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Schooling as a 'Stepping-Stone to National Consciousness' in Solomon

Islands: The Last Twenty Years

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David Oakeshott Matthew Grant Allen

Australian National University University of the South Pacific


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Schooling as a ‘Stepping-Stone to
National Consciousness’ in Solomon
Islands: The Last Twenty Years


In 1995 Christine Jourdan (1995b) identified edu- ments such as education systems, but also public
cation as one of three ‘stepping-stones to national ceremonies and the media, to transmit their par-
consciousness’ for Solomon Islands (along with ticular national narrative to an acquiescing popula-
Pijin and popular culture). She noted that curricu- tion (Foster 1995:3). Nation-making, by contrast,
lum reform after independence in 1978 had shifted sees the state’s narrative as only one of a range
the history curriculum from one focused on Brit- of narratives held by different groups in society.
ain to one with local ‘heroes’ and specific Solomon Nation-making is a process of ongoing, organic
Islands content. Moreover, she observed that the dialogue between rival constructions of the nation
new curriculum was received enthusiastically by that takes place in many forums, and over time
students at the time. She also saw the potential of makes the nation an important frame of reference
extra-curricular activities to foster national con- for its citizens. Agency in national identity forma-
sciousness. However, given it was only 15 years tion is therefore assigned to a multiplicity of actors,
after independence, Jourdan concluded that it including ordinary citizens who engage critically
was still too early to evaluate the unifying role of with the state’s narrative (ibid.:5). Neither concept
schooling in Solomon Islands (ibid.:135–39). implies that national identity should replace alterna-
Two decades after Jourdan’s initial assessment, tive, sub-national affiliations, and, as will be dem-
and notwithstanding the achievements of the few onstrated in the case of education, in many respects
relatively elite schools, we contend that the formal their alternative explanations of how national iden-
curricular and pedagogical elements of schooling in tities are formed are not mutually exclusive. While
Solomon Islands have as yet largely failed to fulfil the two concepts do indeed assign different roles to
their potential as a ‘stepping-stone to national con- schooling, particularly in the areas of curriculum
sciousness’. Indeed, more generally, there is little evi- and pedagogy, there is in fact significant comple-
dence that strong nationalist sentiment has arisen mentarity between them. Pre-Tension curricula and
over the three and half decades since independence. pedagogy in Solomon Islands reflected a nation-
The violent civil conflict between people from the building approach to schooling, but reforms in
neighbouring islands of Malaita and Guadalcanal these areas post-Tension are creating more space for
(known as Guales) from 1998 to 2003, generally nation-making in the classroom.
known as the ‘Tension’, was a dramatic example of We make our argument through a critical
this. Consistent with a growing body of theory and assessment of both the structure and content
empirical evidence (for example Bush and Salta- of schooling in pre- and post-conflict Solomon
relli 2000; King 2014; Lange 2012) we further sug- Islands.1 In regard to the structural issues, we
gest that inequalities in access to education and the find that the education system has done little to
inability of curricular materials to promote unity this point to assist the state in nation-building.
among ethnic groups may have inadvertently con- Inequalities in the education system played
tributed to the outbreak of the Tension. into the identity divisions and
One important framework from which to begin ethnically based grievances that
our analysis is Foster’s (1995) distinction between contributed to the Tension. In
nation-building and nation-making. Nation-building particular, we note problems
is pursued by political elites, who use state instru- arising from the general paucity of

State, Society & Governance in Melanesia

David Oakeshott and Matthew Allen

places in formal schooling and the concentration Islands. In the next section we focus more specifi-
of the educational opportunities that did exist in cally on the contribution of education’s structure
and around Honiara. This failure of the state to and content to the Tension. Finally, using inter-
provide sufficient opportunities was compounded view data collected by the lead author in June 2013,
by the ever-growing demand for schooling among we assess the status of the post-conflict education
Solomon Islanders. On the content of education, we reforms, covering their structural, curricular and
argue that because the Solomon Islands state has pedagogical dimensions.
historically lacked the capacity to supply curricular
materials, the curriculum has had little chance Pre-Tension Failures of Nation-Building in
to counteract the ethnic divisions among those Solomon Islands
students fortunate enough to progress through National identity formation in Solomon Islands
the system. We show that the curriculum itself has been complicated by the considerable ethnic
did little to foster national identity in any case. and cultural diversity within the country. The Solo-
Compounding the issue has been a pedagogical mon Islands state has since independence had lit-
approach characterised by teacher-centred, rote tle choice but to adopt a ‘unity in diversity’ narra-
learning that has neither resonated with elements tive, which invokes a primordial unity overlaid by
of indigenous educational practices nor facilitated ‘centuries of cultural and linguistic differentiation’
the critical engagement with the state’s national (LiPuma 1997:225). Compounding the challenge
narrative that would constitute nation-making. has been the state’s poor capacity to disseminate its
Nevertheless, owing to sweeping education sec- narrative to the population.
tor reform in the wake of the Tension, we share The predominantly rural population of Solo-
Jourdan’s optimism for the potential contribution mon Islands (85 per cent of its roughly 500,000
of formal schooling to national identity formation people) is culturally and linguistically fragmented.
in Solomon Islands. In the last decade significant Around 80 languages are spoken and there is a
progress has been made in expanding and equalis- plethora of distinct culture groups. Local level
ing access to basic education (the first ten years of affiliations based on kinship ties, shared language
schooling). Additionally, new curricular materi- and church membership are the dominant frame
als now bring the government’s official narrative of reference for most Solomon Islanders, although
to the classroom in a way that may accord better cross-cutting ties associated with inter-marriage
with both indigenous approaches to knowing and and regional-scale social movements are becom-
learning as well as participatory nation-making. ing increasingly important (Allen 2013:65–68;
Pedagogical reform to accompany the new curricu- Brigg 2009; Dureau 1998). Geographic variation
lar materials is also noteworthy for its consonance in kastom also presents a challenge for the forma-
with the extra-curricular peace- and nation-making tion of national unity (Douglas 2000:5).2 Attempts
activities at elite integrated (multi-ethnic) schools. have been made to use shared elements of kastom
For the formal education system to play its in the ‘unity in diversity’ narrative to foster a sense
role, however, considerable challenges must be of national identity among ordinary citizens. For
overcome, principally in the system-wide provision example, LiPuma and Meltzoff (1990:86) note how
of the new curricular materials and appropriately the cultural diversity on display at the tenth Inde-
trained teachers. This would enable the state to pendence Day celebrations was presented by the
more effectively disseminate the national narrative state as an ‘exemplar of Solomon Islands as a total-
that it desires its citizens to adopt whilst also ity’. However, scholars of Melanesian nationalism
facilitating open debate and critical engagement have generally been sceptical about the utility of
with that narrative. such selective representations of its cultural diver-
The paper is structured as follows. In the first sity (see, for a review, Douglas 2000:3). Christian-
section, we provide an analysis of the historical ity would appear better suited to national identity
failure of state driven nation-building in Solomon construction; it offers shared rituals in the form of

2 Discussion Paper 2012/1
State, Society & Governance in Melanesia
SSGM Discussion Paper 2015/8

mass and prayer, there are far fewer denominational further during the conflict, to the point where
differences than there are variations in kastom Solomon Islands was widely seen as a ‘failed state’
(ibid.:5) and 98 per cent of Solomon Islanders iden- (Fraenkel 2004:162–64).
tify as Christian (McDougall and Kere 2011:141). The failed state interpretation viewed the per-
No strong sense of national unity emerged in sistence of ‘traditional’ Melanesian institutions in
Solomon Islands prior to the outbreak of the Ten- the instruments of the state as having led to weak
sion (Dinnen 2012:64). The boundaries of the state government institutions, widespread corruption and
were drawn up by Britain as the colonial power increasing instability (Hameiri 2007:411–12). The
according to its own geostrategic interests (LiPuma Solomon Islands state has indeed been a mixture
and Meltzoff 1990:82). For Solomon Islanders, the of ‘traditional’ and Western institutions, with party
‘other’ against whom group identities were defined loyalty and public policy often subordinate to obliga-
were generally neighbouring kin or clan groups tions to patronage networks, typically at the level of
within the boundaries of the colonial state with kin and clan (Fraenkel 2004:38–43). However, the
whom they exchanged goods and occasionally state is increasingly being understood in terms of an
fought (ibid.; Dureau 1998:205; Jourdan 1995b:130). alternative, ‘political settlement’ frame, which sug-
In some instances, as we will see below, the ‘others’ gests that government will function most effectively,
were ‘ethnic’ groups from other islands (Dureau in a normative sense, when the political and eco-
1998:206). Affiliations did not extend to the nation- nomic interests of elites are best served by ensuring
al level; Solomon Islanders made no demand for that formal state institutions and political structures
independence before it was granted in 1978, despite function properly (Craig and Porter 2013:4). Accord-
significant pockets of resistance to colonial rule. In ing to this perspective, investment in service delivery
fact, the colonial administration put down attempts has not been a high priority for political elites in the
at inter-island collaboration (Akin 2013). postcolonial political economy of Solomon Islands.
Additionally, newly independent Solomon In any event, the inability of the Solomon
Islands was poorly equipped to spread its ‘unity in Islands state to deliver effective services had two
diversity’ narrative. The small national elite was impacts on its nation-building potential. It lim-
left the task of transforming a colonial apparatus ited the prospects for any significant sense of civic
designed to prioritise British interests over those of national identity to emerge, and the state’s capacity
Solomon Islanders into a modern state that acted to disseminate its ‘unity in diversity’ narrative was
for the good of its citizens (LiPuma 1995:46). As undermined.
described below, the colonial government had put
little effort into educating Solomon Islanders, such Pre-Tension Education: A Failed Stepping-
that by independence only around 300 had received Stone
education sufficient for participation in government
Structural Inequalities
(LiPuma 1997:220) and as few as a dozen held uni-
versity degrees (Bennett 2002:7). The history of formal education in Solomon
Compounding these problems were the high Islands brings the poor capacity of the state to
expectations of ordinary citizens who, even as early foster national consciousness into stark relief. In
as the 1980s, used the state’s provision of education fact, structural dimensions of the Solomon Islands
and health services to measure the government’s education system were important contributing
success (Feinburg 1990:25). They were to be disap- factors to the Tension, as they have been in several
pointed, as the service delivery capacity of the state other countries riven by civil conflict (Bush and
failed to keep pace with population growth. Moreo- Saltarelli 2000). The denial of access to educational
ver, service delivery was uneven across the country, opportunities and resources to different social
with perceived and actual inequalities in service groups, or simply the segregation of their schooling,
provision being key drivers of the Tension (Allen can be a source of tension in divided societies.
2013; Kabutaulaka 2001). Service delivery declined Such discrimination helps the dominant groups 3
David Oakeshott and Matthew Allen

perpetuate their privileged position in society on both sides of the conflict felt about their entitle-
(ibid.:9). Further, Lange (2012:3) argues that when ments to jobs, land and services. During the colo-
educational opportunities are scarce violence may nial period, formal schooling was initially left to
be a way for communities to maximise their access the Christian churches, which had spread unevenly
to education. He adds that because education gives through Solomon Islands (Dureau 1998:209) and
people the capacity to identify and seek to redress varied in their commitment to education (Ben-
their grievances it can encourage violence when nett 1987:258). The colonial administration took
those grievances are not resolved. no interest in education until after the Second
The causes of the Tension have now been well World War, and it was not until the mid-1970s that
rehearsed in the literature and, while a dearth of it was in control of the bulk of the Protectorate’s
national sentiment played its part (Kabutaulaka schools (Watson-Gegeo and Gegeo 1992:15–16).
2001), scholars also highlight the interactions And while educational opportunities were gener-
between a range of other historical, social, eco- ally sparse, those that did exist were concentrated
nomic, political and identity drivers (Allen 2013; on Guadalcanal. For instance, places in second-
Fraenkel 2004; Moore 2004). We do not consider ary education at independence were limited to
the political drivers further here, because it is the eight elite National Secondary Schools (NSSs;
the other drivers that we suggest interacted most Pollard 2005:159), of which five were located in
strongly with schooling prior to the Tension. or around Honiara with none on Malaita (Potter
Economic opportunities and government ser- 2005:7). There were thus more opportunities and
vices in Solomon Islands have gradually consolidated better educational resources in Honiara (Jourdan
on north Guadalcanal since the colonial period. 2013:274). Such inequalities in access drove the
Over time, this led to the migration of significant movement of Malaitan students to Guadalcanal
numbers of non-Guales — Malaitans mostly — to after independence (Pollard 2005:174).
north Guadalcanal (Allen 2012:167–68). The social Rapid population growth and increased demand
pressures resulting eventually led to Guales and for formal schooling after independence placed the
Malaitans viewing the situation on Guadalcanal already inadequate education sector under consider-
in terms of ethnic narratives. A Guale identity, felt able strain. Not only did the population double in a
particularly strongly on Guadalcanal’s Weather period of 20 years (Ware 2005:449), but Solomon
Coast, crystallised around a sense of relative dep- Islanders increasingly saw education as a means to
rivation in access to jobs and services, customary gain formal employment and as ‘a pathway from
landownership and indigeneity (Allen 2012:171– rural village life to urban life’ (Pollard 2005:159).
72), while many Malaitans saw themselves as ‘the The education sector therefore expanded rapidly.
productive, active people who did everything on Provincial Secondary Schools (PSSs) and Commu-
Guadalcanal’ (Kwa’ioloa and Burt 2007:114–15; see nity High Schools (CHSs) proliferated in the 1980s
also Allen 2013). and 1990s, respectively (Maebuta 2008:95). Both
A ‘youth bulge’, which has increased the risk of PSSs and CHSs were originally intended to provide
political violence elsewhere (Urdal 2006), became vocational education, which it was believed was
another social pressure in Honiara, where it mani- more suitable for the predominantly rural popu-
fests as the Masta Liu phenomenon that refers to a lation (Bugotu 1986:47–48). However, Maebuta
concentration of young, poorly educated men ‘[d] (2008:96)and Pollard (2005:159) point out that par-
rifting in and out of jobs, in and out of hope … ents objected to their childrens’ lost opportunity
very often on the verge of delinquency’ (Jourdan to continue their formal academic education. Thus
1995a:202). Malaitan and Guale youths did indeed these schools adopted the academic curriculum and
become the ‘foot soldiers’ of the militants when the PSSs even ex-panded to include Forms 4–6 (Years
Tension began in 1998 (Fraenkel 2004). 10–12; Maebuta 2008:95). There were still only nine
Inequalities in the education system that began NSSs in 2007, but there were 16 PSSs and 153 CHSs
in the colonial era fed into the grievances militants (MEHRD 2010:33).

4 Discussion Paper 2012/1
State, Society & Governance in Melanesia
SSGM Discussion Paper 2015/8

Despite the proliferation of secondary schools, Anderson (2006), have identified schooling as a key
the provision of education was unable to meet tool in the socialisation of young people into the
demand in the pre-Tension period. In 1992, for ideology of the state.
example, 8,000 students completed primary school Elites harness education for nation-building by
but there were only places for around a quarter of deploying a pedagogical approach that we describe
them in secondary school (Jourdan 1995a:221). as the social cohesion approach. This approach
Similarly, only about a quarter of those who had denies the presence of alternative narratives and
been admitted to secondary school could subse- prohibits open debate in classrooms. Learning
quently be accommodated in Form 4 (Year 10). The is seen as the transmission of knowledge, so a
students more likely to progress through the sys- teacher-centred, rote learning pedagogical style is
tem were urban children, primarily from Honiara. required of teachers (Cole and Murphy 2011:343;
Through popular culture they had greater exposure McCully 2012:147; Weinstein et al. 2007:65).
to English, the language of instruction, and their Language classes spread the national language,
parents have had more scope to raise funds for geography lessons define the nation’s boundaries,
school fees (Jourdan 2013:274). and even seemingly value-free subjects such as
Many students who had been pushed out of mathematics can be used to disseminate ideological
the system after primary school (Standard 1–6; messages (Bush and Saltarelli 2000:10–12). Likewise
Years 1–6) or junior secondary school (Forms 1–3; extra-curricular activities such as flag raisings and
Years 7–9), and even some who progressed further, national celebrations are opportunities for the state
joined the Masta Liu. They were less interested in, to foster nationalist sentiment.
even alienated from, village life but also unable to Above all, however, it is through the history
find formal employment (Ware 2005:447; Watson- curriculum that ‘nations seek to store, transmit
Gegeo and Gegeo 1992:20). In the 1980s almost and disseminate narratives that define conceptions
all graduates from NSSs could successfully find of nationhood and national culture’ (Foster and
formal employment (Pollard 2005:162) but by the Crawford 2006:5). Such curricula celebrate nation-
mid-1990s only about half of them could (Fraenkel al events and heroes, which define the collective
2004:184). Sustained economic decline in the 1990s identity of the nation and its relationship to other
compounded the problem as the government lost its nations, whilst avoiding controversial and politi-
capacity to fund its rapidly expanding system. Lit- cally divisive topics. The goal is to instil the desired
eracy and numeracy among primary school students cultural values in the next generation of citizens
actually declined in the 1990s (Whalan 2010:1–2). (ibid.:1–2). History curricula, then, can contrib-
Thus the structure of Solomon Islands’ education ute to the construction of ethnic or other divisive
system, including both its orientation and resourc- identities and ultimately the onset of violence by
ing, exacerbated some of the drivers of the Tension. presenting prejudicial narratives of historical events
Education was far from a ‘stepping-stone to national in textbooks. They can even exclude certain groups
consciousness’ in this regard. Instead, it exacerbated from the state’s official national narrative by ignor-
the inequalities, and hence the ethnic narratives that ing marginalised groups completely (Bush and Sal-
characterised the early stages of the conflict. tarelli 2000:11–13; King 2014).
Whilst not suggesting an explicit and deliber-
The Content of Education ate attempt by the postcolonial state to favour one
Just as structural issues in education systems can group over others, it has in fact been argued that
contribute to the outbreak of violence, so too can the pre-Tension curriculum content has contributed
their content, both in terms of curricula and peda- to the formation of ethnic stereotypes in Solomon
gogy. This is often the result of the state’s use of Islands. In particular, Kabutaulaka (2001) argued
schooling for nation-building. Indeed, some of that the curriculum may have played a part in per-
the pre-eminent scholars of nations and national- petuating a widely held myth in Solomon Islands
ism, such as Gellner (1983), Hobsbawm (1992) and of Malaitan aggressiveness. He noted that the 1927 5
David Oakeshott and Matthew Allen

‘Bell Massacre’ of a colonial administrator and riculum for Solomon Islanders, it was much the
his party of tax collectors by some Kwaio men on same as the curriculum used throughout Britain’s
Malaita became part of the secondary school cur- colonies. It taught British history and values (ibid.).
riculum, while similar events elsewhere have not. Considerable steps towards a curriculum more
He suggested this state-approved version of history, relevant for Solomon Islanders were taken in 1973
along with academic writing about the incident, with the report of the British Solomon Islands Pro-
sanctioned the stereotype of Malaitan aggressive- tectorate Educational Policy Review Committee.
ness prevailing in the pre-Tension public discourse. In its report Education for What?, the committee
Similarly, former politician and Guale elder Billy foregrounded the ‘unity in diversity’ narrative to
Gatu (2009:23) blamed formal schooling in part for come, concluding that schooling should ‘enable
the emergence of regional identities. each Solomon Islander to understand his own cus-
The responses of research participants with long- toms and the customs of others’ as well as ‘promote
standing involvement in the education system racial harmony and unity in the country’ (cited in
interviewed by the lead author also suggest that the Jourdan 1995b:137). Curriculum development fol-
pre-Tension curriculum has been deficient in sever- lowed and, by independence, history education in
al respects. One former social studies teacher, now Solomon Islands schools included some coverage
involved in education sector reform, agreed that the of Solomon Islands’ history (Jourdan 1995b:137).
curriculum may have perpetuated a myth of Malaitan These curricula, and others developed following
aggressiveness. Then Director of the Curriculum the 1985 Secondary Curriculum Workshops, were
Development Division (CDD) of the Ministry of still used in schools when the Tension began.
Education and Human Resources Development However, Solomon Islander educators in the
(MEHRD), Patrick Daudau, also acknowledged pre-Tension period never had complete control
that it may have, but put greater emphasis on the over the production of social studies curricular
failure of the curriculum to promote inter-cultural materials. Although one Form 3 social studies text-
harmony. He said that the curriculum of the time book, Government and Politics in Solomon Islands,
lacked ‘the idea of having to incorporate … other was written by a panel of Solomon Islanders (CDD
cultures and identities or other people or other 1985), another history textbook, Aspects of Solo-
ethnic groups’.3 Likewise, a Solomon Islander aca- mon Islands History: Origins and First Contact, was
demic and education expert argued that the cur- edited by Solomon Islander social studies teachers
riculum paid insufficient attention to the Solomon but written by a foreign academic. Although their
Islands context, while another member of civil involvement in generating the new materials was
society involved in education thought that minor- limited to a degree, the nation-building intentions
ity groups in Solomon Islands, Polynesians specifi- of Solomon Islander educators were clear, however,
cally, had been under-represented in the curricu- as the CDD hoped that the textbook would ‘give
lum. Only one participant in government or civil Solomon Islanders a greater awareness and pride in
society, Franco Rodie, now Permanent Secretary in their past … [and] strengthen their identity as citi-
MEHRD, thought that the curriculum of the time zens of this nation’ (Bennett n.d.:i).
had fostered some sense of national identity. A further limitation on the curriculum’s nation-
Several factors appear to have limited the building potential concerned the difficulties that
potential of the pre-Tension curriculum to assist successive education ministries experienced (and
the state in nation-building, one being that the still do) in providing curricular materials to schools
Solomon Islander elites had only partial control of (Pollard 2005:163). Perhaps recognising the minis-
the content of social studies curricula. When the try’s limitations in this respect, when the first major
churches controlled education, each denomina- resupply of textbooks in a decade took place in
tion had used its own curriculum and textbooks 2007, the then Minister of Education warned teach-
(Jourdan 1995b:136). Then, in the late colonial ers and students at one school that ‘[i]f you do not
period when the British first instituted a single cur- take good care of these materials, you may have to

6 Discussion Paper 2012/1
State, Society & Governance in Melanesia
SSGM Discussion Paper 2015/8

wait another ten years for replenishment, if you are Just as the prevailing pedagogical approach has
lucky’ (cited in Maebuta 2008:102). been incongruent with the requirements of nation-
The value of curricular materials used in making, it has also been a poor fit with forms of
Solomon Islands before the Tension was diminished education that take place outside the classroom in
further by their often poor fit with indigenous Solomon Islands and elsewhere. Anthropologists
modes of education. Anthropologists point to have shown that children, from a range of cultures
the scant consideration the prevailing formal around the world, participate in their social envi-
Western schooling system gives to local cultures ronments from early stages of their development
and knowledge systems (Keesing 1989:31; Watson- (LeVine 2007:254). Even their play, in which chil-
Gegeo and Gegeo 1992:15–16). According to this dren replicate adult activities, is an important part
perspective, colonial era education was intended of informal education (Little 2011). However, the
to socialise the indigenous populations to Western level of guidance from other members of the group
values, and this continued in the postcolonial era varies from context to context (LeVine 2007:247),
because the system remained largely unchanged as it does in Solomon Islands.
(Keesing 1989:24–31). Indeed Watson-Gegeo and Given the country’s cultural diversity, it is
Gegeo (1992:18) observed that the values promoted perhaps unsurprising that various approaches to
in a primary school English reading lesson in rural knowing and learning have been observed in Solo-
Malaita post-independence were markedly different mon Islands. Hogbin (1964:38–40) found that the
from local values around ‘family interdependence children of the Kaoka speakers on north-east Gua-
and adult-like work behaviour’ for young children. dalcanal have historically received considerable
In a similar vein, former CDD director Pat- instruction from adults. Similarly Ninnes (1995:24)
rick Daudau said the short shrift given to Solomon found that in Solomon Islands’ Western Province
Islands’ cultural beliefs and values was found to the understanding of knowledge as an object that
be one of the deficiencies in the pre-conflict cur- can be transferred was consistent with teacher-
riculum when CDD, having resumed its operations centred schooling. In fact, children are barely
after the Tension, conducted a systematic review of permitted to speak in the presence of their elders
the curriculum. According to Daudau, the review (ibid.:23). On the other hand, however, Watson-
also found that the curriculum had paid insuffi- Gegeo and Gegeo (1992:14) found that the Kwara‘ae
cient attention to Christian beliefs and values and of Malaita assume their children’s ‘minds need to
left Solomon Islander students poorly equipped to be guided and persuaded rather than forced into
apply curriculum knowledge outside of school. the right thinking’. Thus, their indigenous teaching
Pre-Tension pedagogy in Solomon Islands practices involve the active participation of chil-
was teacher-centred (Watson-Gegeo and Gegeo dren. While it remains difficult to generalise, the
1992:16–17). Under the Christian missions, importance of direct participation in adult activi-
students were taught European values through ties, to varying degrees, and even the replication
rote memorisation and recitation of lessons. Open of those activities as children play, would appear
debate was discouraged, often prohibited. As the to accord well with the process of nation-making
education system expanded after independence because it sees extra-curricular activities as oppor-
new teachers were often poorly trained in English, tunities for forming national consciousness.
which had become the language of instruction after
the Second World War. It has been estimated that Nation-Making at School
around 50 per cent of primary teachers in 1978, The difficulties the Solomon Islands state experi-
for example, were either untrained or only partially enced in using its education system to build national
trained, although both trained and untrained sentiment has left fostering national identity to infor-
teachers relied extensively on delivering textbook mal nation-making outside the classroom. Jourdan
content through delivery of lectures, discouraging was in fact an early witness to the effect of such inter-
the type of interaction necessary for nation-making. group contact post-independence in her observations 7
David Oakeshott and Matthew Allen

of children using curriculum content about the Sec- 2010:4). Malaitan schools struggled to cope with the
ond World War in their games outside of school; influx of new students following the mass displace-
ment of Malaitans from Guadalcanal. It has been
[i]n the evenings, I witnessed the children in
estimated that by the end of 1999, approximately
my Honiara neighbourhood play “war”, with
29 per cent of the 35,000 (mostly Malaitan) people
the Solomon Islands Labour Corps, temp-
displaced from Guadalcanal were of primary school
orarily redefined as an army, playing a glori-
age, and that of the 41 per cent of children on
ous role alongside the American GIs and the
Malaita not in school, 60 per cent had been attend-
Japanese (Jourdan 1995b:138).
ing school prior to displacement (Whalan 2010:3).
Similarly, participants in the present research Malaita also experienced numerous school closures,
who completed their education around the time of as did Guadalcanal, where looting and destruction
independence reflected positively about a range of of school property were common. Some schools
extra-curricular nation-making activities in which were even destroyed (SITRC 2012:680–81).
they took part during their schooling. Two partici- However, the Regional Assistance Mission to
pants, one an academic, the other an experienced Solomon Islands (RAMSI) created a stable envi-
education sector consultant, Johnson Fangalasuu, ronment for education reform in the aftermath
spoke fondly about the organised cultural exchang- of the Tension. The security it provided allowed
es between students from different provinces that schools to reopen and by helping stabilise govern-
they remembered as commonplace during their ment finances it ensured revenue was available for
schooling. The singing of the national anthem was the sector. These factors in turn facilitated donor
also prominent in the schools of that era (Jourdan re-engagement with education (Whalan 2010:1),
1995b:138). Another participant with a long-term which enabled education infrastructure to be
involvement in the administration of education restored, and, in several cases, expanded (MEHRD
likewise recalled fondly the extra-curricular cultur- 2010:31; MEHRD 2013a:40). RAMSI officials have
al exchanges that took place during his schooling. highlighted the need for structural reform of edu-
He remarked: cation. RAMSI special coordinator from 2011 to
I grew up when we have … you were at 2013, Nicholas Coppel (2012:14) specifically iden-
boarding schools [in secondary] where the tified universal access to basic education as a key
school takes [sic] students from Renbel [Ren- requirement for alleviating the inequalities under-
nell and Bellona], Makira, Guadalcanal, pinning the Tension. Such education reform may
Malaita and at one stage the school took stu- yet see formal schooling meet its potential as a
dents from Western Province. And we see ‘stepping-stone to national consciousness’.
each other now as colleagues … we under- Structural Reform
stand each other … [and] we have very close Education reform began in 2004 with the aims of
relationships.4 equalising access, improving quality and ensur-
Notably, however, inter-group contact in inte- ing proper management of the system (MEHRD
grated schools did not have this effect on everyone. 2007:12). Reform in the areas of access and quality
Guale and Malaitan school friends did indeed join are the focus here, owing to the contributions they
their respective militant groups during the Tension made to the outbreak of conflict.
(Tanis and Gray 2002). One of the major components of MEHRD’s
reform agenda has been the provision of universal
Post-Conflict Renewal of Education
basic education (MEHRD 2007:12), which,
The Tension wreaked havoc on Solomon Islands’ impressively, has been largely achieved at the
education system across the country. Economic primary level. There are now enough places in
decline and corruption reduced the funds avail- primary school to accommodate the country’s
able to the entire sector (Pollard 2005:169; Whalan entire 6–12 year age group (MEHRD 2013a:23).

8 Discussion Paper 2012/1
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Considerable progress has also been made in access Honiara; SITRC 2012:685–86). Secondly, more
to junior and senior secondary education (ibid.:26). stringent independent assessments conducted by
For example, the gross enrolment ratio, a measure the Asian South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education
of the number of students enrolled in a given (ASPBAE) in 2007 categorised only 7 per cent of
period of schooling as a percentage of the number people on Malaita and 28 per cent of people from
of children of the appropriate age for that level of Honiara as literate (ASPBAE 2007:11). While
schooling, increased in both the junior and senior such studies were of all age groups, Bob Pollard, a
secondary levels from 2006 to 2013, by 60 and 51 former education consultant with a longstanding
per cent respectively (ibid.). involvement in the system, noted that primary
However, some geographic inequalities in access school graduates in the 1980s were fluent English
to secondary education persist despite the overall speakers but many secondary school graduates in
improvements in enrolment rates. The elite NSSs 2013 had barely primary level English. MEHRD’s
remain concentrated around Honiara, and although own statistics add weight to Pollard’s comments. In
there is now one on Malaita there are none on 2010, almost half of Standard 4 (Year 4) students
Guadalcanal’s Weather Coast (where, as noted, the who sat standardisation examinations fell into
Guale narrative has been strongest). Furthermore, in the ‘critical underachievement’ level (MEHRD
2009 there was still significant geographic variation 2013a:32). Likewise 41 per cent of Standard 6 (Year
in secondary enrolment rates. For example, in 6) students fell into the same category (ibid.:35).
proportion to the respective numbers of 10–19 A good sign for improving education quality in
year olds (notionally from the final two years of the future, however, can be seen in teacher training,
primary, to one year beyond the end of secondary which has been an important part of post-conflict
school — the available figures were provided in five education reform (MEHRD 2007:13). Significant
year increments), the numbers of children attending progress has been made: compared to 2007, total
secondary school were considerably higher in teacher numbers in 2012 had increased at both the
Honiara (55 per cent) than either the rest of primary and secondary levels (by 19 and 30 per
Guadalcanal (36 per cent) or Malaita (25 per cent).5 cent respectively), as had the number of teachers
Notably, these inequalities in access are also with qualifications appropriate to their teaching
mirrored by geographic disparities in education level (by 25 and 52 per cent respectively; MEHRD
funding. In 2009, Honiara, the rest of Guadalcanal 2013a:59). Nevertheless, there is still scope for fur-
and Malaita accounted for 10, 18 and 28 per cent of ther improvement. In 2012, 24 per cent of second-
total student enrolments respectively, but received ary teachers and 44 per cent of primary teachers
38, 8 and 11 per cent respectively of the national remained unqualified (ibid.). And, of the 21 per
budget distributed to schools (UNICEF 2012:23). cent of respondents to the RAMSI People’s Survey
Government funding of Honiara’s schools is thus in 2013 who said that they were dissatisfied with
considerably higher in proportion to student num- their children’s primary schooling, almost 60 per
bers than it is in the rest of Guadalcanal or Malaita. cent cited problems with teachers as their major
Although improving the quality of education concern (ANU Enterprise 2013:36).
is undoubtedly a long-term aspiration, significant Supplying sufficient trained teachers is chal-
progress is still to be made. The literacy rate, which lenging for several reasons. Ever more teachers are
is low, but also uneven across the country, is a not- required as the secondary school system expands,
able example. Two sets of studies support the claims and current teachers need to be retrained to imple-
of a ‘literacy crisis’ (ASPBAE 2007:11). Firstly, ment the new pedagogical reforms (discussed
individual self-assessments of literacy in national below). MEHRD’s strategy for the retraining
censuses yielded estimates of overall literacy rates of involves a ‘cascade’ of training from the Ministry’s
64 per cent in 1999 and 69 per cent in 2009, with the Curriculum Development Officers via provincial
rates in Malaita (51 and 56 per cent respectively) 10 trainers to a select group of teachers, who then
per cent lower than those in Guadalcanal (including transfer their new skills to the other teachers in 9
David Oakeshott and Matthew Allen

their schools (Coxon 2008:29). Little is yet known limited to nation-building, the process of nation-
about the efficacy of MEHRD’s teacher training making accords well with what can be called an
initiatives but the effectiveness of the training does open enquiry approach to teaching and learning
drop away the further it progresses through this (McCully 2012:147; Foster 2014). Although this
cascade (ibid.). Former CDD director Patrick Dau- approach facilitates open debate and critical think-
dau said that CDD simply does not have the fund- ing in all subject areas, it sees history curricula
ing for comprehensive in-service training. Other as presenting the multiple, competing perspec-
issues facing the quality component of MEHRD’s tives that can be brought to bear on the past, even
reform objectives include persistently high levels of those that contradict the official national narrative.
teacher absenteeism in many schools and, as noted, Moreover, learner-centred teaching styles allow stu-
chronic shortages of teaching materials (Maebuta dents to freely engage with alternative perspectives,
2008:100–104). According to Pollard, the effect of including those they bring to the classroom them-
these system-wide limitations, and the inability of selves. As is the case in nation-making, learner-
some recent graduates to find employment, have centred pedagogy grants students and teachers the
discouraged many parents from sending their chil- agency to successfully negotiate alternative perspec-
dren to secondary school, although some recent tives without re-igniting conflicts in the classroom.
findings in the RAMSI People’s Survey (see below) The open enquiry approach also appears to
might indicate otherwise. complement a ‘contact hypothesis’ (Nieli 2008) pro-
Given that the provision of education is a key posed for formal schooling in post-conflict settings.
measure that Solomon Islanders use to assess state It posits that the negative stereotypes which stu-
performance, improvements made in access and dents from different communities may hold about
quality could improve public perceptions of the each other will be broken down through integrated
state. Focus group discussions for the 2013 RAMSI schooling. In such circumstances, extra-curricular
People’s Survey revealed ‘high levels of interest and activities take place in a secure environment where
concern about education’ among participants (ANU no group of students is advantaged over others, and
Enterprise 2013:34), while a third of the 190 tertiary the shared tasks that come with communal living
student respondents of Leach et al. (2013:74) ranked also require cooperative action and teamwork from
improving education as the most important factor students (ibid.:414).
for building the nation of Solomon Islands. And The open enquiry approach has been favoured
some evidence is emerging that Solomon Island- by the developed world for post-conflict settings
ers are noticing the improvements to the education since the 1990s, with Northern Ireland viewed as
sector. The 2013 RAMSI People’s Survey found 71 an example of best practice in history education
per cent of respondents thought secondary schools reform in this respect (Kitson 2007; McCully 2012).
had improved in the last five years and 80 per cent The donor community also generally favours
thought that primary schools had improved in that the open enquiry approach when it engages in
time frame. Worryingly in light of the historical and education sector reform in developing countries
socio-economic drivers of the Tension, Malaitans (Tabulawa 2003:8; see also Bush and Saltarelli 2000;
were most likely to respond that primary schools Cole and Barsalou 2006; McCully 2012; Pingel
had not improved, while residents in Honiara and 2010). However, post-conflict developing states
its surrounds were most likely to say they had have resisted the open enquiry approach for fear
that open debate in the classroom could re-ignite
(ANU Enterprise 2013:32–34).
conflict (Weinstein et al. 2007).
The Content of Schooling The first full review of the curricula for all jun-
Curricular and pedagogical reform following the ior secondary subjects since independence began in
Tension has introduced changes consistent with 2004 (Potter 2005:15) and by 2013 the development
Foster’s (1995) concept of nation-making. In fact, of new curricular materials was either completed
while the social cohesion approach of the past was or well advanced for all grades in basic education,

10 Discussion Paper 2012/1
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including social studies. Moreover, similar cur- is also implicit in the third, concerned with the val-
ricular reforms have begun for senior secondary ues of good citizenship, and the fourth, which deals
education. Although two years behind their origi- with values that promote peace and reconciliation
nal timeline, Daudau said that materials for several among ethnic groups (ibid.).
subjects had been distributed to early adopting The ‘unity in diversity’ narrative is particularly
schools. The extensive reform process has required visible in the history strand of the revised social
curriculum writers to critically assess the content studies curriculum for junior secondary school,
and delivery of the national narrative they want the although the extent to which it will be pursued in
next generation of Solomon Islanders to adopt. As reforms to the social studies curriculum for senior
detailed below, the new materials are intended to secondary school remains to be seen. Social studies
disseminate the state’s ‘unity in diversity’ national is a compulsory subject in junior secondary school
narrative but with an open enquiry pedagogical and history is the first strand of it that students
approach that complements it, thus adopting ele- are taught. Twenty-two classes are devoted to the
ments of both the social cohesion and open enquiry sub-strands ‘people and migration’ and ‘local eth-
approaches described above. nic groups and languages’ (MEHRD 2013b:29–32).
Importantly, Daudau said that CDD had acted These sub-strands correspond to the first two chap-
essentially autonomously in developing the social ters of the reformed Form 1 social studies textbook.
studies syllabus in which the national narrative is The first chapter of the textbook teaches stu-
presented. This was confirmed by representatives dents about the three ‘waves’ of human settlement of
of Australia’s and New Zealand’s aid programs.6 In Solomon Islands; the third wave, the Austronesians,
relation to the foreign technical advisors (TAs) paid being the ‘ancestors of today’s Melanesian, Polyne-
by donors to assist CDD, Daudau said that in one sian and Micronesian peoples’ (CDD 2012a:15). The
case when ‘the subject working groups … [had a] text summarises scientific evidence about the early
dispute, or conflict with the TA … we just push[ed] migrations to Melanesia, giving support to the idea
aside the TA’.7 of primordial ties among Melanesians, including
Four senior MEHRD officials, including National Solomon Islanders, which underpin the national
Examinations and Standards Unit (NESU) Director narrative (ibid.:8–9). The accompanying Teachers
Linda Wate, Patrick Daudau and former undersec- Guide notes that this topic is intended to help stu-
retary for Tertiary Education Franco Rodie, all con- dents understand the importance of their own
firmed during interviews that the reforms needed communities’ oral traditions and cultures (CDD
to address the government’s ‘unity in diversity’ nar- 2012b:15), but this would remain within the broader
rative.8 Linda Wate said ‘our vision is [to create] an context of longstanding primordial unity established
individual who can live in harmony with others. And in the textbook.
I guess that is coming from, is a direct link to the The unity of all Solomon Islanders is developed
Tension.’9 Franco Rodie commented further; ‘educa- further in the second chapter, dealing explicitly with
tion can play a vital role in changing the mindset of ethnicity. Students are taught that Solomon Island-
Solomon Islanders. To [help them] think about, seri- ers belong to multiple ethnic groups, but the four
ously, that we all belong to one nation and we should major ones are the Melanesian, Polynesian, Micro-
be all working together to build that nation’.10 nesian and Chinese citizens (CDD 2012a:31–32).
Indeed, the ‘unity in diversity’ narrative fea- The distinctive cultures and languages within island
tures prominently in three of eight Key Learning groups are nested within the first three broader cat-
Outcomes, which the new syllabus aims for all egories (ibid.:27). A significant portion of the text
students to achieve by the end of basic education. is devoted to the linguistic diversity of Solomon
It is the explicit goal of the first: ‘the National Cur- Islands, and it leads students to the conclusion that
riculum shall integrate awareness of the Solomon ‘we can say that nearly all of Solomon Islands lan-
Islands culture: in particular, the promotion of the guages, including Polynesian languages and even
concept of unity in diversity’ (MEHRD 2011:9). It Gilbertese, are similar to each other’ (ibid.:37). 11
David Oakeshott and Matthew Allen

Importantly, students are also taught about Also, critically, several parts of the social studies
the dangers of ethnic stereotypes. The section on syllabus are reinforced in another compulsory sub-
prejudice requires students to complete two activi- ject, Christian education. For instance, the Chris-
ties designed to identify prejudices that students tian education syllabus in Forms 2 and 3 draws
may hold about other groups, and it uses the Ten- explicit links to the ‘Social issues and resolution
sion to show the terrible consequences of prejudice. in Solomon Islands’ strand and the ‘Local ethnic
In order to avoid prejudicial stereotyping, students groups and languages’ sub-strand of social studies
are told to ‘think of everyone as an individual, to (MEHRD 2013b:14). This is a salient connection
meet them personally and then judge them’ (CDD given the importance of Christianity to any nation-
2012a:34). The Teacher’s Guide encourages the alist sentiment in Solomon Islands.
teacher to play an active role in guiding students The successful dissemination of the ‘unity in
through a discussion of how ethnic prejudices may diversity’ narrative depends in part on its delivery
have contributed to the Tension (CDD 2012b:24). through a compatible teaching style. The CDD is
The second chapter of the text, which concludes attempting to replace the historical teacher-centred
Form 1 history education, culminates in a section pedagogy with a learner-centred approach to teach-
entitled ‘unity in diversity’. Students learn that the ing. Specifically, MEHRD has chosen a form of
Outcomes-Based Education (OBE), an approach
… common characteristics, shared by us
that encourages the application of curriculum
all, give us ‘unity in diversity’. This means
knowledge in all subjects to life outside school
that, although we are diverse (we have many
(MEHRD 2012:19). It also involves assessing stu-
different languages, cultures and customs)
dents based on their performance of skills and thus
we are also united because there are many
requires teachers to encourage students to think
things we all have in common. The things
critically about the content of the curriculum and
we share give us our national identity …
their own ideas and experiences (ibid.). In respect
having many different groups can make a
of social studies specifically, the OBE approach
country stronger and more interesting than
would seem to complement the ‘unity in diversity’
if all the people were the same … We should
narrative insomuch as by promoting critical think-
not expect people to be the same as us …
ing it recognises the validity of multiple perspec-
(CDD 2012a:41; original emphasis)
tives. OBE also requires teachers to create class-
Then, in their final activity, students are asked room environments that model acceptance of, and
to ‘[s]uggest ways you can celebrate our diversity respect for, competing perspectives. Against this,
in your school by encouraging different groups to however, Daudau also stated that competing per-
mix together and learn from each other’s cultures’ spectives should not be allowed in the history class-
(CDD 2012a:41). room when the Tension is being taught because
History education in Form 2 covers the period those perspectives might be misinterpreted by stu-
from colonisation until independence. Students dents. In the particular case of the Tension, then, it
learn about the positive and negative impacts of appears that the course content remains too sensi-
colonisation as well as the Fallows and Moro Move- tive for open enquiry/OBE teaching methods.
ments and Maasina Rule, which are cast as local This latter qualification aside, some within
political movements towards the country’s political MEHRD believe that the new pedagogical approach
independence (MEHRD 2013b:48–50). In Form 3 may also help foster national identity on the basis
students study post-independence Solomon Islands, that it may be more attuned to the type of educa-
learning to explain terms like ‘national unity’, tion practices in Solomon Islands that take place
‘nationhood’ and ‘nation-building’ and discuss the outside formal schooling. Notwithstanding the con-
achievements and challenges faced since independ- siderable variation across Solomon Islands in this
ence (ibid.:66–67). regard — it was noted above how informal educa-

12 Discussion Paper 2012/1
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tion practices can accord well with both teacher- master, Abraham Hihiru, actively seeks to create
and student-centred learning — Daudau comment- these nation-making opportunities, and the lead
ed that OBE in Solomon Islands is being adapted to author witnessed several such activities among both
reflect a ‘Melanesian way of doing things, [which] teachers and students in June 2013. In regards to
means learning by doing and assessment by dem- the teachers, three shared feasts prompted discus-
onstration’.11 He expanded on this point in a later sion around their customary practices, some of
interview, arguing that the new curricular materials which they subsequently showcased at a Guadalca-
actively encourage student participation and that nal Catholic Teachers Union meeting where they
formal education is thus an extension of informal performed a cultural dance from the home commu-
modes of learning. In the two chapters of the Form nity of one of their members.
1 social studies textbook discussed above, for exam- For the students, the most notable opportunity
ple, roughly 68 per cent of activities require group for nation-making was the school’s Champagnat
work, although it remains to be seen if teachers are Day celebrations to commemorate the life of the
actually making use of such opportunities. It is also school’s founder, St Marcellin Champagnat. Classes
unclear if an OBE teaching style can contribute to were replaced with festivities that included Mass, a
national identity formation in Solomon Islands. variety of games, a feast and a fashion show. Other
OBE was attempted in Papua New Guinea from such nation-making events include the ‘cultural
2003 but insufficient teacher training resulted in day’ that the school holds at the beginning of each
poor implementation, which ultimately saw gov- school year as well as sports carnivals and school
ernment begin to abandon it by 2011 (Howes et al. fetes. Weekly masses, choir practices, and various
2014:8; Islands Business 2013). other organised social activities also work to build
Given the capacity constraints on teacher inter-community harmony among the various cul-
retraining in Solomon Islands discussed above, tural groups comprising the school population, as
there must clearly be doubts about the ability of do the everyday interactions among students. St
many of the country’s teachers to implement open Joseph’s also deepens cross-cultural linkages among
enquiry pedagogy in the short to medium term. students by integrating communities in normal
Interviews with teachers at St Joseph’s Catholic school arrangements such as dormitory and class-
Secondary School, located just east of Honiara, room allocations and by organising several student
bore out these concerns. While 11 of 15 who dis- functions with specific cross-cultural themes. Par-
cussed OBE supported it in principal, eight of ticularly significant are the whole-school attend-
them expressed concern about the government’s ances at mass throughout the week, their shared
capacity to retrain them. They were also concerned religious devotions helping to create a common
about MEHRD’s capacity to provide any additional sense of identity.
resources required to implement the new teach- These activities, and everyday life at the school,
ing style. MEHRD’s limitations in teacher retrain- has Abraham Hihiru convinced that ‘we are creating
ing combined with the interactive nature of many Solomon Islands within St Joseph’s’.12 He further
indigenous learning systems (Watson-Gegeo and argued that ‘the teacher plays an important role in
Gegeo 1992:20) means that the organic nation- bringing students from different places together’.13
making process through extra-curricular activities Impressively, one education system official in
remains crucial if schooling is to be a ‘stepping- Solomon Islands with close historical knowledge of
the school remarked that many St Joseph’s teachers
stone to national consciousness’.
even felt this way in 2002 immediately after the
Nation-Making at St Joseph’s school reopened following 12 months of forced
There is considerable potential for integrated closure during the Tension.
boarding schools such as St Joseph’s to complement One measure of St Joseph’s success in these
the new curriculum and pedagogy with participa- endeavours is provided by several students’ com-
tory nation-making activities. The school’s head- ments about why they enjoy school. Reminiscent 13
David Oakeshott and Matthew Allen

of the skill Solomon Islanders have historically Interestingly, there were few national symbols
shown in mediating across cultural differences on display at St Joseph’s. Unlike the pre-Tension
(McDougall and Kere 2011:142–43), several stu- schooling of the informants mentioned earlier, no
dents were explicit that they enjoy school because flag raising or singing of the national anthem was
of the opportunities it affords them to share their observed.
cultures and learn about others’. One Malaitan stu-
dent described his relationship with his Guale peers
in these terms: A paucity of unifying ethnic, linguistic or historical
ties meant pre-independence Solomon Islanders
We don’t see each other as we used to. Some-
had little sense of belonging to the nation-state. The
times we sit together and we just recall those
colonial government even suppressed attempts at
moments when we were like enemies and now
inter-island collaboration (Akin 2013). The state had
I can see that we are more than friends. We
also largely failed to consolidate itself in the 20 years
are treating each other as brothers and sisters after independence, so little sense of national iden-
now. We just work together.14 tity had developed prior to the outbreak of the Ten-
Another student likewise described his class- sion (Dinnen 2012:64). The colonial administration
mates affectionately as his ‘brothers and sisters’.15 also left the new country with very little educational
Teacher S also commented that in schools students infrastructure, but the system ultimately expanded
forget their differences and ‘all you notice is the in response to growing demand from a population
kids learning together … trying to succeed educa- eager for formal schooling. However, the expansion
tion wise’.16 The students’ success in this regard is of education and other services was uneven geo-
all the more impressive given that several, including graphically and Malaitans and Weather Coast Guales
the student quoted above, had direct personal expe- in particular felt disadvantaged, accentuating griev-
rience of the Tension. ances that became key drivers of violence in 1998.
However, there were also some indications of The Tension then further diminished any sense of
inter-group discomfort at St Joseph’s in June 2013. national identity because it intensified sub-national,
Three teachers interviewed reported some uneasi- especially island-wide, affiliations.
ness under the surface between certain Malaitan Nor did the pre-Tension education system
and Guadalcanal students. In 2011, one had contribute significantly to national identity
observed some Guale students refusing to work construction. Many children were pushed out of
with their Malaitan peers and he also reported eth- the system before completing primary school, and
nically biased perspectives in some students’ writ- the curriculum did little to transmit the ‘unity in
ten assignments. Although not reporting problems diversity’ narrative anyway. Perhaps there is even
some evidence that it helped construct the identity
among the students at the school, another teacher
divides that characterised the Tension. At the very
had observed that some of her 2013 students
least it lacked relevance to the lives of ordinary
thought that the Tension was good because it forced
citizens, as did the teacher-centred pedagogy. The
settlers out of overcrowded Guadalcanal. Notably,
potential of the content of schooling to function
the most alienated of the cohort interviewed said:
as a ‘stepping-stone to national consciousness’,
Even though RAMSI came to our country it through either nation-building or nation-making,
still seems that … some people are trying to was thus left essentially unfulfilled.
bring up the Tension again. So [my people] Post-conflict, however, there are several indica-
usually remind me that to be a Malaitan … we tions that education may yet fulfil its potential as
can say that we are enemy to Guadalcanal peo- such a stepping-stone. The state has actively rein-
ple. So they usually tell me that I must watch vigorated the pre-conflict ‘unity in diversity’ narra-
out [and] stay alert to hear when or what will tive, which has involved, as shown herein, reforms
happen next … I usually feel afraid.17 to formal education.

14 Discussion Paper 2012/1
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SSGM Discussion Paper 2015/8

Primary school enrolments and retentions into elite schools may also make it more difficult for
secondary school have increased considerably over them to access the new curricular materials and
the last two decades, increasing the scope for the teacher (re)training opportunities, leaving them
reformed curriculum to contribute to the formation with less scope to become sites for either nation-
of national identity. Furthermore, the equalisation building or nation-making.
of access to basic education redresses the role its Further research into the efficacy of teacher
uneven availability played in the divisions leading training initiatives will be required to gauge the
to the conflict. Some important structural inequali- capacity of teachers to use the new curricular mate-
ties remain; there is only one National Secondary rials. However, given that providing resources
School on Malaita, and as late as 2009 children in and (re)training teachers remain challenging for
Malaita and rural Guadalcanal were still significantly MEHRD and CDD, the findings presented here sug-
less likely to attend secondary school than those in gest that there may be much to gain from increased
Honiara. support to these facets of education reform.
Nevertheless, the new social studies materials
bring ‘unity in diversity’ to the classroom explicitly Notes on Authors
and are complemented by the attention given to David Oakeshott is a PhD candidate in the SSGM
conflict resolution and reconciliation in the revised Program at the ANU. His research concerns how
religious education syllabus. The materials are the post-conflict societies of Solomon Islands and
potentially complemented further by the OBE Bougainville are reconciling with their violent pasts,
approach, which may have greater congruence with a particular emphasis on the contribution
with indigenous forms of learning based on play of post-conflict education reform to that process.
among children and their direct participation Email <>.
in adult activities. While the impact of OBE will Matthew Allen is a Fellow with SSGM. With
not be known for some time, in the case of St a background in human geography, he has con-
Joseph’s at least, the benefits of the new curriculum ducted research in Papua New Guinea, Solomon
and pedagogy are complemented by the success Islands and Vanuatu. His primary research interests
the teachers achieve in cultivating familiarity are the political economy and political ecology of
and respect among students from different extractive resource industries and resource conflict
backgrounds. Also, critically, St Joseph’s students in Melanesia. His most recent book is Greed and
enjoy the opportunity to share their cultures, and
Grievance: Ex-Militants’ Perspectives on the Con-
learn about those of their fellow students. Thus,
flict in Solomon Islands, 1998–2003 (University of
at least at this school, nation-building and nation-
Hawai‘i Press, 2013).
making appear interlinked and complementary
processes, which also exploit the shared Christian References
faith of its diverse communities.
However, this may not be the case in other places. Akin, D. 2013. Colonialism, Maasina Rule, and the
Many of the new Provincial Secondary Schools and Origins of Malaitan Kastom. Honolulu: University of
Community High Schools are located in rural areas Hawai‘i Press.
with less ethnically heterogeneous populations than Allen, M. 2012. Land, Identity and Conflict on
Honiara. In these circumstances the revisions to Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands. Australian Geographer
the curriculum and pedagogy will be even more 43(2):163–80.
important. Schooling may be the only place where Allen, M. 2013. Greed and Grievance: Ex-Militants’
students are exposed to the official government Perspectives on the Conflict in Solomon Islands, 1998–
narrative and their only chance to engage with it 2003. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.
critically. Moreover, their teachers may be the only Anderson, B. 2006. Imagined Communities: Reflections
representatives of the state with whom they have on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Rev. ed.
substantial contact. The remoteness of many non- London: Verso. 15
David Oakeshott and Matthew Allen

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Advisor in MEHRD, and two anonymous reviewers
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for their informative and critical commentary on an
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earlier draft of this paper. Moreover, we extend our
A. Taufe‘ulungaki (eds). International Aid Impacts on
Pacific Education. Wellington and Suva: He Parekereke
heartfelt thanks to the teachers and students at St
Institute for Research and Development in Maori and Joseph’s, for their openness and thoughtfulness during
Pacific Education and University of the South Pacific, the lead author’s interviews with them. Equally, we
155–97. appreciate the willingness of all the government and
civil society representatives to discuss their country’s
Potter, P. 2005. Curriculum and Societal Needs: Stake-
holders’ Perceptions of the Solomon Islands’ Second- education system. David Oakeshott acknowledges
ary School Curriculum. MA thesis, Avondale College. the generous assistance from Professor Margaret
Jolly’s Australian Research Council Laureate project
Solomon Islands National Statistics Office 2009. 2009
and Matthew Allen acknowledges support provided
Population & Housing Census: National Report. Vol. 2.
Honiara: Ministry of Finance and Treasury. under Australian Research Council fellowship
SITRC (Solomon Islands Truth and Reconciliation
Commission) 2012. Final Report: Confronting the Endnotes
Truth for a Better Solomon Islands. Honiara: SITRC.
Tabulawa, R. 2003. International Aid Agencies, Learner- 1 The research reported here is based on four weeks
Centred Pedagogy and Political Democratisation: A fieldwork conducted in June 2013 by the lead author,
Critique. Comparative Education 39(1):7–26. who lived at St Joseph’s Catholic Secondary School at
Tenaru during this period. In addition to ethnographic
Tanis, J. and G. Gray 2002. In Between: Personal Experi-
observations of St Joseph’s, interviews were conducted
ences in the 9-Year Long Conflict on Bougainville
with 24 students and 19 teachers at the school. A
and Habuna Momoruqu (the Blood of My Island):
further 19 interviews were conducted with senior
Violence and the Guadalcanal Uprising in Solomon
personnel in the Ministry of Education and Human
Islands. SSGM Working Paper 2002/4. Canberra: ANU.
Resources Development and various Civil Society
UNICEF 2012. Children in Solomon Islands: An Atlas of actors engaged with the education sector. Secondary
Social Indicators. Suva: UNICEF Peace Office. source materials and critical analysis of new textbooks
Urdal, H. 2006. A Clash of Generations? Youth Bulges for secondary social studies also inform the analysis.
and Political Violence. International Studies Quarterly 2 The Solomons Pijin word kastom is derived from
50(3):607–29. the English word ‘custom’, and local usage often
Ware, H. 2005. Demography, Migration and Conflict in approximates the meaning of ‘custom’. However, the
the Pacific. Journal of Peace Research 42(4):435–54. term does not refer to an unchanging pre-European

18 Discussion Paper 2012/1
State, Society & Governance in Melanesia
SSGM Discussion Paper 2015/8

way of life. It emphasises change and adaptation, as interview with Franco Rodie, now MEHRD Permanent
well as continuity with the past, and has been engaged Secretary, Honiara, 12/6/2013; confidential interview
by Solomon Islanders as a symbol of island-wide unity. with Participant D, senior MEHRD official, Honiara,
3 Interview with Patrick Daudau, former CDD director, 5/6/2013.
Honiara, 13/6/2013. 9 Interview with Linda Wate, 26/6/2013.
4 Confidential interview with Participant E, Education 10 Interview with Franco Rodie, 12/6/2013.
administrator, Honiara, 19/6/2013. 11 Interview with Patrick Daudau, 13/6/2013.
5 In 2009 the total number of secondary school students 12 Interview with Abraham Hihiru, Headmaster,
in Honiara, the rest of Guadalcanal and Malaita were St Joseph’s Catholic Secondary School, Tenaru,
estimated at 7,418, 7,389 and 7,959, respectively 18/6/2013.
(MEHRD 2010:20). However, the population of 10–19
13 Interview with Abraham Hihiru, 29/6/2013.
year olds in the three geographies were 13,408, 20,403
and 31,906, respectively (Solomon Islands National 14 Confidential interview with Student E, Tenaru,
Statistics Office 2009:265, 257, 259). 3/6/2013.
6 Confidential interview with Participant A, AusAID 15 Confidential interview with Student P, Tenaru,
official, 27/6/2013; confidential interview with 5/6/2013.
Participant C, NZAID official, 28/6/2013. 16 Confidential interview with Teacher S, Tenaru,
7 Interview with Patrick Daudau, 13/6/2013. 25/6/2013.
8 Interview with Linda Wate, NESU Director, Honiara, 17 Confidential interview with Student B, Tenaru,
26/6/2013; interview with Patrick Daudau 13/6/2013; 2/6/2013. 19
ISSN: 1328-7854

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