Diverse Voices Come Together for Arts and Education in Fiji

A joint media release from Suva, Fiji, was recently announced about how the Government, civil society and members of the diplomatic corps came together to discuss Arts and Education at a Dialogue funded by the European Union. The event was launched at the Grand Pacific Hotel by the Chief Guest, Permanent Secretary of Education, Alison Burchell.

Ms. Ingrid Swinnen of the European Union said in her remarks that “The EU acknowledges the role of Culture as both an enabler and an important component of development that facilitates social inclusion, freedom of expression, identity building, civil empowerment and conflict prevention while strengthening economic growth.”

She continued, “In the new European Consensus for development adopted last year, the EU and its Member States reaffirm their commitment to promote intercultural dialogue and cooperation, promote cultural diversity, protect cultural heritage, boost the cultural and creative industries and support cultural policies that help achieve sustainable development.”

The Dialogue was one of a series as part of the EU-funded Valuing Voices project which is about valuing all voices in society — based on an understanding that diversity of voice leads to better governance for everyone. The project is delivered by the British Council and Save the Children Fiji (SC Fiji) and supports the Fijian Government’s international commitments to consolidating democracy and the rule of law, and respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Director of the British Council in New Zealand and the Pacific, Ms. Ingrid Leary, said that with more than half the 837,000 Fijian population aged under 25, and one-third aged below 14, the school curriculum now was going to really shape the Fiji of the future. “The education system can contribute enormously to the development of Arts career pathways and platforms, so it was very exciting to see stakeholders from all parts of society come together at the Dialogue to give the Arts sector the time and the attention it deserves,” she said.

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Fijian culture on display

The first half of the day was a discussion between artists, human rights defenders and academics identifying opportunities and challenges in integrating arts and culture into the Fiji school curriculum. Themes covered included the power of arts, culture and heritage to give voice to all people in society, including the most marginalized. Participants explored how collaboration across sectors can enhance freedom of expression, also contributing to the enhancement of other human rights and a more peaceful and prosperous society.

As the Valuing Voices project is about exploring new ways of amplifying voice, the second half of the dialogue provided up to 25 children with an opportunity to speak out responsibly about opportunities and challenges in integrating arts and culture into the Fiji school curriculum.

In Fijian society, as in many societies, the Arts is not regarded by many parents as a viable career option. Platforms and pathways are limited, and children who are interested or talented in the arts are often encouraged to pursue other interests.

These children, and society at large, often misses out on their skills and talents. Research shows that vital skills for employment in this millennium include creativity, collaboration and cooperation. The discussion explored how these soft skills can be enhanced in the education system and especially through arts-based activities.

“The focus with children was to provide a space for adult participants and artists to inspire and encourage the children, to solve problems, build relationships, and get involved in ways that rebuild social capital and contribute to a fully self-expressed society,” said Mrs Iris Low-McKenzie, CEO of SC Fiji. “The dialogue aimed to build on and bring to the forefront children’s perceptions about their world and what they care about, using art and heritage,” she said.

Other themes explored in a panel discussion were:

• Art academic development, research and challenges
• Contemporary art, social activism and therapy
• Music, cultural identify and transformative change
• A child’s experience in art and curricula
• Eco Friendly art and activism
• Disability inclusion in the arts
• Pacific Arts for Children and Young People – the untapped potential.

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