The 2013–15 National Education Action Plan mentions in its introduction that ‘there is emphasis on inclusive education, so needs of students at risk of being excluded, such as children with disabilities, are met.’ The 2016–30 Education Strategic Framework, in the section 'Further analysis of the specific costs of Equity’, lists ‘inclusive education and the costs of providing education for children with different types of disabilities’ as an equity concern for which costs should be analysed.
The 2016–20 National Education Action Plan approaches inclusion differently, establishing as one of its two priorities ‘Inclusive Access and Completion’ by providing most students in years 1–9 with ‘equitable access to fee-free schooling and complete basic education’. Similarly, the 2016–35 National Development Strategy sets among its objectives to ‘improve provision of basic needs’ and ’establish a policy on inclusive education for all with greater emphasis on free education and ensure its effectiveness in terms of physical and teacher’s quality as role model.’
Special education needs
According to the 2015 Education White Paper, special needs refer to ‘all forms of disabilities and/or circumstances which prevent learners benefiting adequately from the education normally provided for those of their age group. It also includes all learners for whom education which is normally provided in the classroom is not challenging enough or too challenging.’
According to the 2014 draft Education Act, a ‘school for specific purposes’ refers to ‘a school providing education only for students with a particular disability or disabilities.’ Moreover, despite the ‘prohibition on discrimination in school education’ (Art. 63), it does not prevent ‘the establishment and operation of single gender schools or schools for specific purposes intended to benefit children with a particular disability or disabilities and is to be interpreted flexibly and fairly in relation to such schools.’ The same is true for tertiary education (Art. 100).
Education for children and adults with disabilities is mainly ensured by non-government, religious and international organizations in the form of special provision. There are six operating throughout the country: three located in Honiara, Guadalcanal province, and three in Makira and Isabel provinces. Through the Special Development Centre, the Red Cross has been providing primary education to children with disabilities since 1994, including basic health care and rehabilitation services.
Established in 2014, national learning support resource centres (NLSRCs) support regular schools to provide learners with disabilities with inclusive education. The NLSRC committee consists of representatives from, among others, the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development (MEHRD), the Ministry of Health, People with Disabilities Solomon Islands and education authorities and includes members of both special and regular primary and secondary schools. NLSRCs assist learners, their families and schools with training and capacity building.
Special education provision is still in place. Gizo Disability Centre for the Deaf, West-Hearing Impairment School and Isabel Special School are registered as special schools, while the San Isidro Care Centre and Bethesda Vocational Training Centre in Honiara and Styvenburg Vocational Training Centre in Makira province are considered vocational education institutions. The latter two also provide boarding facilities. Funded by the Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MHMS), Bethesda Vocational Training Centre covers fees and transportation services for students residing outside the capital city.
Still, as reported in the UNICEF barrier to Education Study, education for children with disabilities is limited. Most children with disabilities residing in rural areas are out of school because of limited accessibility.
Early identification, screening and assessment
Due to a widespread rural population, a community-based rehabilitation model has been adopted to identify the needs of children with disabilities. As mentioned in the 2005–10 National Policy on Disability, health and education services are expected to collaborate in early needs identification. However, the main responsibility is held by classroom teachers, as acknowledged in the 2015 Education White Paper.
The 1978 Constitution of Solomon Islands, known as the Solomon Islands Independence Order, does not explicitly enshrine the right to education. It prohibits any forms of discrimination in term of ‘different treatment to different persons’ (Art. 15.2) on the grounds of ‘race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, creed or sex whereby persons of one such description are subjected to disabilities or restrictions’ (Art. 15.4). Having come into force upon the country’s independence, the 1978 Education Act, as amended in 1996, provides a legal framework for the education system in the country. The 2015 Education White Paper proposes its review based on the principles of equality ‘socially, culturally, emotionally, spiritually’ in order to promote and protect, among others, the rights of learners with special needs. The Education Act is also expected to lay legal foundations for inclusive early childhood care and education, which is currently only regulated under the 2008 National Early Childhood Policy, to recognize post-secondary education and training as tertiary education and to provide instruments for equitable access.
The country is committed to ensuring equality in education, as reiterated in the 2015 Education White Paper, which reaffirms that all learners have the right to access and participate in education ‘according to their potential and their ability’ at all levels and including disadvantaged groups, such as remote schoolchildren and learners living in poverty and in emergency situations.
The concepts of inclusiveness and equity permeate all education policy documents. The 2008 National Early Childhood Education Policy Statement intended to promote these goals through the development of adequate facilities and modules in early childhood education teacher training, with emphasis on girls and on children with disabilities, while the 2010 Policy for Tertiary Education pays particular attention to gender and remoteness. A targeted policy on inclusive education is expected to be developed by a special taskforce set up by the MEHRD.
More recently, the 2016–30 Education Strategic Framework, aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals, aims to increase education access for excluded groups, in particular girls, children with disabilities, pupils and students belonging to language minorities or from poor households.
A 1994 signatory of the UNESCAP Proclamation on the Full Participation and Equality of People with Disabilities in the Asian and Pacific Region, the Solomon Islands signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008 but has not yet ratified. An Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation Bill, focusing on disability issues, was drafted in 2006 but has not been enacted.
Following the endorsement of the Biwako Millennium Framework for Action in 2003, the MHMS adopted the 2005–10 National Policy on Disability, which was intended to remove social barriers and develop a system for the full participation of people with disability. Concerning education, it aimed to strengthen intersectoral collaboration for the provision of both special and inclusive regular education. Among its actions, it planned to develop special education modules for in-service teacher training, to decentralize special education services and to review the existing curriculum in order to include disability issues. The 2013–18 National Disability Inclusive Development Policy was formulated but was not endorsed by the Cabinet. In general, social legislative protection for the target group remains underdeveloped. Within the education legal framework, the 1978 Education Act does not capture the rights of persons with disabilities but its review is expected to regulate their access to education.
In the education sector, an inclusive approach prevails in education provision for persons with disabilities . Considering the latter among the groups of learners excluded from regular education, the 2013–15 National Education Action Plan emphasizes the need to enhance school infrastructure and to create an inclusive learning environment for all. The 2011–20 National Development Plan, Objective 2, ‘Taking Better Care of All the People of the Solomon Islands to Support to the Vulnerable’, mentions the intent to ‘Create a society that will accept the equal rights of all people with disability and assist and involve them physically, socially, spiritually and culturally and ensures the achievement of their goals and visions.’ Among the strategies to achieve this objective, people with disabilities are expected to be consulted ‘to ensure that education and training policies give opportunities to boys and girls with disabilities, improve their access to education, develop early intervention measures for children from 0–4 years old, and provide special education modules in all teacher training courses.’
Aligned with the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, ratified in 2002, the 2016–20 Gender Equality and Women’s Development Policy was intended to provide an overarching framework for ensuring gender equality. Among its priority outcomes, it aimed to increase girls’ and women’s access to education and create a supportive learning environment though a fee-free policy and a gender-sensitive curriculum. Preventing and responding to violence is also at the core of the gender-sensitive measures in the 2016–30 Education Strategic Framework and is the aim of the National Policy on Eliminating Violence Against Women.
A ban on expulsion from school because of pregnancy is not yet legislated. In addition, the minimum marriage age is 15 years old for both boys and girls and child marriage is not legally prohibited. The 2014 draft Education Act, however, tries to address the issue of re-entry of pregnant girls into schools, declaring in its Article 63: ‘Prohibition on discrimination in school education: A child must not be refused admission to any school or treated less favourably at school on account of his or her gender, religion, nationality, race, language, disability or pregnancy.’ Similarly, Article 100 highlights that ‘a person must not be refused admission to any tertiary education institution or treated less favourably at a tertiary education institution on account of his or her gender, religion, nationality, race, language, disability or pregnancy.’ Moreover, the 2017–35 National Development Strategy intends to ‘improve gender equality and support the disadvantaged and the vulnerable’ (objective 7).
Ethnic and linguistic groups
As reported by the UNICEF Barriers to Education Study, most children do not speak English as their first language.
Acknowledging that this can be a cause of dropout and affect effective learning, guidelines for the implementation of a pilot project for vernacular languages and English in education were developed in 2010. In eight schools, the study of vernacular languages Sa’a and Arosi was introduced alongside English from early childhood up to senior secondary education with support from UNICEF. Schools were selected based on accessibility of in-service teacher training and on the community’s willingness to support the project. The project was implemented in 2014 with the technical assistance of SIL International.
The 2016–30 Education Strategic Framework plans to address the exclusion of certain linguistic groups by providing re-entry and second change opportunities and by mainstreaming the study of community languages. Within the framework, the 2016–20 National Education Action Plan reiterated the commitment to extend the use of vernacular languages in primary education by 2018.
Poverty and people living in rural or remote areas
Following the 2009 Fee Free Basic Education Policy, the 2012 School Grant Policy was formulated to support equitable access to education for all learners, in particular by eliminating school fees for basic, primary and junior secondary education and by subsidizing early childhood education centres, senior secondary schools, rural training centres and special education centres. It further aims to harmonize the grants scheme and adds a remote area component to support disadvantaged schools based on their location.
Coordination across sectors
Historically, the MHMS has been responsible for community-based rehabilitation for children with disabilities, including the provision of basic education. In addition, People with Disability Solomon Islands established supportive services to education institutions in seven out of nine provinces with support from local non-government organizations.
With the purpose of introducing an inclusive education model, the MEHRD established an inclusive education working committee. As established by the 2015 Education White Paper, the Education Authority and Advisory Board holds the statutory responsibility and the coordination role for the education provision of learners with special needs, while the National Curriculum Advisory Board ensures that learners with disabilities are placed into regular schools having access to a flexible and adaptable curriculum.
Coordination across government levels
The education system is managed by the MEHRD at the national level, by the education authorities at the subnational level and by the schools at the local level. Approved by the MEHRD, the 31 education authorities, at least one in each province, administer their own schools based on the grants allocated by the central government. The MEHRD manages some schools in Honiara, the capital city.
To meet the communities’ needs, school management was strengthened within the 2007–15 education sector plan. New standards were set by whole school development plans and school leadership was reinforced through school board training. School accountability was enhanced through development partner support. The 2016–30 Education Strategic Framework plans to systematize these initiatives through a comprehensive school management strengthening programme.
In 2012, the Policy Statement and Guidelines for School Infrastructure were adopted. In line with the standards of UNICEF Child-Friendly Schools and Emergency Architects, the policy document aims to raise quality and safety standards through appropriate education infrastructure. Informed by the principle of equitable access for all learners, boys and girls, and including those with special needs, the policy recognizes their right to ‘well-constructed, safe, hygienic and well-maintained educational facilities’.
The 2011 Policy Statement and Guidelines for the Development and Implementation of the National Curriculum regulate the formulation and implementation of the national curriculum in all schools up to grade 12. Endorsing a learner-centred approach, the policy aims to develop a curriculum that takes into consideration identity ‘in terms of culture, language, values, beliefs, talents‘ and learning needs of all learners, ‘regardless of gender, age, geographical location, ethnicity, language and physical disability’.
ICT and learning materials
Elaborated with support of UNESCO, the 2019–23 ICT in Education Master Plan aims to establish new and improve existing facilities to ensure they are ‘child, disability and gender sensitive‘ and able to provide ‘safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all’. ‘Open educational resources’ are identified as inclusive means able to provide supportive equipment, for example through the use of assistive technologies, to learners with special needs and/or disabilities.
The 2013–15 National Education Action Plan mandates the MEHRD to work collaboratively with the Solomon Islands National University (SINU) through the School of Education and Humanities on the training of teachers for inclusive education.
The 2016–30 Education Strategic Framework intends to extend teacher training on inclusive education. In line with the 2015 National ICT Policy, the ICT in Education Master Plan emphasizes the importance of ICT facilities for educators such that they can access multiple resources to address the diverse needs of students.
SINU provides a degree programme in community-based rehabilitation and certificate, diploma, degree and post- graduate programmes on Special Education and Inclusive Practices. To make courses more accessible, the education provision is also organized through distance and flexible learning modes. Teacher education on disability is also provided by non-governmental organizations, such as the Red Cross Special Development Centre and Bethesda Disability Training and Support Services, including on inclusive education and training in sign language.
The MEHRD provides annual reports and performance assessment reports.
The education management information system (EMIS) is the reference for collection, processing and dissemination of education data on a regular basis. A series of national education plans set its foundations between 2004 and 2015. In particular, the Planning, Coordination and Research Unit of the MEHRD holds the responsibility for the management of EMIS, as outlined by the 2013–15 National Education Action Plan. The 2012 Updated Policy Statement and Guidelines for Grants to Schools set foundations for grant allocation based on the data reported by schools.
The 2016–30 Education Strategic Framework has identified the need to strengthen the Solomon Islands’ EMIS (SIEMIS), which has been in place 2004. Among its goals, the 2019–23 ICT in Education Master Plan intends to enhance the system by enabling the decentralization of data collection.
Concerning disability data, the existing community-based rehabilitation model also includes sharing data with the inclusive education working committee, such as the number of children with disabilities, the type of disability and school attendance.