Enterprising or Enterprise? Sustainable rural training centre models in the Solomon Islands
This thesis assesses the educational relevance, impact and operational sustainability, of community rural training centres (RTCs) and external ‘development’ practice across the Solomon Islands over the last five years. It further legitimises RTCs as effective hubs of ‘development’ for informal livelihoods and rural community interests. The thesis adopts a post-development lens in its assessment of insights obtained from qualitative interviews with 87 participants, spanning four RTC locations and in consultation with other stakeholders. Particular attention is given to Escobar’s local models of practice (Escobar, 1995) in understanding processes of ‘development’ at the community level. It assessed the nature and purpose of RTCs for community conceptions of ‘development’ and ‘modernity’, identifying their impact in this regard. Alongside this, the thesis assessed the impact of external ‘development’ programming on the RTC model of practice, including considerations of output relevance and sustainability. Overall, a social enterprise model (Ridley-Duff & Bull, 2018) was found to be insufficient to understanding the RTC model of practice. Such a model failed to account for the varied conceptions of ‘modernity’ at the local level, and instead a more holistic model of RTC operation was proposed. This helps to expand discourses of localised practice in the context of ‘development’. Evidence from participants showed clear positive impacts of the model in supporting different stakeholders’ goals for ‘development’ at the community level. Mainstream discourses of ‘knowledge’ transfer were challenged by showing the agency and, at times, power, community actors possessed in localising new learnings into current understandings as they saw fit. While external programming played a key part in these processes, its role was as a facilitator of RTC models of practice rather than as the main driver of community ‘development’. Rather than simply replacing one set of ‘knowledge’ with another, this expands discourses of localised ‘knowledge’ to show community understandings as separate and adaptable domains of knowledge that should be supported rather than replaced. Finally, this thesis assessed the position of RTCs in wider discourses of Solomon Islands’ ‘sustainable development’, including wider outcomes and implications of this position on their ‘sustainability’, and for community education. National and global processes of ‘development’ we found to have great influence on the successes and challenges of RTCs, showing ongoing and evolving challenges to ‘informal’ livelihoods and practice. External expectations were shown to create a sustainability paradox for rural training centres (Devine, 2003), between conforming to external perceptions to support their ‘development’ or maintaining their relevance in informal settings with few options for growth. A case is therefore made to expand discourses of ‘sustainable development’ to conceive of sustainable outcomes in a more holistic way, acknowledging history and community-level intent over external economic ‘development’ pressures.