Diverse Education for Diverse Economies: The relevance of Rural Training Centres in the Solomon Islands
Education is considered the cornerstone of development, essential to achieving economic and social goals. Under the powerful global education agenda, the western model of formal education has been implemented hegemonically in developing countries. This model largely prepares young people for a role in the formal economy in an urban environment, overlooking fundamental questions of purpose and relevance for local context. In the Solomon Islands, where 85% of the population reside rurally, such opportunities often do not exist or reflect local livelihoods. Rural Training Centres (RTCs) are informal vocational institutions that sit outside of the dominant education paradigm by aiming to prepare young people for local livelihoods. Through informal and vocational learning, they offer an alternative to urbanisation, supporting self derived and locally based livelihoods. Paradoxically, for this very reasons they are often disregarded at the government and donor level. From a postdevelopment perspective, this thesis considers the roles and relevance of RTCs under a wider conceptualisation of economy and knowledge than is applied in mainstream development practice. Using qualitative and ethnographical methodologies, this research investigates local understandings of RTCs as an education alternative through the voices of young people, women and the wider community. The inter-related aspects: economy, education, and development, are considered in two case study communities, Gizo and Vatu, providing a semi-urban/rural comparison. Using a Diverse Economies Framework (Gibson-Graham, 2005), this thesis reveals a more realistic picture of the myriad of activities that support local livelihoods exists. The formal economy is found to play a secondary role to informal and direct economic practices. Similarly, under a pluralistic view of education that accepts the legitimacy of traditional, cultural and indigenous knowledge, the aspirations of young people are found to be deeply rooted ‘at home’. Yet, this research argues that they do not conform to a simplistic modern-traditional dichotomy. Rather they reflect cultural hybridity, a third space ‘in between’ where different knowledges are transformed and negotiated. Despite criticisms, RTCs were positively viewed at a community level. They were considered to fill a vital gap left by the formal education system, support local livelihoods and help stem the flow of urban migration. They also offer an opportunity to support women in existing gender roles, as well as expand existing cultural educational boundaries. However, RTCs are facing pressure to standardise and formalise in order to attract greater government and donor funding. This reflects wider tensions in development policy and practice that favour the universal and the global over the local, and brings to light the inherent power disparity in the aid relationship.