MLE pilot project planned for Solomon Islands

SITAG Director Jan Gossner and Dr. Fred Isom Rohorua sign an agreement for cooperation on the pilot program for multilingual education in the Arosi and Sa’a communities.

(May 2013) Thanks to a new multilingual education pilot program, the next group of prep class (kindergarten) students in two language communities of the Solomon Islands will learn to read and write in their own languages when they begin school next year. The pilot program being developed is sponsored by the Solomon Islands Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development (MEHRD) with funding from UNICEF.

The pilot program is scheduled for implementation in eight designated schools in the Arosi and Sa’a language communities during the 2014 school year (four schools in each community). Although there are more than seventy languages spoken in the Solomon Islands, education policy and practice up to this point has required English to be the language of instruction. It is hoped that this pilot program will lead to the development of multilingual education programs around the country.

MEHRD has asked SIL International (operating in the Solomon Islands as Solomon Islands Translation Advisory Group [SITAG]) to provide technical assistance in the development of this strategic program. The two organizations recently signed an agreement to formalize the cooperation. Dr. Fred Isom Rohorua, Permanent Secretary of the MEHRD, signed the agreement on behalf of the ministry. Dr. Rohorua, a speaker of the Ulawa language, commented, "This is a wonderful program with great potential to impact the whole Solomon Islands. My only complaint about the program is that it's not in my language yet."

group photo of people involved in MLE pilotThe National Coordinator for the project is Marion Luihenue, a Ministry of Education officer and a skilled teacher who is from the Sa’a area. Two local coordinators have been hired to supervise the Arosi and Sa’a programs. Arosi program supervisor Margaret Saumore is a 2001 graduate of the SIL STEP Course (Strengthening Tokples Education in Papua New Guinea). She has been involved in literacy and community development work with World Vision, AusAID’s Community Sector Programme and Save the Children. Sa’a program coordinator Codrington Ngaingeri is a former school teacher with past experience in a similar program.

A Technical Working Group comprised of representatives from the government and various other literacy and education stakeholders will provide oversight for the pilot project. SIL linguist Karen Ashley is a member of the group and will provide linguistic support. SIL literacy and education consultant Timothy Matzke is working closely with the MEHRD in overall planning, materials development and teacher training in the Arosi and Sa’a languages.

Rex Horoi, former ambassador for the Solomon Islands to the United Nations, the USA and Canada, is an Arosi speaker who holds a Masters degree in applied linguistics. Commenting on the value of the pilot program, Horoi said:

The fascinating thing about being literate in your mother tongue is that it gives you [a connection with] the world around you—the people, art and music, the flowers and plants, insects, birds and the environment in general. There is a direct connection between your language and your world. You can write and read in your mother tongue with pride and appreciation. Literacy in one’s mother tongue is an expression of identity, culture, heritage and a sense of belonging which often is taken for granted. For me, being able to read and write in Arosi gives me a sense of pride and uniqueness, identifying me as different but sharing, learning and enjoying the freedom of our diverse nation, the Solomon Islands.

In cooperation with the Solomon Islands Christian Association (SICA), SIL has been involved in research and language developments with Solomon Islands communities since 1978.

In group photo above (left to right): Benedict Esibaea, Director of Primary Education; Richard Hellyer, MEHRD Education Advisor; Jan Gossner, SITAG Director; Dr. Fred Isom Rohorua, Permanent Secretary of MEHRD; Kang Yun Jong of UNICEF; Marion Luihenue, National Coordinator of the MLE pilot program

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