Sunday, July 25, 2010

School Matters

Quality education is one of the greatest needs in the Solomons. Decaying classrooms, a surging population of children and far too few trained teachers create an almost desperate situation in most places in the country.

Uhh village takes education very seriously and in the past few years they have built a high school and expanded the primary school. The classroom above from the expanded primary school is considered to be of a very high standard in the Solomons. Even with all this support and development, the classrooms are overcrowded. The students sit on the floor; the desk in corner is for the teacher. The lists of sounds and words you can see on the wall are the chief means of instruction. There are very few books in any school. Younger students learn by rote repetition. Older students copy their lessons into small notebooks. Chalk, when it is available, is the most advanced teaching technology.

Even more serious is the lack of teacher preparation. There is no university in the country. The Solomon Islands College of Higher Education (SICHE) offers a two-year certification program for teachers, but the college suffers from the same lack of resources as the village schools. The "trained" teachers are not nearly enough to staff the schools, so the government pays hundreds of "untrained" teachers, basically young men and women who have just finished high school and are willing to stand in front of a classroom, sometimes only for the salary.

Despite these enormous obstacles, many teachers and parents are committed to improving education. Dedicated and creative teachers display enormous ingenuity in creating the resources they lack. Parents are looking to the Church to take leadership in education, and, like the people of Uhu, are using their own resources to build and develop schools. Everywhere there are bright young people eager to learn, if only there were teachers to bring them the knowledge they crave. The future of the Solomon Islands depends on these children, but their schools and government are failing them in so many ways.

Some of the schoolboys of Uhu in their classroom.

There are some signs of hope. Thanks to the initiative of Bishop Chris and the support of so many of you, our MAST program has brought encouragement and development to some these struggling teachers. A clearer sense of the mission of Catholic education is growing throughout the Solomons, with both teachers and parents recognizing their responsibility for the quality of education in their villages.

Please pray for these efforts, but, more importantly, pray for all those children.

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