Wednesday, 19 August 2009 1:03 PM

Research - Way forward for SI Tertiary Students

The debate over USP students verses SI Government lack of attention to student issues has been on-going for some time now; I would also like to contribute to the discussions.

I note that a lot of writers have mentioned the importance and need for research to inform basis for a policy to guide the; awarding of scholarships, student performance indicators and USP facilitation of student learning. As an all-in-one policy may well guide the current circumstances surrounding the termination of students and in the longer term systematically addressing students issues on a more regular basis.

The granting or awarding of scholarship in-country (Solomon's) is already guided by policy within the Ministry of Education, linked to Public Service projections on country human resources needs. This guides NTU or any donor agencies awarding of scholarships on an aggregate system. If the current system allows for "Wantok System" or favoritism we can easy adjust or review the existing system in-country. Again, an evidence based finding would be necessary to capture this and set recommendations. I am sure that Ministry (NTU) has taken note of students and public concerns around this?

Secondly, Student performance at USP (or for the matter other tertiary institutions) would need to have guidance counsel. USP (and other institutions across the Asia Pacific) already provide this service on campus, so as student can be offered extra options to meet and keep on par with performance. The question again is; are students using this option? I understand it requires payment, but I also understand it is affordable and payment is not excessive, this option however, requires student pro-activeness in pursuing this option. The Solomon Islands Student Association (SISA) has direct links to the Students Counsel Office and can easily advocate on behalf of student should individual or group of students alert them to this need or find it difficult to see counsel office or faculty personnel. I also note that this role is currently shafted to the Education Attaché.

The Solomon Islands Student Association (SISA) as seen by most students is a body that only; arranges transport to the airport, issues allowances and organizes the Solomon Islands Independence Celebrations. I would think that SISA's role would include arranging extra curriculum activities such as; basic IT use classes, essay & proposal writing, field trips in particular areas as per student course and securing student attachments to various work fields in Fiji on voluntary basis as governed by immigration requirements etc. I also understand that SISA members are students and are at a learning curve as well, hence; the recent Education attaché at the SI High Commission in Fiji can actively play this role.

I also note that the SI Ministry of Education has mentioned that the Education Attaché has been in place since February this year; this is not true, as this person has only come into office around May/June, hence, would not have played any active role in student counsel until after the exams. Exams were in June.

What is important to note; as I have asked a number of student that were on the previous and recent termination list from USP, is that their scholarships were awarded to them by NTU and not in line with their field of interest as per subjects they took up in foundation (form 7) hence, the difficulties they are currently encountering. On a mental note; we can also link poor performance based on physiological disconnect and dissatisfaction. To be precious, students find new subjects quite difficult to comprehend e.g. IT & calculus.

In addition to USP, SISA, NTU and the Education Attaché, there are a good number of Solomon Islanders working in various regional agencies in Fiji, who should also assist our students through invitation as guest speakers on the various fields they are engaged in. This could further motivate student in their various study fields to better understand and comprehend more of their course (field of study). These Solomon Islanders can also do practical one hour classes on various topics (over the weekend or semester breaks perhaps) as per availability of their duty schedules. I also note that only Solomon Islanders working in Fiji from the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) Church background have been organizing various extra curriculum activities for SDA students on occasion. This is a good example for all other Solomon Islanders working in Fiji to come together and help SISA and our students to arrange a better structured learning environment. This is part of the quote" Do for your country and not what your country can do for you". It is important to note that most, if not all, Solomon Islanders working in Fiji are exempted from tax (tax free status) both in Fiji and Solomon Islands. As such; should be inclined to assist our student at USP as part of helping our country. They should not criticize our Government if they are not playing their part?

As my discussions draws to student performance and supportive learning environments, this leads to my point on USP facilitation of student learning by lecturers. A number of student have raised dissatisfaction on how lecturers have been conducting lectures, as well as marking of exams by other students in the field, example; a third year management student marking exam of a first or second year management student. As majority of university level learning is based on class theory and the writings of various academics' on a particular subject; it would be impractical for a lecturer to allow other student to mark exams, as only the lecturer can scope the level of articulation on the writings of students in relation to understanding the subject/topics taught as per the assignment or exam questions. This situation has already proven a floor with the recent reversing of failed student on particular subjects by the appeal committee of USP to a number of students, including a good number of SI students on the current termination list, hence the reduction of student numbers from original termination list.

The Solomon Islands Government also owns USP as a member country and should be proactive in voicing student concerns and issues relating to student performance during the CROP agencies meetings.

With this scenario; I also want to stress that any research should not allow Solomon Islands students studying at USP or other institutions to conduct it, weather third year or PHD candidate, as this will be ethically incorrect, as they are part of the research sample and can result in any findings to be deemed as bias or invalid. Also USP as a case study on the influence of student learning environments, should not be included as member of the research team.

However, should student wish to learn the processes involved in the research; then consultants engaged can share research process methodology, as the research evolves; through class room participatory discussions as part of consultants' Terms of Reference (TOR).

I would encourage the Solomon Islands Government to seek the assistance of research organisations or institutions in Fiji to conduct research both in-country (Ministry of Education, NTU, USP Honiara centre, donor agencies supporting sponsorship etc) and at the various institutions our students are attending. This could be easily sort and arranged through; Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) or Pacific Islands forum Secretariat (PIF) as our Government owns both agencies as a member country.

Fiji by far holds most research institutions in the Pacific Region who are were accredited and suited for this role; SPC and PIF can easy recommend or arrange this. The Education Attaché can guide the consultants with the research (meeting arrangements & logistics) and start getting paid for his role. However, research should be independent of any influence.

SIG should act now!


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this letter/article are those of Jonas Harewato and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solomon Times Online.

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