can teach them useful skills so that they won't just leave school and learn bad skills from others." One Principal indicated a further social function in attracting students back into the Vocational Centres. He explained, "Schools are concerned with their own dropouts. We don't want them in trouble and giving a bad name to the school. What they do reflects on the school."

These Principals all considered their belief in the centres and their enthusiasm for the role of vocational education as an important ingredient in the success of the centre in their schools.

Community and industry involvement with schools

The Senior Education Officer saw community lack of awareness of the importance of vocational education as one of the major issues. He believed that a number of communities had not made the link between vocational education and getting jobs.

This was no doubt the case in many schools, but was not reflected by the sample of Principals interviewed. One Principal described how he goes out to the villages and encourages the communities to find communal ways of raising money for student education and boarding fees. He pointed out that the villagers work together to raise money for weddings and funerals, and that this culture could be utilised to do more for their children. "There could be community study centres for day students, community funding for special projects and scholarships," he said.

Another Principal was very enthusiastic about the school's interaction with the nearby community. He believed they would give him engines and machinery for the new Automotive Engineering course, and that the students would be given plenty of hands-on experience in nearby workshops. The school was building a workshop for the new course and the building was being undertaken with substantial free work from the community. The foundation trenches had been dug that morning with digging machinery, saving days of hand digging. The reinforcing metal had been donated, and neighbouring farmers were doing some of the labour.

There were a number of paid enterprise schemes developed by the schools to serve the local industry. One school was building boats on contract. Another Principal told the interviewer about a scheme he had developed with the Ministry of Youth and Employment, whereby the Ministry paid them $500 to run 10 week courses to up-skill young people who had applied for employment at their office. These classes were absorbed into the existing Vocational Centre classes. The students in all of the Automotive courses repaired and serviced teachers' cars and engines from the community and they did their practical placement in local garages during the holidays.

A Principal in a Nadi school remarked on the importance of practical training for the tourist industry. "We are in a strategic location here in Nadi, near the resorts. We don't need all that theory taught in the academic stream. Fiji has too much theory. There are thousands of middle level jobs which need highly skilled practitioners." The same Principal listed a number of schemes which brought the school into proximity with the local community and local industry. He mentioned a large commercial baking oven donated by the Sheraton Hotel, Nadi. The school canteen was supplied by the Catering students. The Tailoring students produced wedding packages (pillowcases, quilts, mosquito nets, etc.) for nearby residents, and the Carpentry students made chests to pack these things in. They also made flower vases. All these things were sold. The carpentry students couldn't meet the demand from local primary schools for desks as there were not enough power tools. Power tools were needed for large scale production.

The Principals are well aware of the importance of making their courses relevant to the local community and to industry. "It is important to look at the population distribution and have the right things in the right centres," remarked one of the Principals.

Once again all Principals were in agreement that an energetic and enthusiastic interaction with local industry and the community was a factor of success in vocational education.

Strategic location of Vocational Centres

Two Principals mentioned the strategic location of the centres as an important issue. The Principal and the School Manager of one school complained that they had been told by the Ministry of Education some years before that they were in a central northern location and that they had been encouraged to open a Vocational Centre for this reason. They asked if this had ever been part of a formal policy and if so, what had happened to it, as a number of other Vocational Centres had opened up nearby and were competing for students.

Another Principal, this time from the Western Division, stated, "We only need three large Vocational Centres in the West. We should upgrade these three and close the others. The locational strategy should be based on where the marketability is greatest. For instance, there is tourism here. We need to concentrate on what we have in the area. There are 11 secondary schools in Nadi. Maybe only two big Vocational Centres in Nadi should be franchised."

TVET has not consolidated its ideas on this issue. Local communities are applying to open Vocational Centres almost at will, and guidelines on the strategic location of centres have not been developed.

Finance, resources and maintenance

Scarcity of funds was a constant theme. The Senior Education Officer mentioned shortage of funds and resources as the major issue facing the Vocational Centres. Several of the Principals spoke critically of the reduction of funds and equipment from the MoE over the last few years, but were struggling on, nevertheless, finding funds from alternative sources.

The majority of schools in the sample were utilising the skills of the Carpentry & Joinery students to help construct buildings, install benches and cupboards in other areas and carry out repairs and maintenance around the school. Many of the desks and workbenches observed by the researcher had been made by Carpentry students within the school. Auto Engineering students had built a substantial metal fence around another school, complete with secure lockable metal gates. In another school they were welding together banister railings for a new workshop and classroom block. Elsewhere vocational students had been painting all the classrooms to save money.

It was common in all the schools to use the Vocational Centre students to make money, not so much to help the whole school but to help equip the centres and to replace the materials they needed to work with. Several Principals mentioned Open Days, where clothes and cushions and craft work were offered to the community for sale. Mention has been made earlier of the wedding boxes and the flower vases for sale. Income generated from the Ministry of Youth and Employment funded courses has also been mentioned.

One Principal described setting up an Office Technology course, buying two computers, receiving one as a gift from the Rotary Club and one from the MoE to make up a laboratory of four machines. This is a pathetically small number of computers on which to teach 13 girls. However, the Principal claimed they were exhausted from the effort and financially strained. He wanted to start Carpentry & Joinery for the boys, but did not have the resources to do so this year.

There was little doubt that the Principals felt that the vocational program was disadvantaged because of the lack of funds. One complained, "There is too much money going into academic education and not enough to the vocational program. Why should this be when the jobs are all vocational?"

Analysis and recommendations

Rationalisation of resources

The major issue is the lack of resources in some Vocational Centres. While scarcity of government funding and the poverty of local communities are important factors in the lack of equipment, another factor includes an impatient rush to open centres and enrol students before the facilities are ready. A further factor, and a closely related one, is the impatience of the local community to get the centre up and running before they have done a proper study of the long term implications. These situations are preventable and need to be dealt with in any future policy development undertaken by TVET.

It is recommended that TVET put into place more stringent guidelines for communities which decide to open Vocational Centres. A feasibility study covering a minimum of five years into the future could be required for each proposed Vocational Centre, to ensure that there will be a regular flow of students through the centre. TVET, furthermore, needs to strictly enforce its existing guidelines for minimum requirements before allowing schools to enrol students. Workshops, classrooms, storage areas, electricity and water supply and basic hand tools should be in place. The Director (TVET) also needs to continue to lobby for increased funding from the government, to match at least the pre 2001 level, but preferably higher.

Several teachers mentioned the lack of textbooks. One said he only had his own books and had to use them as best he could. Enquiries in a number of schools about reference books in the library or elsewhere led to a complete blank. One teacher listed textbooks, wall charts, visual aids, projector and "all sorts of teaching aids" as one of his greatest needs. Photographs taken by the researcher in a number of classrooms indicate a striking lack of teaching and learning materials in the typical vocational classroom. Textbooks, visual aids and learning materials for vocational education have a low priority. This is particularly frustrating to teachers involved in teacher education programs at FIT or USP, who are constantly reminded of the need for good teaching practices.

It is recommended that developing TVET guidelines and procedures encourage the use of text and reference books as a much higher priority. School sets should be built up in all vocational subjects and part of the $55 per student in-Centre annual grant to the school should be earmarked for books and learning materials.

Upgrading teacher qualifications

A second issue to arise from the data is that of minimum qualifications for teachers. While all vocational teachers surveyed had subject area qualifications, and all had, or soon would have, teaching qualifications, it is less than desirable for teachers to have to teach at the level of their own qualifications.

All those with the FVC or the Trade Certificate, for instance, should be encouraged to upgrade to a Diploma. The emphasis placed by the school, the Ministry and by FIT on teachers obtaining at least the IDTT should continue to be enforced by TVET and the need for Diploma level study in the teachers' subject areas strongly encouraged.

The need for joint workshops, opportunities to share ideas and update knowledge, and a desire for more teacher to teacher contact was mentioned often enough to be considered an issue. Under current practices vocational teachers are visited once or twice a year by TVET staff, some more often, when funds are distributed, the amenities inspected and the teachers briefed on curriculum matters. This was appreciated, but left the teachers still feeling isolated.

It is recommended that TVET set up workshops in significant centres, bringing together all subject area teachers in the district, or even Division. This would reduce the need for the repetition of messages and the number of times common problems need to be addressed by individual TVET staff members with individual teachers. At times it may be necessary to bring together all vocational teachers to address specific issues in that district or Division. The cost of these workshops could be met by reducing the number of TVET visits to individual schools.

The morale boosting efforts mentioned by several Principals are very appealing and all evidence points to it as a successful technique in raising standards in the Vocational Centres. Much has been written in the research literature about the role of the Principal in bringing about lasting reform (Fullan, 2001, for instance). However the vocational teachers need to be part of this morale boosting effort as well. Principles of student morale building learned in their teacher education need to be reinforced and encouraged.

It is recommended that this issue be included in all professional development activities carried out with and for the vocational teachers. The students should be encouraged to believe in the importance of what they are doing and to feel proud of their skills. They need also to be admired and respected by others. This should be built into developing TVET guidelines as an ideal and encouraged at all times.

Establishing pathways

An issue which will assume greater importance as more and more schools are accepted for FIT franchising is the desirable balance between theory and practical in the vocational courses. Who are the Vocational Centres for? Are they to help young people get jobs or are they focused on preparing students for further study and higher qualifications? Can these two functions exist side by side? Can the centres continue to have two purposes without contradiction? Should vocational education begin at a lower level in the secondary school, Form III for instance, or should it replace altogether the academic program in Industrial Arts, Home Economics and Agricultural Science, as one teacher suggested? Should those students less able to handle the theory be allowed to study at a slower pace, as was occurring in at least one school surveyed? What is the desirable link between the new Enterprise Education initiative, currently being introduced into Classes 3 to 8, and the Vocational Centres in secondary schools?

The data suggests that the vocational teachers are already coping with a number of these questions, although they are not being directed specifically by TVET. They are using their own industry and educational experiences to adapt and modify the subject Prescription as they see appropriate, and the majority of them are applying the principles of enterprise education, although at the moment class activities are more teacher directed than desirable. In some schools pathways are being explored where students can move in and out of the vocational stream.

The recommendation here is that TVET vocational staff monitor what is happening in the Vocational Centres and develop new policies and guidelines based on best practice.

Determining strategic locations for Vocational Centres

The issue of strategic location needs to be revisited by TVET policy makers. Not every community nor every Principal is interested in vocational education, and the majority of secondary schools will not choose to open a Vocational Centre. However, the selection of those who do, needs to be monitored and rationalised carefully. Decisions need to be made in conjunction with the needs and requests of communities. It must also be borne in mind that the government supports the spread of Vocational Centres in principle.

It is recommended that TVET consider the implications of supporting one of the following alternatives.

A slowing of the growth of new centres is urgent in the light of important decisions still to be made. The issue of the best model for the future needs to be scheduled for thorough debate by the TVET Director and staff as a major issue as soon as possible. There are also financial implications involved in the choice. The decisions should be well in place before the completion of the new Education Act which is currently being written, and should be enshrined in it.

Practical placements

The issue of monitoring and assessment of practical placements in industry is one which arose from the interviews but was not referred to by anyone as a problem. Common practice is for the students to get work experience in local firms or workshops during the holidays.

The developed world has wrestled with the nature and purpose of work placement for several decades. Griffiths (2003) identified a number of different models of work experience for students and claims that there still is

... a poor relationship between policy and practice, a lack of clarity in relation to the aims and objectives of post-16 work experience, its delivery (in particular, a lack of clarity in relation to workplace supervision, mentoring and teaching, the availability and quality of placements), a lack of evidence in relation to learning, the role of employers (the quality of relationships between employers and education, the nature of qualifications sought, the degree of attention to changing nature and modes of work) (p.14).
Griffiths recommends that work experience should be informed by what is known about learning as well as about working. He writes of a current shift of focus in the western world from work experience as something students learn about to a context through which students can learn and develop [author's italics] (p.15).

It has taken us a long time to develop an educational philosophy for practical placement, and it is no wonder that in Fiji the practice is still somewhat' hit or miss'.

TVET recommends that Vocational Centre students do up to three months practical placement over two years, but it is not compulsory. Sometimes a teacher arranges the placement and takes responsibility for visiting and monitoring the student's progress. At other times the student makes his or her own arrangements. Catering students work in shops, hotels or resorts, Automotive students work in local garages or machine shops or with farm equipment on community farms. Agriculture, Office Technology and Carpentry students likewise find employment in local enterprises. There is no requirement that they be paid, but some firms offer a small weekly sum as pocket money.

It is recommended that the system of placements be tightened to become a more structured part of student course work. Learning outcomes or practical competencies need to be defined for each subject area and a system of monitoring and assessment drawn up, so that the student comes to the end of a two year course with a check list of workplace competencies achieved.


This study consisted of needs analysis research into the Vocational Centres attached to some secondary schools in Fiji. It was looking specifically at their needs, and thus their weaknesses tend to be emphasised rather than their strengths. This is not to say that there are not a number of success stories, and indeed some of the data do make reference to these.

The role of the Vocational Centres is clear to those who work in them. Their development is encouraged by the government and recognised by many sectors of the community as essential for the economic development of the country.

The five recommendations to come out of the analysis deal with issues debated also in Australia and in Europe as our training sector has grown and developed, and are in no way to be seen as a criticism of Fiji, its government or of the Ministry of Education. However, they are complex issues and will not be easy to solve. In his review of research into vocational education, Agalianos (2003, p.1) warned that "the same policy interventions are unlikely to be equally effective in different contexts" but that each country needs to find their own answers based on their unique education, training and labour market systems.


The needs analysis research reported in this paper was part of the AusAID funded Fiji Education Sector Program, which was itself part of Fiji's Strategic Development Plan - 2003-2005, and a small sample of Australia's current aid program in the South Pacific.


Agalianos, Angelos S. (Ed) (2003). European Union-supported educational research 1995-2003. Briefing papers for policy makers. Brussels: European Commission. http://www.pjb.co.uk/npl/

Fiji Islands Bureau of Statistics (2004). http://www.spc.int/prism/Country/FJ/stats/, accessed 28/8/04.

Fullan, M. (2001). The new meaning of educational change. (3rd ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.

Government of Fiji (2002). Rebuilding confidence for stability and growth for a peaceful, prosperous Fiji: Strategic development plan: 2003-2005. Parliamentary paper no. 72 of 2002.

Griffiths, T. (2003). New approaches to work experience: Briefing paper Number 3. In Angelos S. Agalianos (Ed), European Union-supported educational research 1995-2003: Briefing papers for policy makers. Brussels: European Commission. http://www.pjb.co.uk/npl/bp3.htm

Please cite as: McBeath, C. (2005). Vocational centres in Fiji schools: A needs analysis. International Journal of Training Research, 3(1), 36-54. http://www.clare-mcbeath.id.au/pubs/voc-centres-fiji-ijtr2005.html

Errata: The printed version of this article omitted about 2.5 pages, and contained a number of other errors by the publisher. By arrangment with the Editor of IJTR, the version on this website is the definitive version, with publisher errors corrected.

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