A report on the Education Bill 2023 was tabled to Parliament by the Chairman of the Bills and Legislation Committee (BLC) on Tuesday 3 October.
The report is culmination of several public hearings involving key education stakeholders conducted by BLC from 31 August to 14 September. A total of 53 recommendations were compiled in the report.
The second reading of the Education Bill ensued and Members of Parliament debated on the main clauses of the Bill and the recommendations. The debate took two days; from 4-5 October and members of parliament contributed to the debate with overwhelming support of the Bill.
Minister of Education Human Resources Development Hon. Lanelle Tanangada wrapped up the debate by providing her responses to the recommendations of the Bills and Legislation Committee. She assured the House that the MEHRD would consider the recommendations particularly those that were related to policy and to address the issues and challenges expressed by the BLC.
Hon Lanelle informed Parliament that some of the issues expressed by BLC are currently being addressed by her ministry and are outlined in the National Education Action Plan (NEAP) 2022-2026.
Hon Lanelle responded to each of the key recommendations of the BLC report by clarifying and reinforcing the intent of each clause that the BLC was so critical about. For example, Hon, Lanelle reiterated the fundamental right of children to education. Hon. Lanelle explained that clause 5(a) of the Bill identifies the fundamental right of children to receive education as an object of the Act. There were concerns raised that the Bill lacked specificity and details when it comes to right of children to education.
With teachers’ concerns, Hon Lanelle explained that the MEHRD is striving to build more effective and efficient management systems that would support teachers’ wellbeing, and professional growth as teachers.
The Bill clarifies teachers’ employers, identifies the responsibilities of education providers and ensures employment decisions made by the education providers are subject to review by the Teaching Service Commission, explained Hon, Lanelle.
Hon, Lanelle added that the Regulations will provide a full scheme of minimum employment conditions including classification and salary structure and leave entitlement of teachers. She emphasised that the Ministry will introduce a new teacher salary structure that should be comparable to the public servants’ salary structure which is being reworked to develop a unified salary structure.
To achieve this, Hon Lanelle explained, the ministry needs accurate and up-to-date data to make informed decisions and time to analyse the data and respond. She appealed to school leaders and teachers to be more cooperative with her ministry in terms of data collection. There are school leaders who have not responded to the call made by MEHRD to send their basic school data under the Improvem EMIS Project.
With regard to national learning frameworks and learning resources, the Minister said her ministry, with the support of donors are about to publish 28 primary and junior secondary text books but also prioritised review of the senior secondary education learning framework, and scheme of secondary education certificates and the provision of additional learning resources. These projects are currently in progress with an online portal already established where learning resources are freely available online.
On the concern of decentralisation, the Minister said the Bill respects the provision of authority for provinces to provide education under the Provincial Government Act, Honiara City Council to provide education under the Honiara City Act, Religious communities to provide education under the Constitution. The National Government is responsible for the legislative framework for education.
In this context, Hon Lanelle stated that decentralization is about determining needs and priorities province by province (rather than from central Honiara), MEHRD improving how it administers the Act in each province and education providers taking greater responsibility, rather than relying on central MEHRD for everything.
The Bill in itself strengthens Provincial Education Boards and facilitates improvements in the roles played by education providers. It also allows for delegation of functions and powers under the legislative framework by the Permanent Secretary to the Provincial Secretary.
Under this Bill, there will be agreements between the National Government and the Provincial Government relating to the membership and procedures of Provincial Education Boards and the assistance that the Ministry provides to the province to perform its function of providing education.
On the role of the Permanent Secretary, the Minister said it is usual for the Public Service to be the regulator under the legislation it administers for its Minister and conflicts of interest are not inherent in that approach.
She said, naturally, the work is divided between the various Divisions in the Ministry with appropriate lines of responsibility and delegations. The Permanent is the responsible officer but the actual work is delegated to the relevant divisions within the ministry.
She said the Education Bill includes accountability measures for decisions of the Permanent Secretary. Teacher registration decisions are subject to review by the Teaching Service Commission. Registration decisions about schools and education providers are subject to review by a panel appointed by the Minister.
To put the record straight, Hon Lanelle explained that clause 25 allows the Government to appoint a person other than the Permanent Secretary to operate a government school on behalf of the Government should such a decision be made in the future.
On the role of the Teaching Service Commission, the Minister assures the House that the Bill ensures that the Teaching Service Commission has all the powers it needs to deal with both registration decisions and employment decisions.
Constitutional amendments or a review of the Constitutional provisions relating to the Teaching Service Commission can be undertaken at any time in the future. The Bill has been deliberately written in a way to make sure that such a review need not delay the education sector reform.
On the concerns related to compulsory education and school fees, she assured the House that the Government, through her Ministry, is committed to improving access to education by moving on from the concept of basic education to compulsory education. The regulations will provide supporting detail for compulsory education and will regulate school fees.
With the comments made about the Solomon Islands Education Board, the Minister said the nature of the new Solomon Islands Board (which is a streamlined version of the National Education Board) is suited to providing advice and not to taking an active role in a registration scheme. Administration of a registration scheme requires a significant number of public service employees with significant powers to monitor and enforce the scheme.
On the concerns raised about non-government education providers, she explained that the non-education providers should be free to organise their internal arrangements in whatever way they see fit. They can manage the operation of schools through a board of trustees and staff, a board of management or an advisory board or committee. The Bill does not and should not constrain how non-government education providers operate.
It is the legal entity that remains responsible no matter what internal arrangements are in place.
On cancellation of registration and avoidance of closure of schools, the minister said the process set out in clause 102 of the Bill to avoid closure of schools applies whether the pending closure is forced by cancellation of registration or is voluntary on the part of an education provider.
The minister clarified various other aspects of the Bill queried by the BLC.
The minister also clarified issues raised in the debate by other members.
She assured the House that Physical Education is not side-lined.
“We have physical education syllabus for primary and secondary schools,” she said.
The challenge is lack of physical education teachers and equipment at the school level.
She believes with the establishment of Solomon Island National Institute of Sport (SINIS), youths will have the love for physical education and pursue qualifications in this area.
She acknowledges Members of Parliament for contributing to the debate on the Education Bill 2023.
She said the Education Bill is an important Bill and is an improvement to the existing Education Act 1978.
“The Bill will guide the Government and Ministry and key education stakeholders to improve access to quality ece, primary and secondary education.
“It will guide the reforms that have already started to improve access to quality of education and the management of the system.
“The Bill sets a new direction and vision to develop education further in the country for the betterment of our society – boys and girls, women and men and our country’s Solomon Islands. There is no better time to consider this Education Bill 2023 than today,” Minister Lanelle said.