Thursday, September 23, 2010
With a government now in power in Solomon Islands, there have been in the past weeks many reports by the local media of the government’s intention to engage in policy reforms.
I have been following these reports very closely and have been quite disappointed to note that nothing much has been said about educational policy reforms. I am disappointed because I am of the belief that in Solomon Islands, before anything else, education should be one of the major priorities of any government.
Policy goals, objectives and intentions can only be fully realised if people are educated enough to appreciate them and are themselves capable of participating fully towards their successful implementation and attainment.
We may talk about structural and systems reform, land and natural resource reforms but the bottom line is that with a subsistent, socially diverse and highly illiterate society like ours the achievement of any sustainable outcomes driven by structural or systems reforms is always doubtful. How can you possibly expect people to deliver if they are not intellectually capable to do so? We may boast the whole time about the outputs of policy reforms which are often visible and tangible. But the real returns to the economy and the people are policy outcomes, which are often normative and aspirational. Unless people are capable of fully engaging and participating in empowering and furthering the role of government, the four year cycle of achieving short-term and often disconnected results through government policy reform will prevail.
Off course education reform is a very broad rhetoric and any one government of the day may not be fully capacitated to make adequate reforms at one time. But at least a start must be made at some point so that the path is properly mapped for the future.
Already the government has enforced the Fee Free Education Policy, itself a policy that was mostly driven by our international commitments as Members of the United Nations Organisation. Despite the fact that is have only been implemented for a short while, its results have been mixed.
The Ministry of Education has attributed increased school enrolments in most urban-based schools to the policy. However, while many schools have participated in the policy, some private schools are still reluctant to do so. And even in some schools that have participated, other ‘fees’ have been introduced as general costs to student’s education.
The policy was introduced to address the high rate of illiteracy in the country and the abolition of school fees was aimed at easing the financial pressure of sending students to schools, a reason which has been closely linked to low school enrolment and the deprivation of the right of children to have basic education. But with the experience in some schools of the introduction of other ‘fees’, I am beginning to question whether the policy is really achieving its intended goals or it is just another policy hoax?
The main weakness of the much publicised ‘fee free education policy’ in my opinion was the fact that is was impliemented without legislative backing. Therefore each praticipant was free to make their own interpretation and contextual application of the policy. At the end of the day, coupled with inadequate monitoring systems, I am very doubtful of whether the policy will be of any success at all in the long term without legislative support.
Another policy which I think requires revising or most preferrably abolishing is the long outdated two years requirement to work for the government before a person who has completed his or her undergraduate can go for futher postgraduate studies. This particular policy is outdated and ridiculous. While I am not certain why such a policy was put in place at the first place, I suspect the one fo the reasons is that to encourage Solomon Islanders who have graduated with their first degree to go back to the country and work to gain experience before going for further studies. Otherwise it may have been a cost control measure to ensure.
However, I think it is imminent that the policy is abolished because in my opinion the policy has been an obstacle to human resource development in Solomon Islands. I am personally aware of many cases when this particular policy has been used and abused to accomplish personal favours or to further wantokism and nepotism within the public service over the years.
A major personal concern is that the policy has been applied inconsistently within the government sector thus undermining any purpose, if there is any, of its continuous existence and exercise.
In addition, the policy has also served as an obstacle to future learning as when a person is fresh from University with his or her first degree and is eligible by merit to go further the system should not be the determining factor for whether or not he or she should continue. Many times abled and bright-minded Solomon Islanders graduated fresh from Universities with their degrees and were looking forward for further learning only to be prevented from doing so by this policy. And by the time they have served their two years as required under this policy they are faced with other financial and social committments that would no longer enable them to go further. Thus, their interests to go for further studies subsides to the point that it dies away for good.
As we all know, most if not all scholarships do not support dependencies. Until this year 2010, only NZAID Scholarships do cover for the cost of dependencies. However, with the recent review of NZAID resulting in the slicing of is overall funding this benefit will no longer continue. Thus, thist gives me the impression that the situation now is only favourable to single people to go for further studies, unless married people are willing to bear the sacrifice of living their families behind or have the financial will to support their families while overseas. My point however is that given the limited scholarship coverage, if the government does not review or abolish this ridiculous ‘two year work’ policy requirement there will be a decrease in the number of postgraduates in the next few years – unless of course if their is pravalent nepotism and inconsistency in the application of the policy.
Other countries, like Vanuatu, who have similar policies have already abolished theirs, mainly due to the realisation that it has been a harm to their society in terms of further education, and also to be inline with the changes that are currently being done to theterms and conditions of development scholarships, such as New Zealand Aid Scholarships.
Having said all that, I have discussed only two components of Solomon Islands education policy. Obviously there are other areas which need to be looked at by the government, instead of trying to introduce legislation such as the reported ‘Forgiveness Bill’ or other bills and legislation that would only serve political interests.
For Solomon Islands indeed ‘Education is the Key’! Without education we will never move forward, regardless of how many times we may want to change the system or engage in structural reforms and so forth. Our main and most important resources are our human resources and without adequate capability, ability and capacity to proactively participate in economic development we still be revolving in the vicious cycle “one step forward, two steps back”.
“The cart will always be put before the horse”.
Posted by Deh at 8:22 PM