A nation is usually defined by its shared history, culture, language(s) and sometimes religion. This definition is by the nature of its measures, backwards looking. It defines a nation based on what it has been to give some sense of what it is now and what it might be.
Economic statistics provide another definition of a nation. The level of urban and peri-urban population, GDP per capita, GDP growth rates, population growth rates and unemployment levels are a few of the criteria used to describe a nation. Economic statistics can equally well describe what makes the nation today, how quickly life is changing for better or for worse and with a lower degree of accuracy, what the future will be like.
But what measures the soul of a nation? What of tolerance, equality of opportunity and the sense of a united purpose? These criteria measure the future of a nation as certainly as economic fundamentals and the history of a nation. They describe the capability of a civic nation based on a common identity and loyalty to a set of political ideas and institutions.
To build a nation, therefore one must consider the past to build a common purpose for the future based on today’s capabilities.
Education impacts all three elements of what defines the notion of nation building.
Education of Fiji’s children in its shared history and cultures is significant in developing the tolerance required for Fiji to prosper. A shared understanding of the contributions of all ethnic backgrounds in the development of Fiji aids in the understanding of the benefits to be gained by future co-operation and the reinforcement of the elements of identity which are common.
In my many years of travelling to all corners of the earth, I found a common bond between travellers from all nations, cultures and religions. It was the increased level of tolerance and confidence of travellers over their counterparts who did not travel. My observation was that people who travelled and experienced other’s lives, cultures and customs were more assured of their own identity and less afraid of cultures that were not even encountered yet. In a nation of diverse cultures, education of the population of those cultures and customs can have that same confidence building effect.
A country consisting of people assured of their identity and unafraid of others is already well on the road to building a nation.
The impact of an education on economic growth is well documented. A 2005 report by Access Economics on the study of ?The Economic Benefit of Increased Participation in Education and Training? in Australia concluded that increasing the participation rate in education increased productivity, wage rates and rate of participation in better paid jobs The result being an increase in GDP by 1.1% in a generation by increasing participation by about ten percent.
In a speech in 2004, Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board of the USA, commented on the impact of the state of knowledge and skill of a population as an important factor in determining the level of economic growth. ?Generic capabilities in mathematics, writing, and verbal skills are key to the ability to learn and to apply new skills and thus to earn higher real wages over time?, he said.
An IMF study in June 2005 determined that the impact of an increase in spending on education is immediate and lagged. It was found that about two-thirds of the direct affect of investment in education are realized in the first five years, with the remainder realized over the next five years. For example, the direct effect of an increase in education spending of 1 percentage point of GDP is associated with an increase in the composite enrolment rate of 6 percentage points within a five-year period and of another 3 percentage points in the following five-year period.? Support for the notion that education plays a pivotal role not only in the economic development but also in the social of Fiji comes from the top. At the opening of an Asia-Pacific mid-term review of the Commonwealth Education Action Plan organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat in Nadi, Fiji Islands, on 19 April 2005, Fiji Prime Minister, Mr Qarase stated education plays a key role in the economic and further development of a nation. The Prime Minister said people who are deprived of a good education are often disadvantaged throughout their lives and are unable to escape from poverty. A good quality education system with high participation rates clearly has a long term ongoing economic benefit for a nation. The ongoing economic benefits of more highly paid jobs giving an increased ability to compete in a world of ever decreasing barriers to trade is vitally important for Fiji to cope with the impact of a rapid urban drift.
With Fiji’s urban population reported to have climbed from 36.7% of the population in 1975 to 51.7% by 2003 and predicted to rise to 60.1% by 2015 the pressure on increased job availability and job quality will be immense as this rapid urban drift occurs.
Evidence exists to support the notion that education reduces well documented social problems including crime which comes with increased urban drift. In a US study of inmates in three US states by the Correctional Education Association and the Management & Training Corporation, it was found that ?Correctional education participants had statistically significant lower rates of re-arrest, re-conviction and re-incarceration?.
However, the role of education in combating the effects of urban drift is somewhat a double edged sword.
Education clearly is a driver of better productivity giving rise to a higher competitive ability and hence more jobs and higher economic growth rates which enables more money to be invested in, for instance, better education. It is a virtuous circle.