A report prepared for AusAID (Australian Agency for International Development) has identified six approaches to development that could address the issues that have led to instability in the Solomon Islands.
The report, Youth in the Solomon Islands: A Participatory Study of Issues, Needs and Priorities (pdf, 1.2Mb), was prepared by Ian Scales, an Australian with considerable experience in the Solomons. Delivered to AusAID in 2003, Scales's report is credible because the research was carried out in the villages in a manner that encouraged participation.
Youth in the Solomon Islands focuses on the perceptions and proposed solutions of a demographic that figured prominently in the coup and ethnic conflict that brought tension to the Solomons between 1998 and 2002.
Like other countries that have undergone political instability in recent years, the Solomons has a disproportionate number of people between the ages of 15 and 30 years. It is this "youth bulge" that becomes restless when young men fail to find jobs, obtain an education or find a positive role in their society.
These were the very issues that Scales found to be a concern of young people in his research. Without the opportunity for income generation - the economy collapsed during the tensions and is only starting to recover - there is poverty and an aimlessness that finds no relief through traditional village structures. This situation is fed by poor access to education and a high rate of illiteracy.
Based on his findings in the villages, Scales proposed that the problems of youth in the Solomons be tackled by an approach focusing on six broad areas: education, livelihoods, reproductive health, participation in the community, sport and activities for youth.
Education is pertinent to the creation of livelihoods, however the education system in the Solomons has not been characterised by the phenomenon of "drop-outs" - people failing to continue their education - but by "push-outs", students pushed out of the system due to a lack of places and opportunities to continue their studies. There are few opportunities for school leavers and the rural training centres, which provide vocational training, are not always accessible.
In addition to the poor resourcing of schools, there is also the question of what students are educated for. According to an independent source who completed two years as a teacher in the Solomons, the education system is derived from Australia and some of the subjects, such as types of mathematics taught to senior students, are unlikely to be of much use. He suggested that subjects of greater direct relevance to the life of the Solomons should be taught.
Scales found that the demand for formal education is not great. Improved informal, vocational training in practical skills and "life education" - literacy, reproductive health and so on - at the village level was what is needed.
This would necessitate an upgrade of the rural training centre system so that it was accessible to a greater number of youth. Although the ACTU's aid agency, APHEDA, is believed to be interested in this area, the scale of servicing the geographically dispersed and frequently isolated population would require an approach that only international aid donors would have the capacity to support.
There is little concern with employment in the formal sector of the economy. The population is distributed over a large number of islands and the formal employment sector found in Honiara, the capital, and regional centres such as Auki (Malaita) and Ghizo (Western Province) offers only limited prospects.
What is needed are income-earning activities based in the villages. Agriculture is an obvious activity because produce can be sold at village markets and the staple root crops - sweet potato, cassava, taro, yam - are transportable over considerable distances. There is a constant demand for staples in the towns and farmers on North Malaita have developed a market for their pineapples at Honiara Central Market, a six-hour ferry journey across Indispensable Strait.
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