by MICHAEL OTTO
AUCKLAND — New Zealand’s experience with state-integrated schools is being drawn upon as the Solomon Islands’ education system is being reformed.
Experienced educationalist Brendan Schollum, a former principal at Sacred Heart College in Auckland and the foundation principal at Aquinas College, Tauranga, is to travel to the Solomons in late September to work with and advise the archdiocese of Honiara’s education office.
The education secretary for the archdiocese, Cypriano Nuake, was in New Zealand for three weeks from late August in what he called a “look and learn” visit. He was accompanied by Mr Schollum on visits to schools and education offices in Auckland, Wellington, the Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Northland.
After the Solomon Islands gained independence in 1978, the state assumed control of all education. Honiara archdiocese retained only one secondary school, St Joseph’s Secondary School in Tenaru, after that, although another school, Bishop Epalle School, catering for pre-school, primary and secondary students, has since started.
Now the Solomon Islands’ Government wants to decentralise education, with provincial administrations and churches running the schools, but with the state continuing to fund them. Still to be determined is the level of that funding and what it will cover.
The Solomon Islands Government has chosen Honiara archdiocese as one of the pilot agencies to pilot this transition.
Mr Nuake, who is keen to learn more about New Zealand integrated school funding models, said it is unclear exactly how many schools Honiara archdiocese will eventually take over.
It depends on negotiations between the Church, government and local communities leading to Memoranda of Understanding being agreed. In some cases, schools are on tribal land.
“If the schools or communities want to come [to us], they need to understand what it means to be in a Catholic school that has special character,” Mr Nuake said.
He wants to study how the special character provisions in New Zealand school integration agreements work.
Mahitahi — Catholic Overseas Volunteers, with funding support from Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand, is facilitating Mr Nuake’s visit.
This is a beginning of a partnership between Caritas-Mahitahi and the Catholic Education Office in Honiara archdiocese. It is hoped this will benefit teacher education and curriculum development in the latter.
According to a report on the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE) website, primary education in the Solomons is free, but school attendance is not compulsory. Only 60 per cent of eligible students attend primary school.
Costs to parents are often a barrier to secondary education, the report continues. Only 17 per cent of secondary-aged students are enrolled in a school.
“The education system suffers from a lack of qualified teachers, overcrowded classrooms, poor facilities, a shortage of basic teaching materials and an inadequate supply of textbooks,” it stated.
“Half of all primary teachers in the Solomons are unqualified or uncertified. Less than half the schools in the country provide safe drinking water and have adequate sanitation.”
The report noted that education in the Pacific nation was disrupted by civil tensions between 1998-2003 and by a tsunami in 2007.
There are two other Catholic dioceses in the Solomons. The ICDE report stated that several different denominations run schools in the Solomons, with many receiving financial support from the government.