Issues in Solomon Islands Education, by Noeline Alcorn

Issues in Solomon Islands Education, by Noeline Alcorn (Education)

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This book makes available to a wider audience for the first time material based on fieldwork carried out by the Solomon Island researchers in their own country. The findings will have vital relevance to policy makers, teachers and students.

Over the past four years the School of Education, Solomon Islands College of Higher Education and the University of Waikato, have worked together in a partnership focused on enhancing the quality of teacher education and building capability in research.

From: Issues in Solomon Islands Education, by Noeline Alcorn

CHAPTER 1. Educational Decentralisation: The Growth of Community High Schools in the Solomon Islands

Derek Sikua
Solomon Islands Parliament

Noeline Alcorn
University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand

Introduction

Concern about access to secondary education in the Solomon Islands became acute in the early 1990s. In 1993 the country had one of the lowest coverage and completion rates at secondary level in the world, with the participation of girls particularly problematic (World Bank, 1993). Only a small percentage of primary students (26 percent) were able to go on to secondary schools, with 74 percent suffering “pushout” because there was no capacity to maintain them in the system. The literacy rate of the Solomon Islands’ population was only 27 percent. Yet since independence in 1978 there has been an increasing need for citizens with higher levels of literacy and general education.

As a result, the Solomon Islands Government began exploring options for providing secondary education other than the traditional and expensive boarding schools, which require students to incur high travel and accommodation costs, often involving travel outside their own province. During the early 1990s the Government sought assistance from the World Bank and bilateral donors to fund five junior secondary day schools as a pilot programme. The enthusiastic response to these schools spurred the then Minister to take a paper to Cabinet in 1994 seeking approval to open more government- and community-funded and supported community high schools (CHS). Subsequently, over 95 CHS were established throughout the country.

The development of CHS raised issues about educational decentralisation in the Solomon Islands and the integration of educational administration between national, provincial and local levels. Making sure that responsibilities are divided appropriately, but that adequate control of decentralised tasks and support functions is maintained, would be challenging (Habu, 1983). Unnecessary bureaucracy and very long communication channels needed to be eliminated while ensuring central oversight of quality. Consultants’ reports stressed the need for provincial education officers to have suitable training to enable them to implement change and work with the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development (MEHRD) (Doyle, 1983; Thomas, 1983).

This chapter presents the findings from a sustained research project investigating the development and operation of CHS and identifies issues they raise at all levels of the system. It investigates their establishment, their ongoing operation and administration, issues and problems, and finally considers the extent to which they have achieved their goals. We conclude that decentralisation is an appropriate model for Solomon Islands secondary education because it has increased access, efficiency and local support for education. However, we argue that its continued success will depend on the extent to which five criteria for sustainability in a developing country are addressed.

The research investigation

This research was carried out with the benefit of an Overseas Development Aid (ODA) scholarship to New Zealand while Derek Sikua was on leave from his position as Permanent Secretary of MEHRD, after a career as a secondary teacher and public servant. In these roles he was confronted with the country’s ongoing problems in the education sector, where access, quality, equity, efficiency and co-ordination are major issues. His overriding concern was to seek ways to address these sectoral issues so that as many Solomon Islands children as possible could receive more and better education.

To investigate the problem he studied a range of policy documents, files and reports in MEHRD and carried out one-to-one interviews with over 50 people in Guadalcanal, Isabel, Western and Central provinces, at the national, provincial, school and community levels. He observed the work of officials, teachers and school committee members and visited six case study schools in action. A second round of interviews in 2000 to check the initial findings was hampered by ongoing social tensions, but he was able to get detailed questionnaire responses from 31 of the original interviewees. In preparation for the research, he studied reports and scholarly writing on various forms of decentralisation and community developments in a range of other countries.

The initial establishment of CHS

What factors influenced the establishment of CHS?

In the early 1990s there was overwhelming agreement in the Solomon Islands that the lack of secondary places was a major concern, not only for central government and education officials but also for parents, who were often upset and angry that their children “failed” to get a secondary place. Some parents cried when the examination results were announced, and others tried to assault teachers, thinking they were to blame rather than the system. The rapidly rising population made the situation worse, as each year the number of dropouts grew. The establishment of CHS was seen as a response to this situation. Most people interviewed also believed that the new schools would assist girls to attend secondary school. The boarding schools had often lacked sufficient female dormitories, and many parents were reluctant to send their daughters away to a place where they would be separated from their traditional cultural beliefs and might be alienated from village life and obligations. Being able to attend a day school close to home would allow parents to remain a major influence for their daughters.

There was also a perceived need to improve the existing imbalances in secondary school places among the provinces, and to combat the effect of the country’s geography and scattered population. More than 84 percent of the population lived in over 6,000 villages. This led to growing dissatisfaction in rural areas, since the existing secondary schools were mainly in major centres such as Honiara, Auki and Gizo. Some participants in the survey hoped that the establishment of CHS would reduce rural-urban drift and stop the alienation from their own culture that often affected students who had attended high school away from home. Officials and parents hoped that CHS would promote the teaching and learning of local cultures and languages. It was also felt that other community members might be able to use the facilities for classes in literacy, family planning and other training classes, especially (perhaps) for women.

Another major reason for the establishment of CHS was to reduce costs. Although the Government was anxious to extend secondary education, its financial situation did not allow it to do so through traditional channels. Boarding schools incur high costs for transport, accommodation and food; day schools do not. CHS would be cheaper to build, as parents and communities could offer free labour and materials for the construction of classrooms and staff houses. Parents in turn would be spared the expenses of travel to distant schools, clothes and fees. Provincial authorities felt that this would enable poorer families to allow their children to attend.

It was expected that the establishment of CHS would foster a feeling of ownership and pride within local communities. The new ventures would be partnerships between central government, provincial education authorities, schools and communities. However, a number of those interviewed saw the need for greater clarity about the responsibilities of each member of the partnership. Some felt that greater decentralisation was needed, others that MEHRD ought to exert greater control. One area of disagreement was the selection of pupils, which a number of schools thought should be done locally. Another was teacher discipline. Overall, the lack of necessary skills such as financial management, organisational ability, communication skills and knowing how to work effectively with adults at the school and community level was seen as a barrier to greater devolution by government.

External forces also played a role at the government level, though most of those interviewed for the research were unaware of this. The five World Bank-funded CHS provided an impetus for further development and made stakeholders at various levels aware of new possibilities for development. Reports conducted for the MEHRD with World Bank funding tended to focus on lowering the cost of education per student and involving lower level bodies in the decision-making process, rather than relying solely on central planning (World Bank, 1993). Internationally, decentralisation was seen as the answer to a range of educational issues, although the rationale behind it varied. This research project aimed to explore its cultural and geographic appropriateness in a Melanesian country such as the Solomon Islands.

Consultation processes in establishing CHS

Most writers on decentralisation (e.g., Fiske, 1996; Rondinelli, 1981) stress the need for all parties concerned to consult each other fully and develop clearly understood processes. This study found that in the establishment of CHS in the Solomon Islands, the officially approved processes were not sufficiently understood or followed. The MEHRD was put under a great deal of pressure from communities—and sometimes by local politicians—to approve new schools where the basic facilities had not been put in place or the locations were unsuitable. There are important lessons to be learnt from the experience. It is vital that consultation procedures be fully understood and agreed to before the implementation of new policies (Fiske, 1996). However, these policies should be flexible enough to cater for differing situations and to meet the needs of communities without stifling initiatives (Bray, 1987; Rondinelli, 1981).

The official consultation procedure drawn up and adopted by the MEHRD, following Cabinet approval in November 1994 to establish CHS, involved MEHRD officials having several meetings in areas earmarked for CHS expansion to explain the necessary requirements for approval and establishment. Thus several consultative meetings with teachers, administrators and community members were held in Isabel province and around Honiara. These meetings eventually resulted in three schools in Isabel and six in Honiara. Following this success, the MEHRD planned to open five CHS a year for the next five years, following consultation in the other eight provinces.

However, the grassroots enthusiasm for the concept of CHS was so high that the official consultation process was often not followed. In fact, over one-third of those who completed the questionnaire were unaware of the process. Forty-three percent found it unclear and inadequate and felt it was seldom strictly adhered to. There was general agreement that the process needed to be improved, especially because other, unofficial, approaches to seeking approval to establish CHS had emerged.

Mounting pressures to create secondary school places resulted in the MEHRD being inundated with requests from communities, education authorities and members of Parliament to establish their own CHS. The Ministry was pressured to approve 18 CHS in 1996 and a further 24 in 1997. Although the official consultation process was followed in some communities, others simply proceeded to establish their schools and contacted the MEHRD only after the facilities had been completed. Education officials were powerless to stem the tide. In some cases provincial education authorities were bypassed by school communities, which sent formal letters to the MEHRD asking officials to visit, believing this would make the process go faster and eliminate red tape. The closure of most of the seven boarding schools in Guadalcanal during the ethnic unrest exacerbated the pressure as other provinces tried to cater for the displaced students. Senior MEHRD officials interviewed considered that the Ministry needed to take greater control because it simply could not fund all the new schools being built.

The ongoing operation of CHS

The availability and sufficiency of financial and other support for CHS

Once the schools were built and approved, they were eligible to receive central government grants of SI$50,000 per annum for a single-stream school of 35 students per class, or SI$80,000 for a double stream. While no one interviewed knew how the grants were determined, they were to be paid directly into school bank accounts on a quarterly basis. The Government was also responsible for providing teachers and paying their salaries, and for educational materials and textbooks. MEHRD officials believed that a new formula based on unit costs should be developed. Provincial education authorities were not directly responsible for financing CHS, though some (e.g., Isabel province) had tried to assist. However, a provincial politician noted that because of cash flow problems, some CHS did not receive any grants from the province. A church education authority responsible for one of the case study schools did not provide direct cash grants but had helped provide land. It also allowed the school to accept students who had been displaced by the ethnic tensions and who were unable to pay fees. A further source of funding was the constituency development fund from the national member of Parliament, or the ward development fund of the provincial member of Parliament. These are discretionary funds for the members to use as they see fit, so there was no guarantee that a CHS would receive any money from these sources.

There was overwhelming agreement (98 percent) from interviewees that the central government grants were insufficient. Many schools were not even getting the full allocation to which they were entitled: some received less than half, and then only after long delays. The Government struggled to pay the grants because of its cash flow problems. Its ability to pay was also affected by the rapid growth of CHS: the amount budgeted would have been sufficient for the first 50 schools, yet over 90 were built.

Parents made a substantial contribution to resourcing their local schools. All the CHS in the study charged fees to parents in the SI$400–$600 range per annum, as well as other levies for work funds, building funds and uniforms. For example, one school charged a SI$20 fine on parents who failed to turn up for compulsory work scheduled on the first Saturday of the month. Two other schools charged a building fee of SI$100 per child. However, much of the parents’ resources were in kind. They provided free labour and building materials such as timber, sand and gravel, and also held fundraising activities within the community. A MEHRD official noted that resources from parents were invaluable: if properly quantified, the community contribution would be greater than that of the Government. It is worth noting here that the two CHS built with direct World Bank assistance, Bishop Epalle and Gizo, cost SI$1.8 million and SI$2 million, respectively.

In retrospect it is amazing that the communities were able to start a CHS almost totally on their own. The Government’s grant assistance to CHS only subsidised the tremendous and overwhelming effort given by communities. As one CHS principal asserted:

This was the parents’ initiative and a parents’ school. From the beginning, when this school started up to now, it was marvellous. Money came from overseas but it was the manpower from parents that put these buildings up, cleaned the place and all that sort of thing. They were really tremendous.

A provincial official noted that not all communities were able to provide building materials easily. For example, if their atoll produced copra, they could not fell trees for timber so they would have to buy building supplies that occurred naturally elsewhere, thus incurring extra costs. There were other equity issues. While school fees appeared to be the main source of funds, the level of fees varied according to what the school boards deemed acceptable and affordable for their locality. Those in remote rural areas could not charge fees as high as those in urban areas, but many of their costs were similar.

International literature shows that educational decentralisation is an expensive undertaking and requires the provision of adequate financial resources for its successful implementation (Bhindi 1987; Gannicott & McGavin, 1987; Rondinelli, 1981). This fact needs to be taken into account in assessing the establishment CHS. In the period during which the research was undertaken, the establishment and operation of CHS was impeded by financial constraints, long delays in receiving payments and unrealistic levels of central and provincial government grants. Scarce financial resources meant that future developments had to be prioritised and every possible efficiency sought. However, the overwhelming impact of the involvement and contribution from parents and communities in the establishment of CHS has revealed a potential resource not previously realised. The income and expenditure survey carried out in 1999 (World Bank, 2000) provides strong evidence that communities will support their local schools. The explosive growth of CHS is further evidence. Equity concerns must be addressed, but this involvement will continue to be vital.

The administration of CHS

Educational decentralisation normally entails local communities playing a more active role in administration as well as in the resourcing of schools. The research therefore asked questions about school governance and administration to explore whether there were any perceived differences between the new CHS and the more traditional national secondary schools and provincial secondary schools.

Half the interviewees noted that central government continued to carry out its traditional roles of granting approval for establishment; providing grants, teachers, teacher training and salaries; teacher discipline; determining conditions of service; supplying educational materials and equipment; conducting school inspections and examinations; selecting students and monitoring; developing the curriculum; and formulating overall policy and planning for the secondary sector. However, 10 senior officials indicated they would like to see the MEHRD play a facilitating role rather than imposing strict guidelines, which can dampen community enthusiasm and support. In addition, strict guidelines can impose structures that do not take into account unique situations in different parts of the country.

With the exception of Isabel province, where participants felt the provincial education authority had provided adequate assistance, most interviewees, both at the community and central level, felt dissatisfied with provincial support. A principal noted:

There are education authorities that are not actually playing an active role and simply depend on the central government grants and communities. So in a way they are just there as controlling authorities but not actually involved in providing the actual finances, advice and assistance in running.

There were complaints that education authorities did not visit the new schools, did not attend meetings where their professional advice would have been helpful and did not provide any additional resources. There was considerable support for them to play a wider, more decisive role.

The principals of the six case study schools were experienced teachers who had all held other principalships before appointment to their CHS. However, for the four who had supervised the setting up of their schools from scratch, there were considerable new responsibilities. Essentially, they played a pivotal role. They needed to liaise with the MEHRD, their local education authorities, the primary principal, school committee and communities. They had to ensure the site was suitable and that parents and communities understood their roles, they had to supervise construction of classrooms and staff housing and they had to work with the local committee to prepare the school budget and establish bank accounts. They were also required to make regular reports on progress to stakeholders, ranging from the MEHRD to local community members, and encourage fundraising. They estimated that these processes could take from six months to three years.

In addition to working on the physical infrastructure, each principal had a range of professional tasks to ensure their new school was ready to receive pupils. They were involved with their local education authorities in recruiting teachers, ordering textbooks and selecting students. Once staff were appointed, they were involved in developing school policies and procedures for discipline, timetabling and resource use. Once pupils were enrolled, principals were responsible for collecting school fees and including them in the budget. They also generally assumed overall administrative responsibility for the primary school and even the early childhood section. They pointed out that the complexity of the role would be difficult for principals appointed without prior leadership experience and/or training.

Parents and community members had a crucial role to play in determining that a school should be established and in providing land, labour and building materials for its construction. This tended to reinforce their sense of involvement and ownership. Whereas parents whose children attended a provincial secondary school or national secondary school tended to delegate responsibility to teachers and the controlling authorities, the CHS parents needed little encouragement to continue their support for the development of the school. Often they were willing to take on board responsibilities without waiting for the MEHRD or local authorities to advise them, and they wished to be consulted about professional decisions such as the selection of students or appointment of staff. Some participants suggested that because many local education authorities had displayed little interest in the CHS, their legal status as controlling authorities should be withdrawn and the responsibilities transferred to individual communities. They believed this could eliminate confusion and red tape.

However, the research uncovered a number of issues that needed to be resolved to pave the way for a smooth transition to greater local control of CHS. Although it was clear that there was real decentralisation in the establishment of CHS, with the initiative and energy coming from local communities, MEHRD officials suggested that the process should be formalised through the development of memoranda of understanding that clearly outline respective roles and allow for the handing over of more power to lower levels of management, so that they can continue to be involved in their operation and maintenance.

Included in this process should be an understanding of the boundaries between professional and lay decision making. Cases were described where parents’ feelings of ownership could be counterproductive: one local authority official noted that if children performed poorly in their Solomon Islands School Certificate (SISC) examination, parents felt they had the right to force the principal to enrol them in the CHS anyway. There were other examples of interference. An official noted:

In some schools I have been to the chairman even went so far as going into the classroom to check what the teachers are actually doing. I do not blame them because no one tells them where their line of responsibility ends. We urgently need some sort of guidelines in this area concerning management and operation of CHS that we can refer to so that we do not step on each other’s toes.

The quality of leadership in CHS overall was also raised as a concern because of the shortage of teachers, the practice of appointing newly graduated secondary trained teachers or appointing the headmaster of the local primary school to head the CHS. Such people lack training in educational leadership and administration, and a number of participants identified inadequate skills in financial, staff and school resource management, conflict resolution and communication. This could be exacerbated by the fact that most provincial education authorities were staffed by former primary teachers, with limited knowledge of secondary systems, and were therefore reluctant to provide advice and support. There could also be tension between the primary and CHS administration on the same site.

Two-thirds of the research participants believed that the management of CHS was frustrated by unclear definitions of roles and responsibilities. A similar number felt that the management of CHS had been frustrated by lack of training for those appointed to their new roles as CHS principals. A range of suggestions to ameliorate this situation included short and longer term courses covering areas such as the basic principles of management, financial management, personnel management and curriculum and resource management. In addition, participants recommended training for school committee members and provincial education officers in monitoring school effectiveness and in governance.

Although the policy to create CHS was apparently unplanned, by the time the research was carried out they had already become a firmly established part of the secondary education system. The data revealed strong desires from politicians, administrators, local officials and community groups to build further CHS so that all children could have access to education till at least the end of Form 3. Participants expressed great disappointment at the MEHRD’s move to freeze approval for new schools from 2000 because of the tensions and financial difficulties. Interviews also revealed that some schools tried to expand by “adding tops” to CHS; in other words, adding Forms 4 and 5 rather than providing more places at Forms 1 to 3. As this trend was likely to continue, this raised serious resource implications for the Government and the MEHRD. Most interviewees supported moves to decentralise more CHS functions to lower levels, and there was no support for any recentralisation, which, it was claimed, would kill the CHS movement. However, participants at all levels wanted the Government to provide more resources.

Issues and problems facing CHS

A shortage of qualified teachers—especially in areas such as science, home economics, industrial arts and agriculture—was identified as a major issue. This resulted both in teachers carrying heavy loads with large classes of students, and in teachers being asked to cover subjects of which they had little knowledge. Even if a school had a sufficient number of teachers, they might not reflect the appropriate subject mix. One principal explained that of the three teachers on his staff, one was a maths/business studies teacher and the other two were agriculture teachers, yet between them they were expected to cover all nine subjects in the curriculum. They had to engage a local primary teacher for home economics and the local priest for Bible knowledge. Other schools were unable to offer any classes in certain subjects. MEHRD officials believed that a priority in teacher education should be to upskill primary teachers and provide teaching expertise for those with subject qualifications. Co-ordinated in-service training programmes were seen as being crucial.

CHS also faced shortages of textbooks and equipment. One official offered examples of five pupils sharing a single textbook. The geography and scattered population of the Solomon Islands, which makes distribution difficult, made these shortages worse. The fact that the Curriculum Development Centre produces many curriculum materials locally makes the process cheaper, but reprints are made possible only by external aid. Shortages of warehouse space, unreliable transport and the inability to hire staff to deal with deliveries all added to the frustrations experienced by both schools and officials. Participants also highlighted the fact that communications between Honiara, provincial headquarters and CHS were not dependable. Two principals reported having to travel to provincial headquarters in order to ring Honiara, or to the nearest sub-base to contact provincial headquarters by VHF radio. The situation was improved once the Education Resource Unit in Honiara became fully operational, and would be improved further if proper storage facilities could be built in provincial areas. But transport from Honiara remained a problem. The quality of education in CHS could be handicapped unless logistical support is improved.

In spite of the impressive contribution of local parents and communities, schools identified a lack of proper buildings and facilities, especially for specialist laboratories and workshops. This made practical work difficult, and some schools taught only the theoretical components of subjects. Where science labs were built using local materials, the building often deteriorated quickly and schools experienced difficulty in storing chemicals, equipment and other supplies because of lack of storage, high humidity and lack of electricity. Many CHS did not have halls, libraries, storerooms or staffrooms. Some lacked running water and proper sanitation. These conditions made attracting staff difficult. The researcher (Derek Sikua) believed the implications for the MEHRD were clear: unless it moved quickly to ensure the CHS were well equipped, and placed a sufficient emphasis on practical/vocational skills, the social consequences could be devastating, and might include a massive increase in the drift of unemployed youth to urban areas in search of work.

Accommodation for staff and students was also problematic. A number of CHS were forced to take boarders in order to enrol students from smaller villages, and so needed dormitories and dining facilities. Some schools had to send students home when funds for food supplies were exhausted; others sent students home each weekend to get a week’s supply of food. Some students had to be put up by relatives. Several participants noted that these children did not always receive the level of care and supervision they would have received from their parents. Host families might treat students as extra helping hands in the gardens or around the house, which meant it was difficult for them to complete their homework. It was felt that the MEHRD needed to put in place proper facilities to make sure the health and learning environments of the students were not compromised.

Land matters raised further issues. Most of the rural CHS and their associated primary schools are built on land in tribal or customary ownership, which is prone to land disputes. There have been examples of people claiming unrealistic compensation from the Government. In addition, some CHS have insufficient land for expansion, practical plots for agriculture, or sports grounds. In rural areas the local schools may not produce enough students to fill a class of 35, so they need to enrol students from nearby areas, who need to board. Yet space is needed for essential facilities. This pointed to the need for the MEHRD to encourage moves to legally acquire sufficient land for educational purposes.

All these issues were related to the inadequate finance available to the CHS. However, taken together, the issues raised concerns over the quality of education the CHS were able to provide. An MEHRD participant noted:

To people down there, it look[s] as though we now have three types of secondary school … My observation is that people think the learning received from NHS is better tha[n] what is received in PHS, and learning received in CHS is third rate.

To what extent have CHS achieved their goals?

CHS have met the major aim of increasing access to secondary education. Between 1995 and 2001 the secondary enrolment rate increased from 26 percent to 69 percent. Most research participants were convinced that the establishment of more CHS would eventually result in the natural progression of all pupils from primary to lower secondary education. One official commented:

This is the direction we should be heading if we want to increase access into secondary education and achieve basic education of up to nine years for all our children. As a Ministry, we have been trying to do this for a long time but failed. With CHS, the opportunity to do that is here so we have to keep working hard in this direction.

More than half the interviewees believed that CHS also helped increase the number of secondary places for girls, and that gradually this would result in a larger pool of girls entering senior secondary schools and tertiary education.

Two-thirds of the sample felt that CHS have improved disparities in the distribution of secondary places among the provinces. The percentage of secondary students enrolled in CHS varied among the provinces because some had a higher number of places available in national or provincial secondary schools. Smaller and less populated provinces such as Choiseul, Isabel, Central and Makira had made significant progress, while Rennell and Bellona could admit almost all their Standard 6 pupils into their one secondary school. By 2002, statistics showed that the percentage of students in CHS had risen to 59 percent of all secondary enrolments.

CHS have reduced unit costs in secondary education. An MEHRD official noted that although the Government’s budgetary allocation for education had not increased over the previous five years, numbers in secondary education had risen significantly. More children were being educated with the same amount of money, or less. Major savings were made because there were no boarding or transport costs involved in attending CHS and parents were happy that the fees charged by CHS were often half those of the boarding schools. The lower costs were particularly important in rural areas, where parents often had little or no income. Whereas some boarding schools were forced to end their academic year early because of lack of funds to buy food for students, the CHS were able to complete the year.

A key aim of those establishing CHS was to encourage greater parental and community participation in secondary schools. Ownership was demonstrated by local people building schools without relying on central or provincial government, or church authorities. Communities that supplied labour and resources took better care of the schools they had built. In contrast, parents of children attending provincial secondary schools had little interest in school affairs, and the communities expected financial reward before undertaking maintenance work. A CHS school treasurer noted that because of the understanding that the school belonged to them, parents were prepared to raise money and assist in improving facilities. And because the school was located close to the community it became part and parcel of community life:

When we rely too much on the Government, things move slowly; for example, in boarding schools, which are located far away from communities. For CHS, when we put the responsibilities on the parents, they really work hard and you can see the difference now.

A CHS principal claimed that the strong community support for his school also had a positive influence on the attitude and commitment of his teachers. He believed they were more vigilant and accountable than those with whom he had worked as a provincial secondary school principal. Because many of the CHS were established on top of local primary schools, the community support often spilled over into the primary area as well. In addition, primary and secondary teachers were able to collaborate and share resources.

Proponents of CHS had initially claimed that the new schools would be better placed to enhance the teaching and learning of the local culture and language. There was insufficient evidence, when the interviews were held, to determine whether local language and culture were being integrated into school curricula but participants in the study provided a number of examples of schools assisting the community. An agriculture teacher from a CHS in Western province reported that he conducted a vegetable gardening course for local women in 1999. A teacher from Guadalcanal said that his school and board had agreed to use the school facilities to conduct vocational training for the local community, offering practical courses in mechanics, woodwork, agriculture, fishing techniques, simple bookkeeping, home economics and literacy. However, the researcher found no evidence of schools making use of knowledgeable people from the community.

The relevance of the traditional curriculum was widely questioned, however. Research participants expressed concerns about the mainly academic curriculum offered in CHS, particularly for those whose education was likely to end at Form 3, with few prospects for either employment or further study. One commented:

The secondary education system should be equally geared towards practical/vocational education for self-employment and not only academic education for paid employment and further education. Therefore, the CHS curriculum should provide an avenue for the majority of students to create their own employment, as paid employment is becoming scarce.

Other concerns expressed included the need to ensure input into the curriculum from local culture, knowledge and skills, and the importance of helping students develop leadership, good citizenship and habits of co-operation. Policy makers face the challenges of developing a well balanced “mixed mode” curriculum, allowing for the inclusion of vocational/technical skills and traditional cultures as well as academic skills leading to further education and employment.

Perhaps the strongest endorsement of the community support for the new schools came from a CHS board chairman from Guadalcanal province, who reported that his school remained open during the ethnic conflict in 1999 and 2000. A nearby provincial secondary school and CHS built with World Bank funding, on the other hand, had been forced to close, because of their heterogeneous population and their location away from the students’ communities. The World Bank-funded CHS remained closed because it was looted and damaged by militants. The support for CHS is in line with Williams’ point that “people value services more highly and take a stronger interest in the nature of the services when they directly contribute finance or labour, however small in amount” (as cited in Bray, 1987, p. 7).

Conclusions

The findings of this study support the view that decentralisation is an appropriate model for Solomon Islands secondary education and that it increases access, female participation and provincial equity, reduces unit costs and encourages community partnership in education. As such, the study makes a valuable contribution to the international literature on educational decentralisation as a key aspect of educational restructuring (Ball, 1990; Fiske, 1996; Govinda, 1997; Levin, 1998).

Decentralisation is claimed to be a means to increase popular participation in education (Fiske, 1996; Nanau, 1995). This study highlighted the fact that community participation and partnership were at the core of the success of CHS. Local people were given the opportunity to actively participate and make development decisions in their own areas, while focusing on nationwide policies (Ocampo, 1991). Decentralisation is also claimed to result in greater efficiency and reduced costs (Nanau, 1995; Fiske, 1996). The costs of CHS are up to three times lower than those of provincial secondary schools and national secondary schools, and benefits of these lower costs were passed on to parents in the form of lower tuition fees.

However, the ongoing success of a decentralised policy such as that adopted by the Solomon Islands Government in developing CHS depends on the quality of its implementation. The study found that five criteria are necessary for sustainable development in a developing country:

•   a clear understanding—by all parties concerned—of the purpose and method of decentralisation through the development of a memorandum of understanding

•   the provision of adequate resources (teachers, finance and educational materials)

•   management structures and procedures that support the overall aim behind educational decentralisation and provide training for leaders and administrators at all levels

•   ensuring the structure of the education system and the curriculum are relevant and support the teaching and learning of local cultures and languages, as well as vocational skills for self-employment

•   periodic reviews of progress to check problems and align policies.

In the Solomon Islands, decentralisation of secondary education has the support and goodwill of the majority of professionals and laypeople. Nevertheless, there are problems with implementation that need to be overcome. Decentralisation made many demands on government services, available resources and skilled labour. The weaknesses revealed were largely in the structure of the system and the initial professional expertise of the administrators. These weaknesses could be overcome by a clear understanding of the theoretical issues involved, enthusiastic leadership, appropriate professional training programmes, efficient management of resources and systematic restructuring.

References

Ball, S. (1990). Politics and policy making in education: Explorations in policy sociology. London and New York: Routledge.

Bhindi, N. (1987). Decentralisation of education in Solomon Islands and the role of provincial education officers. Unpublished doctoral thesis, the University of Queensland, Brisbane.

Bray, M. (1987). New resources for education: Community management and financing of schools. London: The Commonwealth Secretariat.

Doyle, K. (1983). Report of the Ministry of Education, Training and Cultural Affairs of the Solomon Islands Government on the organisation structure of the Ministry, division of responsibilities between the Ministry and the provinces, and training needs of senior administrators. Unpublished report for the World Bank, Solomon Islands Primary Education Project, Ministry of Education, Honiara.

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Derek was born in Ngalitavethi Village, East Tasiboko, Guadalcanal Province. He was educated at Maravovo Senior Primary School and Selwyn College. He completed a Dip. Ed at the University of the South Pacific and a Bachelor of Education at the University of Southern Queensland. Between 1982 and 1986 he worked as a teacher and Deputy Principal at Pawa Secondary School and Waimapuru National Secondary School, then joined the Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development, where he held a number of posts, becoming Permanent Secretary in 1994. He completed a doctorate at the University of Waikato in 2002. He was elected to the national Parliament of the Solomon Islands for the North East Guadalcanal constituency in 2006 and served as Minister of Education before becoming Prime Minister in November 2007. He is married with five children and lists his interests as reading, writing, sport, bush walking and travel.

Noeline is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Waikato. She was Dean of the School of Education from 1992-2006 and has been associated with the partnership from the beginning. Her publications are mainly in history and policy studies in education. She has supervised many student theses, including co-supervising that of Derek Sikua.

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