The independent People’s Survey which collected feedback from communities throughout the nation has revealed that the people of Solomon Islands want better education in order to aspire to a sustainable income, on social, trade and governance issues.

The results are fed into the agenda of the government and the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands, an entity formed in 2003 to help maintain peace and security in the fragile state torn apart ten years ago by warring ethnic groups.

The results of the survey also signal the direction that donors must take in getting Pacific’s poorest country back on its feet, said Christine McMurray associate professor at the Australian National University and responsible for the survey since its first edition in 2006.

McMurray told Devex that donors and aid agencies have been focusing “rightly” on health services, infrastructure and, at a certain extent, education, but the findings point to a need for more attention for providing suitable education — technical and vocational education, in particular — to ensure that the country’s over 600,000 inhabitants have lucrative employment, which will in turn, they hope, spur much-needed economic development.

Survey findings for the past two years indicate that while about 80 percent of islanders attend primary school for five years, less than half progress to secondary school and only ten percent move on to postgraduate studies taking courses which prepare them for the health service and the already-overflowing public sector. Adding to the distressing numbers, less than 20 percent are formally employed.

What donors and aid agencies must do, McMurray explained, is consult more with communities more and have a better assessment of areas where they can have the most impact by stimulating sustainable income, helping develop businesses and skills, growing employment numbers, and offering quality technical and vocational education.

“The Pacific countries as a whole are very used to getting a lot of money from donors, and they don’t like to say to donors ‘you’re wrong, we want something else,’ so they just accept what they’re given,” she said.

A decade after its civil war ended, the Solomon Islands is still nursing its wounds and aid has plateaued to about $340 million a year with Australia ($253 million), New Zealand ($23 million) and Japan ($20 million) as the top three donors.

Only four percent of the assistance goes to education, while the lion’s share is directed to other social sectors, as well as economic infrastructure and services.