SEATTLE — The Solomon Islands is an archipelago comprised of nearly 1,000 islands in the South Pacific Ocean with a total population of about 600,000 people. The Solomon Islands’ education system is riddled with barriers to enrollment, retention and completion at every level.
Education at the higher levels is less accessible to Solomon Islanders. Secondary education statistics show a significant decrease in the Solomon Islands’ net enrollment rates from the primary to secondary levels. From 2008 to 2012, the net enrollment rates for primary and secondary education were 87.5 and 42.6, respectively.
In 2009, the Solomon Islands ensured the right to free education for all children through the enactment of the Fee-Free Education Policy. Still, school-related fees are far beyond many families’ means, with nearly 13 percent of the population living below the poverty line.
In the Solomon Islands, education is not equally accessible to all, as female enrollment rates remain lower than male enrollment rates at all levels of education. The widest gaps are in secondary and post-secondary education. In 2012, only 38 percent of students enrolled in post-secondary education in the Solomon Islands were female. Economic, socio-cultural, institutional and health-related factors negatively influence female education in the Solomon Islands.
Cultural stereotypes identify women as being less important than men, so there is a lack of investment in female education in the Solomon Islands. Women are often discouraged from pursing education and are the first to discontinue schooling when families cannot afford to pay school fees for all of their children. One unfortunate manifestation of gender inequality in the Solomon Islands is increased violence against women. Since there is a lack of safe school transportation, girls living in rural areas are kept at home to avoid being targeted for sexual assault during their commute.
Limited school capacity is another challenge to female education in the Solomon Islands. When schools approach capacity, males are more likely to fill available slots than females. In the Solomon Islands’ education system, most children attend boarding school at the secondary level. However, secondary boarding schools have a disproportionate lack of female beds, which is a partial explanation for why the gender gap in enrollment becomes more apparent in secondary schools.
Infrastructural weaknesses, including inadequate sanitation facilities and water supplies, prevent girls from attending school during menstruation. Female students’ frequent absences due to menstruation affect their learning and their ability to graduate to the next level of education. In the Solomon Islands, high teenage pregnancy rates also hinder girls’ ability to continue their education. When girls become pregnant, they are expelled from school and have difficulty re-entering the system.
Recent increases in female enrollment and governmental efforts reflect changes in the educational possibilities for girls in the Solomon Islands. From 2007 to 2013, female enrollment in junior secondary and senior secondary education increased from 29.4 to 37.1 percent and from 15.6 to 26.1 percent, respectively.
In 2014, the Solomon Islands revised curricula to remove all content promoting traditional gender stereotypes. The government’s efforts to increase gender parity and sensitivity in education indicate that the Solomon Islands is serious about addressing the possibilities and limitations of female participation in education and the job market.
– Gabrielle Doran