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Solomon Islands Education Project

Solomon Islands

The main objective of my mission to the Solomon Islands in November 1998, was to start preparations for a possible 4th World Bank Education Project.  I was also to review the progress of the 3rd World Bank Education Project which was still ongoing and see what lessons could be learned from the implementation of that project for the proposed new project.

I should at this point say something about the design of the 3rd Project as it has a bearing on the design of the 4th Project.  The 3rd Project was designed during the time that I was in the Solomon Islands working on the Rural Primary Health Care Project and the engineer who had designed the primary school project in Sierra Leone (which followed on from my work on primary school design for the World Bank, see Sierra Leone projects) was the one who designed the construction component of the 3rd Project.

The primary school project in Sierra Leone was an unmitigated disaster as it utilised small local contractors in remote parts of the country and gave them very little in the way of technical assistance or supervision and many of the contractors misused their advances or bankrupted themselves by under-bidding with the result that not many schools were actually built.  The engineer then came to the Solomon Islands and proceeded, against my advice, to design the construction component of the 3rd Project in much the same way.  Local consultants were employed to design the schools which were to be built on remote islands again by small local contractors and again with no technical assistance and with the intermittent supervision that would be given to large, technically competent contractors.  The results were fairly predictable: most of the contractors struggled to complete the works and many of them under-bid with the result that contracts over-ran and some schools were not completed.  At the time of my first visit, one school at Luasalemba in Temotu Province was still not complete and the contractor had abandoned the work.

The focus of the 4th Education Project was to be on support to Community High Schools (CHSs) and I was to provide the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development (MEHRD) and the World Bank with a preliminary assessment of the physical status and needs of the CHSs and to recommend an approach for improving and expanding their facilities over the following 5 – 10 years.

I was also to review the findings and recommendations of the draft education master plan as they related to CHS development and visit a sample of CHSs in order to prepare an inventory of buildings; assess physical needs and gather information about community construction processes and costs.  I was to evaluate the capacity of rural communities to build to an acceptable standard and how their weaknesses could be overcome through technical assistance; discuss with key officers of MEHRD and MPW on the best way to implement civil works at existing or planned CHSs; and meet with local architectural and engineering firms that worked on the 3rd Education Project to discuss their experience in designing and supervising civil works under the project (I was also to review the school designs that had been used in that project).

The issues that I identified and my recommendations can be summarised as follows:

Community High Schools: the Existing Situation

65 CHSs had been built by communities, churches, etc all over the country with no control or planning by MEHRD.  MEHRD had some information on school enrolments and numbers of teachers but very little information on school facilities, catchment areas.

I gathered basic information on the schools that I visited (see photo gallery below for photos of the schools) and it was agreed that MEHRD would carry out a preliminary survey of the other schools using a check-list that I provided.  I also provided details of the information required to complete a more detailed school mapping exercise. See my January 1999 report. Unfortunately I no longer have access to copies of my reports that have photos and drawings but most of these are provided separately.

Community High School Facilities

MEHRD had no established standards for junior secondary school facilities apart from the standard class size of 35 pupils and the CHSs visited all had classrooms of differing sizes providing areas per pupil ranging from 1m² to 2.5m².  There were few if any specialised facilities and MEHRD had no established standards for these.

During the mission I therefore produced preliminary designs for standard General Classrooms, Multi-purpose Units, Industrial Arts Units, Laboratory/Home Economics Units, Staff Houses and School Toilets.  These designs were agreed with MEHRD and local civil works consultants were employed to produce final designs, working drawings and schedules of materials which were to be used for upgrading existing CHSs if the project went ahead and which were to be given to any communities that wished to build schools.    The preliminary designs can be seen here and the TORs for the civil works consultants can be seen in my report.

Support to Existing Community High Schools

It was apparent from my school visits that there had been an enormous amount of support for the schools from most of the communities both financial and through the provision of materials and labour at no charge or at reduced rates.  Many of the schools had been started through the initiative of the communities.

Most of the facilities that had been built were general classrooms and these were built of a variety of materials including temporary buildings built of leaf.  The permanent buildings were on the whole quite well built but many were unfinished most were not cyclone-resistant.

The schools therefore required a variety of inputs including the completion and upgrading of the existing classrooms so that they were cyclone-resistant; the addition of specialised facilities for science, industrial arts, home economics and agriculture and the addition of staff houses. 

Construction of New Community High Schools

The Draft National Plan stated that one of the primary goals of government should be to provide basic education (i.e. up to Form 3) to all by the year 2010 but at the time of the mission it was estimated that at least 130 single stream schools were required and given the growing population, the numbers could only increase. 

These would have cost a great deal if built by contractors and if materials were supplied to communities who then built the schools, the cost would still be very high. 

It was doubtful therefore whether the target of basic education for all would be achievable by the year 2010 because of the cost and it was proposed that it would be more realistic for government to allow communities to build general classrooms of whatever materials they could afford and concentrate on constructing permanent specialist rooms such as multipurpose rooms and industrial arts units.  It was also obvious that, given the experience of using small contractors on the 3rd Education Project, if the school facilities were going to be built using local labour or small, local contractors, then a great deal of technical assistance would be required in order that the buildings were constructed to an acceptable standard. 

School Water Supplies and Toilets

Many existing schools had inadequate or no clean water supplies and inadequate or no toilets and it was proposed that no CHS should be built or renovated without a dependable water supply and appropriate, working toilets.

School Furniture

Most CHSs had insufficient, badly made or ill-fitting furniture of varying types and conditions of repair.  It was proposed that a new range of furniture be designed to suit children of the junior secondary age group and that an anthropometric survey should be carried out to enable the required sizes of furniture to be calculated.   It should also be possible to make and repair all furniture at the village level.

School Maintenance

There was no culture of maintenance for school buildings and few if any schools were receiving adequate funding for maintenance.  The result was that many school buildings were in very poor condition.  It was recommended that there should be more community involvement in the maintenance of school facilities.

For more details of these issues and proposals see my January 1999 Report.

I returned to the Solomon Islands in June 1999 to review the working drawings and schedules of materials being prepared by local consultants for CHS facilities to be built under the proposed 4th Education Project and to make proposals for constructing the facilities in the most cost-effective manner.  I was also to have discussions with the consultants about the preparation of construction and maintenance handbooks for the schools.

Schedules of accommodation for single-stream and two-stream Community High Schools had been agreed with the Department of Education together with standard designs for classrooms and other facilities and these were to form the basis for school facilities to be built at any Community High School whether they were funded by the proposed Fourth Project, by other donor agencies or by local communities.

The accommodation for the two types of schools was as follows:


Single-Stream Community High School (108 pupils)

  • 1No 2-Classroom Unit

  • 1No Multipurpose Unit      

  • 2No School Toilets

  • 2No 3-Bedroom Staff Houses

  • 2No 2-Bedroom Staff Houses

Two-Stream Community High School (216 pupils)

  • 1No 2-Classroom Unit

  • 1No 3-Classroom Unit

  • 1No Multipurpose Unit

  • 1No Industrial Arts Unit

  • 2No School Toilets

  • 4No 3-Bedroom Staff Houses

  • 4No 2-Bedroom Staff Houses

Three variations of the designs for the standard buildings were being produced: timber-framed buildings set above ground level on steel posts; concrete block buildings set on concrete floor slabs; and timber-framed buildings set on concrete floor slabs.  The drawings were reviewed and comments were included in my June 1999 report which also contains guidelines for the production of the construction manual which the consultants were to prepare. Copies of the preliminary working drawings for one type of construction can be seen here.

Discussions were also held about how best to implement the construction component of the project and given the problems experienced with the construction of schools for the 3rd Education Project, it was agreed that a different, more community-based and cost-effective approach should be taken in the 4th Project.  It was also agreed that 10 CHSs would be constructed, one in each province.

My proposal was that the project should be community-based with experienced volunteer builders (possibly provided by VSO, UK) training and leading small teams of carpenters and builders in the construction of the school buildings.  This approach had been used successfully in the Rural Primary Health Care Project of which I was project manager and I discussed this proposal with the VSO Field Officer in Honiara who said that in principle they would be interested in being involved in the project.

In late 1998, militants on the island of Guadalcanal began a campaign of intimidation and violence towards settlers from the neighbouring island of Malaita.   During the next year, thousands of Malaitans fled back to Malaita or to the capital, Honiara (which, although situated on Guadalcanal, was predominantly populated by Malaitans and people from other provinces). In 1999, the Malaita Eagle Force was established in response and the government struggled to respond to this evolving conflict and later that year a four-month state of emergency was declared.  There were a number of attempts at reconciliation and assistance was requested from Australia and New Zealand but all to no avail.

Despite this ethnic tension, I returned to the country in early 2000 to assess how preparations for the proposed 4th Education Project were progressing.  I was to visit the 10 CHSs that had been selected for development and assess their suitability.  I was also to review the working drawings and schedules of materials that were being produced for the standard CHS buildings by the local consultants.

I managed to visit 6 of the selected CHSs together with the one school constructed by the previous project that had not been finished.  I made proposals for the way that the CHSs should be constructed and for the role of the volunteers who would be providing technical assistance to the communities and local contractors who would construct the new facilities.  I also reviewed the working drawings and schedules of materials that were being prepared for the new facilities.  For details of all of these see my report of February 2000.  I also provided typical details for timber-framed, timber-clad buildings raised off the ground which can be seen here.

I returned to the Solomon Islands for one last time in February 2001.  The civil unrest was continuing and many schools had been damaged and furniture and equipment destroyed or stolen.  It had been decided therefore that the 3rd Education Project, which had been due to close at the end of December 2000, would be extended for a year and that funds that remained undisbursed would be used to assist communities whose primary or community high schools had been damaged.  Communities whose schools had been damaged would be given grants to effect repairs to infrastructure or to repair or replace furniture and equipment.

I was to finalise the grants application form and make proposals for how the repairs could be carried out and supervised; visit schools that had been damaged; develop an assessment instrument to be used in assessing the rehabilitation needs of schools in Guadalcanal and write a report on the status of the civil works carried out under the 3rd Education Project as an input to the Implementation Completion Report.  For details of all of these activities see my report of February 2001Photos of the CHSs that I visited in the Honiara area can be seen here.

In the meantime the civil unrest continued.  Although a peace agreement was signed by most parties to the unrest in February 2001, some activists in Guadalcanal refused to sign and the conflict continued for another two years mainly on the weather coast of Guadalcanal.

The prevailing atmosphere of lawlessness, widespread extortion and ineffective police action prompted a formal request by the Government for outside help and with the country bankrupt and the capital in chaos, the request was unanimously supported in Parliament.  In July 2003 Australian and Pacific Island police and troops arrived under the auspices of the Australian-led ‘Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands’ (RAMSI) and a sizeable international security contingent of 2,200 police and troops, led by Australia and New Zealand, and with representatives from about 20 other Pacific nations, began arriving the next month under ‘Operation Helpem Fren’.  In effect, government of the country was taken over by Australia.

Given the ongoing civil unrest, the World Bank decided not to go ahead with the 4th Education Project and all of the preparatory work that had taken place was wasted and communities that desperately needed schools for their children were left unsupported.

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