"Including The Excluded" through Teacher Education Reform in the Solomon Islands
What were the main aims of the initiative?
A partnership was established in 2013 between the Solomon Islands Normal University (SINU) and the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development; the Red Cross Special School; St. John School; Florence Young Christian School; and Monash University to focus on inclusive education in schools in the Solomon Islands. The project spanned two years and was funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Australia. The objectives of the project were to reform teacher education, enhance the research capacities of the partners, and to undertake joint research projects associated with teacher education reform for inclusive education in the Solomon Islands.
The program was aimed at identifying ways that teacher education could be reformed in the Solomon Islands to improve access to education for thousands of children with disabilities who currently do not receive any form of education. Working in partnership with local and international representatives the existing SINU teacher education program was revised and evaluated to identify the impact on better preparing teachers to implement the new focus on inclusive education in the Solomon Islands.
The five key objectives of the project were to:
A key focus of the program was on how to improve access to education for all disadvantaged children including those who are frequently excluded from education (e.g. girls, children from different ethnic backgrounds and those with disabilities).
A secondary aim of the project was to empower the university academics with the necessary research skills to enable them to evaluate their teacher education programs. The team from SINU worked in partnership with the Monash team to learn about various ways to determine if changing the teacher education curriculum is making any significant and positive impact on pre-service and in-service teachers’ ability to teach in inclusive classrooms (by measuring their attitudes, efficacy and concern levels) as well as improving their teaching practice (classroom observations).
Location, setting, Scope, key events etc.
Education in the Solomon Islands
The Solomon Islands consist of nine main islands and a number of smaller islands situated in the South Pacific Ocean off the East Coast of Papua New Guinea. Education in the Solomon Islands is free but not compulsory for children aged five to 12 years. Even so parents are still required to contribute to the school for development of infrastructures and facilities. With limited resources and weak school administration, quality education is an ongoing problem.
Originally church groups ran most schools in the Islands. Following independence in 1978, the Government began to establish some public schools. In 2015, though, the majority of schools are still operated by church groups with Catholic, South Sea Evangelical, Church of Melanesia, Seventh Day Adventist, and United churches being the main providers. During early childhood education (ECE) and the primary years a generalist teacher covers all curricula areas. In the secondary school, teachers specialise in delivering specific curricula. In the rural areas both school and class sizes are relatively small, typically being less than 70 students per school with approximately ten per class. In the urban areas schools are big with up to 800 children and classes of 40 to 60.
Access to schooling for all ages is restricted, especially in the early years. Data availability on school attendance is limited with Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) by UNICEF reporting that of the 260,000 children under the age of 18, of which 82,000 are under the age of five years, the net gross enrolment ratio of pre-primary education is 49%; net-attendance ratio in primary education is 65%; and net-attendance ratio in secondary education is 29%. In the most populated province of Malaita, it is estimated that 36% of school-aged children do not attend school. These figures are not disaggregated for disability and it is estimated that less than 1% of children with disabilities have access to any form of education in the Solomon Islands.
Children with disabilities in the Solomon Islands
As with many other Pacific countries, children with disabilities in the Solomon Islands are often kept at home and looked after by their parents (Sharma, 2012; Simi, 2008). Children with disabilities who are enrolled in primary schools rarely progress to secondary schools. Those who do, tend only to stay for a few years. The reasons are various and include parental fears, lack of resources in schools to cater for the learning of children with disabilities, poor school environment, and teachers’ negative attitudes due to a lack of knowledge and training regarding the teaching of children with disabilities (UNICEF Pacific Report, 2010; Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development (MEHRD), Solomon Islands, Report, 2013).
In addition to the two existing special schools in the Solomon Islands, the Government is moving towards establishing an inclusive approach for the education of children with disabilities. With this move towards inclusive education quality teacher education will become critical to ensure that principals and teachers are cognisant of the understanding of inclusive education and how to support learners in the Solomon Islands with disabilities in their classes.
Teacher preparation in the Solomon Islands
In the Solomon Islands there is one teacher training institution that trains both pre and in-service teachers to work in all of the nine big islands and various other small islands. The Solomon Islands College of Higher Education was established in 1984. This College became the Solomon Islands National University (SINU) in 2013. From 1990 to 2008 most training programs for pre-service teachers were for three years. Since a major review of the program from 2005-2008, pre-service programs were reduced to a Diploma of Teaching lasting two years to align with other Pacific regional programs such as the University of Fiji and Papua New Guinea. Primary teachers all complete a generalist program covering all curriculum areas. For secondary teachers they elect to study in two major and one minor curriculum area.
The pre-service teacher preparation program is two years of which six weeks are spent in a school practicum. The existing program focuses on acquiring skills and knowledge on teaching pedagogies that can be used in classrooms. It also covers teaching methodologies; the development of teaching resources; implementation of the curriculum and the development of leadership attributes.
In 2013, the School of Education and Humanities at SINU had 471 first year pre-service teachers and 341 second (final) year pre-service teachers. In 2014, 456 students completed their final year, showing an increase of approximately 30% in graduating trained teachers. The pre-service teachers are prepared for early childhood (3-5 year olds), primary (6-10 year olds) or secondary (11-16 year olds). The School also offers a Government funded, one-year fulltime program for in-service teachers who have been teaching for more than 10 years.
What issues/challenges does the example address?
The Solomon Islands Federal Government has now developed a national policy on disability with a focus on improving educational access. A key recommendation of the policy is that regular schools will be required to include students with disabilities in their programs and that they can be educated alongside non-disabled peers. Successful implementation of this policy will require that the key stakeholders (school teachers and pre-service teachers) are well trained to implement the key policy initiatives. However, the lack of preparedness of teachers is a significant challenge recognised by the government as requiring attention in order to successfully implement the policy.
In order to address this challenge, this project has focussed on reviewing and redesigning the current pre-service teacher education program at SINU. The aim is to prepare teachers who believe in inclusion (heart) and who have the knowledge and skills to teach in inclusive classrooms (head) and practise inclusion (hands). One of the key aspects of the revised program was to ensure that all academics involved in the teacher education program learned about the ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ of inclusive education. Traditionally, information about inclusive education was mainly offered in one theory subject. Participants in the development of the revised program learned to infuse information about inclusive education in all subjects (e.g. Arts education, Maths, Literacy and Physical education) taught within teacher education. This approach made inclusion a joint responsibility of all academics rather than one academic responsible to teach a subject on special/inclusive education.
This has been done through in-country visits, which included workshops, planning sessions, and data collection on existing attitudes, knowledge and perceptions of teachers in training. Participants from the Solomon Islands also undertook a three-week fellowship visiting Melbourne in Australia to engage in training about inclusive education. They met with local teacher educators, took an extensive course on inclusive education, visited local schools, and prepared themselves to undertake action research on return to their country.
How was the Initiative implemented?
The project spanned April 2012 through to July 2013.
The aims of the project were achieved in three stages.
Stage 1: At the first stage, delegates from Australia visited SINU in the Solomon Islands to get a better understanding of the contextual and policy issues related to this project.
Stage 2: At stage two, eight delegates from the Solomon Islands visited Monash University from 12 July - 3 July, 2013 and participated in a number of professional development activities (workshops, site visits, discussions with the departmental officials).
Stage 3: In the final stage, the delegates from the Solomon Islands revised the teacher education program and reported on the outcomes of the revision. The outcomes of the project were presented at a Research Colloquium organised by the SINU in the Solomon Islands in June 2014, with 38 participants.
This program was directly aimed at improving the status of children with disabilities in society by improving access to better education in schools across the islands. Each of the participating delegates from the Solomon Islands worked directly or indirectly with people with disabilities in different roles, ranging from university educators and school leaders to policy makers. Two of the delegates were principals of schools where students with disabilities were enrolled. Such schools are rare in a country like the Solomon Islands as children with disabilities are often denied admission to schools. These principals were nominated for this program because they have shown commitment to improving their schools by including more children with disabilities and by supporting school staff to make their schools more inclusive. They also offered placements to pre-service teachers in training. The nominated delegate from the Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development was responsible for approving the teacher education curriculum and therefore, had a direct role in deciding what happens in such programs. Thus, indirectly, the project involved the active participation of delegates who either worked directly with people with disabilities or who worked to improve the life experiences of those who are facing disadvantages as a result of their special needs.
A follow-up colloquium was held at SINU on Thursday 5th June 2014 to review the outcomes of the project. Participants reflected upon what had worked and what changes were necessary to progress teacher education for inclusion in the Solomon Islands. Evidence-based data were provided by the local researchers who discussed their research projects and the impact that these were making on teacher education for inclusion in the Solomon Islands. The Vice Chancellor, Professor Glynn Galo welcomed the guests and gave an opening address that highlighted the importance of preparing teachers effectively for inclusive education. A number of participants from the university attended including the Pro Vice Chancellor Patricia Rodie and Ms Janine Simi, acting Dean of the School of Education and Humanities. Associate Professor Umesh Sharma the project partner from Monash University and Professor Chris Forlin also participated.
Ms. Janine Simi, summarised the importance of the collaboration by saying that:
“We feel that teacher training is important because teachers need to be aware of the concept of inclusive education. They need to develop the skills and knowledge that will enable them to become inclusive teachers in schools. The university’s role is to support this through training of pre- and in-service teachers”.
What where the key Outcomes? What impact/added value did they prove? What were the biggest challenges?
Our program was based on the premise that to be effective inclusive leaders, participants needed to develop the head (knowledge), heart (belief) and hands (practice) of an inclusive leader. This framework guided all the activities that we carried out throughout the project. We provided a basis for participants to understand a rationale for inclusive education and provided them with the necessary skills and knowledge that they needed to acquire to become inclusive leaders. We also conducted workshops that allowed participants to reflect on their practices and to determine if they are inclusive leaders and also to identify areas where they needed to improve their practices. Visits to various schools and institutes provided opportunities for the delegates to witness inclusion in practice. We believe that this has allowed the delegates to become effective leaders in the Solomon Islands able to drive the agenda for inclusive education in the country.
We identified six key outcomes that were achieved from the project:
The notion of how best to prepare teachers for inclusive education in the Solomon Islands is now being addressed through a revised seven-week course of four hours per week. This course is compulsory for all pre-service teachers. Each week, the pre-service teachers receive a two hour lecture and a two hour tutorial. The new course focuses on discussing inclusive education within the Solomon Islands’ cultural context, policies, planning and also developing positive attitudes, adapting the curriculum and learning inclusive teaching strategies that teachers can use in their classrooms. Two inclusive strategies namely, cooperative learning and peer tutoring, are the key approaches covered during the course.
The success of this project is likely to have impact at national level as the SINU is the only institute that prepares teachers and is also primarily responsible for professional development of in-service teachers in the country. The success of the program is also useful for a number of Pacific countries that are struggling to meet the Millennium Development Goal of providing primary education (at least up to 9 years of age) to all children by 2015.
Has the initiative been evaluated or are there plans for this in the future?
Data were collected throughout the project. Initially surveys were undertaken of pre-service teachers’ perspectives about inclusive education in the Solomon Islands and their preparedness for this. The success of the new training program was then evaluated post implementation to identify changes in their perspectives.
In addition, interviews with key local personnel who participated in the project were undertaken during the visit to Monash. A follow- up focus group interview was also undertaken involving six delegates during the colloquium held in Honiara in 2014. Comments such as those by George, Principal of a Secondary School, identified how delegates’ attitudes had changed following involvement in the project:
“Before participating in this activity I always thought something is wrong with some students (e.g. who often fail or who are very disruptive) and often I (or for that matter other teachers in my school) did not care about such students. But now, I can see the value of inclusion and why teaching those students well will make my school a better school not only for those students but for all students. My heart has changed now”.
The value of involvement in the collaborative project was also captured by one of the teacher educators from SINU who said that:
“It sets a new phase for the education in Solomon Islands. It changed the way I look at teaching. The partnership is great because we can learn and do changes together”
We hope that this attitude will spread to other teachers and school leaders that start working in partnership with George’s school.
In our view the project was highly successful. One of the most positive aspects was that all of the key stakeholders from the SINU who are involved in teacher education participated. The delegates could see the value of participation by the core group in this activity, as each member recognised that his/her role is very critical in ensuring that all new graduates are prepared for inclusive education in the country. We also think that inviting some school leaders to participate in the program was highly useful as the university now has at least three schools where they can place their graduates to learn more about inclusion in practice. We have been told that on their return, the delegates met with the Vice Chancellor who has already approved some of the changes to the program that is likely to have a positive impact on new graduates’ skills, attitudes and abilities to teach in inclusive classrooms.
On a slightly negative side, we learned an important lesson. Two delegates could not attend the program due to their poor health. One of the delegates was taken seriously ill before departing to Melbourne and she was hospitalised in the Solomon Islands. Unfortunately she passed away because of her poor health. We could not replace the missing delegates with the reserved delegates, as we did not have enough time. One of the main reasons that hindered participation of the reserved delegates was the time it would have taken to process their visa application. It would be helpful if all delegates, including reserved delegates, are also asked to apply for the appropriate visa in future, alongside the rest of the team as this will address the issue of replacing a delegate who has to withdraw close to the date of departure from their home country.
The School of Education and Humanities within SINU was keen to strengthen its course on inclusive education in the program in order to better prepare pre-service teachers for the upcoming education reform. While acknowledging that a 28 hour course is insufficient, they are required to work within this time frame due to the course only spanning two years in total. Initially the focus of the revised teacher education program at SINU developed through the project was on preparing teachers for inclusive education through the one compulsory course.
Follow - up research identified the importance of attitudes towards inclusive education as being predictive of the intention to include children with disabilities. It also noted the short time available to expand the current program in this area (Sharma et al., 2015).Consequently, there is now a greater emphasis on infusing information about inclusive education and the strategies necessary to implement it into other core courses that are being delivered in SINU. It is hoped that this combined direction, utilising the three pronged psychological approach of head, hand and heart across all curriculum areas, will result in teachers in the Solomon Islands being better prepared, more willing and more effectively equipped to implement inclusive education.
Have any plans been made for future direction of the initiative?
We strongly believe that our partnership will continue to be maintained in the future. We have identified three products arising from our partnership that have enabled us to continue to collaborate.
Each delegate from the Solomon Islands is working on at least one conceptual/ empirical article on inclusive education in the Solomon Islands. It is important to note that to publish in peer-reviewed journals is considered to be a key indicator of high quality performance of the academics from SINU. The delegates are highly motivated to publish about the research they started in Melbourne. The Monash University team have continued to assist the delegates (via Skype calls and emails) with the writing of the articles and publication. At this stage one team has already published an article on research undertaken to investigate school leaders readiness for inclusive education (Porakari et al., 2015). Another team has also published the results of the research undertaken at the start of the project on the preparedness of pre-service teachers for inclusive education in the Solomon Islands (Sharma et al., 2015). Other teams continue to work on their research and proposed publications.
A follow-up research colloquium was subsequently held in Honiara at SINU in July, 2014 where the team that visited Melbourne presented on the progress of activities initiated during the project (see Photo 1).
Photo 1. Delegates at the research colloquium, SINU, Honiara, July 2014
The delegates were highly enthusiastic about the organisation of the colloquium which was jointly sponsored by the SINU and Monash University. This maintained the momentum for local delegates to continue with their research and to work towards publishing their results. In addition, one of the delegates is now undertaking a doctoral program on the topic of Inclusive education in the Solomon Islands at Monash University and another delegate is working on his doctorate in New Zealand.
Photo 2. Members of the organising team welcoming the Presenters, SINU, Honiara, July 2014
What are the main learning points?
To date the project has involved a number of visits, the exchange of ideas and discussion of practical approaches between the Solomon Island delegates and the international partners. This is supporting the move to further implement the inclusive agenda in a locally and contextually appropriate way.
The short-term benefits of the program are evidenced by the SINU who have:
The long term benefits of the program are likely to take 3-5 years and these benefits will include:
Exposing delegates to the wide range of services and resources available to students with disabilities as well as Monash’s inclusive teaching approach has inspired the delegates, triggered valuable new ideas and given us material for critical discussions. See our website: http://www.monash.edu.au/equity-diversity/disability/
According to Mr. Benedict Esibaea, Director of primary education at the MEHRD, Solomon Islands:
“The Ministry’s role is to develop an inclusive education policy and to establish a National Learning Resource Support Centre to support teachers and schools to assist them to address inclusive education needs. Inclusive education is very important for the Solomon Islands because of its diversity. We need to recognize the needs of children with special needs to enable them to fully participate in education in schools that are welcoming”
Without the upskilling of teachers, nonetheless, it will be very difficult for teachers in the Solomon Islands to adopt an inclusive approach to teaching. They need to have the practical skills to implement inclusive curricula and pedagogy, know how to motivate children to work, and to make learning fun for all. They need to know how to teach inclusively by meeting the individual needs of all children, identifying why children cannot learn, and responding to diverse needs by developing appropriate curricula and identifying best practices for ensuring equal access for all children to regular schooling. They also need a positive attitude towards inclusion so that they actively want to become involved, are willing to include all children regardless of disability, are proactive in ensuring that all children can attend school and appreciate that inclusion is good for everyone including themselves.
The revised SINU training program (especially the embedding of these skills across all curricular areas) in addition to the dedicated course on inclusive education that has now been implemented by the participants in this project, is a very strong move towards supporting this. Nevertheless according to the project leader (Dr. Sharma):
“Changing teacher education cannot happen in isolation. Change in teacher education needs to go hand in hand with the MEHRD, SINU, school leaders and teachers all working together”.
Participants wishing to engage in similar activities should be cognisant of the challenges faced by delegates from developing countries. Simply obtaining a visa to visit another country can be complicated and take protracted time. Health issues are prominent and delegates may be unable to travel with little notice. Time is a huge issue with delegates having to respond to local requests from Governments and line managers that can take them away from the project for considerable time and without notice. Limited experience in travelling to foreign countries, together with climate differences, potential food intolerances, and their slower pace of participating in activities all need to be identified and supported. Nonetheless, members of our project were unbelievably enthusiastic and gave themselves whole heartedly to participating.
Are there further information about supporting materials?
MEHRD (Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development). (2013). MEHRD Performance Assessment Report 2006-2013. Solomon Islands Education Management Information System. Honiara: MEHRD.
Pacific Indicators for Disability-Inclusive Education (Pacific-INDIE). (2016). Voices from Solomon Islands. Monash University. (download PDF document)
Porakari, J., Sevala, B., Miniti, P., Saemane, G., Sharma, U., & Forlin, C. (2015). Solomon Islands School Leaders Readiness for Inclusive Education. International Journal of Inclusive Education DOI:10.1080/13603116.2015.1013999
Sharma, U., Simi, J., & Forlin. (2015). Preparedness of pre-service teachers for inclusive education in the Solomon Islands. Australian Journal of teacher Education, 40(5). Retrieved from http://ro.ecu.edu.au/ajte/vol40/iss5/6
Sharma, U. (2012). Inclusive and special education: A way forward in the Solomon Islands. A report commissioned by the Education Resource Facility (DFAT) and the Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development, Solomon Islands Government. (download PDF document)
Simi, J. (2008). Teacher Educators and Pre-Service Teachers’ Attitudes, Knowledge and Understanding on Special Education and Inclusive Education in the Solomon Islands. Unpublished Dissertation. University of Waikato, New Zealand
UNICEF Report (2012). Pacific children with disabilities. A report for UNICEF Pacific’s 2010 mid – term review. UNICEF Pacific. Available: www.unicef.org/pacificislands/Children_with_disabilities_final_report.pdf
Websites for further information: