TEACHING is also known as the most honourable profession in the world. It is given this prestigious title because teachers play the important role of moulding the characters and minds of our future generation.
Let's face it, without teaching, the very basic of items that we use in our daily lives, from the clothes we wear to the way our food is prepared would be completely different. So while we acknowledge the fact that teachers are very important members of society, how much do we truly know of the challenges they experience and the sacrifices they make to broaden the knowledge of our youngsters?
In Fiji, like any other country in the world, there are some students who really push teachers to the limit. But for our small Pacific island nation, the most challenging task our teachers have to cope with is fulfilling their responsibilities with very limited resources.
According to Sanaila Sumo, the vice principal of Navosa Central College, a great teacher is one who is able to excel in improving his or her students' knowledge with the least of resources. That is why Mr Sumo believes teaching in rural schools is the ultimate test for any educator wanting to excel in the profession.
Mr Sumo says trying to pursue a career in teaching far away from home and with very little resources puts all their skills and knowledge under the microscope as students' performance directly reflects the methods used by teachers. After joining the teaching profession 17 years ago, Mr Sumo got his first experience in teaching at schools like Dudley High in Toorak, Lami High School, Nasinu Secondary and Cathedral Secondary School.
However, in 1995, Mr Sumo was transferred to Navosa Central where he became head of the science department. Taking up the position in Navosa was an eye-opener after moving from a host of well-equipped urban schools to a rural committee-run school. Mr Sumo, who is originally from Batiri Village in Nadroga, said teaching in rural schools, presented a whole new set of challenges compared to those experienced in urban schools.
He said schools which were spread out over rural areas struggled to educate the young with meagre finance and facilities. Mr Sumo said compared to teachers in urban schools, rural educators were expected to lift the standard of education with insufficient resources and not much help from the Government. He said it was vital that the Government reviewed policies on education to ensure the plight of all rural schools was addressed.
"Since I came here in 1995, some government officials visited the school and made many promises to us. They once promised us the school would be transformed into a centre of excellence but there has been very little change over the past years because we do not have the resource and finance," he said. "There is a great need for the Government to look into the plight of rural schools in Fiji."
Even though Mr Sumo admitted it was very hard to settle down at first, he said the students and teaching staff have become part of his family. He said he was captivated by the genuine desire of students in the area to learn despite having very little to use.
"The students here may not be as bright and as well equipped as those in urban schools but they want to learn," he said. "They may have to be pushed at times but that is the whole point of teaching."
Mr Sumo said one aspect of teaching in Navosa that has made it really hard for him to leave was the respect and hospitality shown by the students and parents. He said with agriculture being the leading industry in the province, some parents did not place much emphasis on education.
However, he said working closely with parents and members of the community has shown some positive results and attitude toward education.
Mr Sumo said another fascinating aspect of teaching in Navosa was the way teachers developed very close relationships during the term at the school. He said there had been several instances where teachers came to Navosa and started their families. But Mr Sumo said it was very encouraging to see more new graduates opting to take up rural posts such as at Navosa Central.
He said the teaching staff at Navosa Central comprised mainly young graduate teachers in search of the ultimate test. He said their experience from a rural school would prepare them for anything in the teaching profession throughout the country.