Welcome Remarks at the 2017 Pacific Early Childhood Development Conference - Day 3
September 21, 2017 Sofitel Resort and Spa, Nadi
The Acting Prime Minister and Attorney-General of Fiji, Mr. Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum,
The Honourable Speaker of Parliament of Fiji, Dr. Jiko Fatafehi Luveni,
Ministers of Education and Economy from around the Pacific,
Permanent Secretaries, Chief Executive Officers and representatives of the Ministries of Education, Finance, Health and Social Welfare from the Pacific,
Ms. Wivina Belmonte, UNICEF Deputy Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific,
Mr. Sheldon Yett, UNICEF Pacific Representative,
Representatives from the World Bank,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Ni sa Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.
On behalf of the Fijian Government and the Fijian people, it is my pleasure to welcome all of you to the Ministerial Meeting of the 2017 Pacific Early Childhood Development Conference.
Fiji is honoured to host this important event and support the advancement of early childhood education across the Pacific.
Over the past two days, you’ve brought together experts in education, finance, health and nutrition, child protection and social welfare from 15 Pacific Island Countries.
All areas that are critical to making sure that our youngest and most vulnerable citizens across the Pacific can access opportunity and grow-up safe from harm.
And today, we have the Ministers responsible for Education and the Ministers for Economy and Finance present to help develop our Call to Action to mobilise every nation in the Pacific to boost their investment and expand their commitments in Early Childhood Development.
In Fiji, we have made early childhood care and education a key part of our strategy to support our young people and help them build a better and smarter nation.
Among our recent accomplishments, is the tuition free grant that provide free education to all five-year old Early Childhood Education students, the 100 per cent payment of Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) teacher salaries and improvement and expansion of ECCE centres nationwide.
We’ve made serious progress reducing stunted growth in Fijian children and under-five mortality rates by improving immunisation and child nutrition, among other health initiatives that will raise the quality of care in Fiji.
In fact, I am delighted to deliver this welcome address at the time when we in the Pacific unite to draft and deliver a Pacific Call to Action.
I have no doubt that the rich experiences and practices within the region and the world will shape the discussion to make a positive change to Early Childhood Development throughout the Pacific.
Honourable Ministers and Delegates, we do know that positive early experiences affect optimal brain development.
This in turn provides the foundation for the other skills and abilities children need to succeed in school and in life.
The key areas of importance to Early Childhood Development are the physical health and wellbeing, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive skills (school-based), communication skills and general knowledge.
Interestingly, a child’s brain develops in response to both genes and the environment. It is this interaction between the genes and the environment that shape the developing brain.
The time span between conception and the second birthday of a child, tagged the ‘first 1,000 days of life’, is critical since neural connections form at an astounding rate of 700 to 1,000 new connections per second.
While genes provide the initial map for development, it is the experiences and relationships babies and children have every day that literally shapes their brains.
It is the experiences and relationships that infants and young children have that continuously develop their brains and build the neural circuits that will be the foundation for later development.
For this reason, we must know that families have an extremely important impact on children’s development.
The community and service environments in which children and families interact also play a key role in supporting optimal development.
Caring and positive relationships are essential to ensure stress levels promote resilience for babies and children.
Significant ‘wiring’ occurs during the first years of a child’s life and this effectively programs child development. At three, a child has around 1000 trillion brain connections or synapses, which in later development are selectively pruned.
When adolescence is reached, brain synapses will number around 500 trillion, and this number remains relatively stable into adulthood.
It must be important to address in our countries elements that have a negative impact on brain development.
These include: physical or sexual abuse, neglect or lack of affection, parental mental illness, family violence, poverty, and lack of adequate housing.
These ongoing stress factors that are not buffered by caring and positive relationships disrupt brain architecture leading to a lower threshold of activation of the stress management system, which in turn can lead to lifelong problems in learning, behaviour, and both physical and mental health.
The 2013 Fijian Constitution has a broad range of Rights under the Bill of Rights.
For every individual to enjoy their human rights violence must end; inequality must end.
The Fijian Government highly condemns violence against women and children and has in place laws to address this.
Fiji’s Prime Minister, Honourable Voreqe Bainimarama, has himself called it is national shame and has further called on all Fijians to eliminate violence against women, children and the most vulnerable in society.
The Fiji Constitution include the rights of children, rights of people living with disabilities, right to health, right to education and others.
The rights of the child are principally those scribed in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In Fiji, The Child Welfare Decree has been developed to ensure protection of children against abuse and to curb the scourge in the community.
The National Child Helpline Facility is an undertaking by the Fijian Government so that we can break the silence on child abuse and offer our children a means to hear their voices.
Furthermore, we have convened three divisional and one national children’s symposium for the first time and the engagement has been very rewarding for we now have a Children’s Manifesto, which guides our action.
This will be an annual event to further the first Children’s Symposium.
Investments in young children are one of the most cost-effective strategies for healthier and more productive populations, with potential returns that far exceed costs.
It is vital to invest earlier, rather than later, because the development of brain architecture in the early years is the foundation of future learning behavior, and health.
There is considerable work yet to be done. Like many Pacific Island Countries, Fiji aims to hasten the pace of progress to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals relating to ECE by 2030.
The Fijian Government has set out a vision for building a better Fiji – a knowledge-based society where success is determined solely on the basis of merit and achievement.
And there is no greater determinant of lifetime success than early childhood development.
It not only builds better citizens, it builds better nations. And it will help us build a better Fiji.
I applaud the work of the Permanent Secretaries, Director Generals and representatives of various Government ministries throughout the Pacific who have been working in the past two days on the Pacific Call to Action on Early Childhood Development.
And I congratulate the Ministers of Education and Economy who are here today to champion Early Childhood Development in the region, and who are looking to endorse the Pacific Call to Action on ECD.
I look forward to hearing more about the outcomes of this conference and how countries are acting on the recommendations and commitments issued from this important meeting.
Again I extend my warmest welcome to you all and wish you a very successful day.
Thank you and May God Bless you all.