The Solomon Islands is a sprawling archipelago to the north-east of the Australian continent. The country has a population just over 400,000 people and more that 70 language groups signifying its cultural diversity.
Peace Education is considered especially important for the region given the experiences with escalated social conflict that have occurred in the last decade. Violent conflict in the Solomon Islands, locally referred to as ‘the tensions’, began in 1998 when a group of militant youths from the island of Guadalcanal attacked settlements of islanders predominantly from Malaita (a neighboring island) in northwest Guadalcanal, an area bordering the capital city Honiara. Their actions were prompted by the failure of successive national government’s to address issues raised by the indigenous people of Guadalcanal. Many people were displaced in the next few years due to the growing militant behaviors. The violence escalated at the start of 2000 when a resistance group named the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF), claiming to represent the interests of the Malaitans who had been displaced, armed themselves by raiding police armories and subsequently took control of Honiara. Small arms skirmishes took place frequently between MEF and Guadalcanal militants around the city limits and other key areas on Guadalcanal and neighboring island. Reductions in armed conflict were negotiated at the Townsville peace conference in 2000, with the signing of the Townsville Peace Agreement.
As the rule of law returned and donor activity restarted the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) commissioned a Peace and Conflict related Development Analysis of Solomon Islands within this context. In partnership with the Solomon Islands National Peace Council and the Department of National Unity, Reconciliation and Peace, a UNDP team led by Dr Ken Bush interviewed over 300 people representing governments, donors, private sector, non-government organizations and community representatives such as village elders, chiefs, senior women and church leaders. Initial consultations were held with eminent people in government, NGOs, the church and the donor community. After this focus groups were created and participatory peace and conflict research techniques were completed within these groups. The focus group work was supplemented by field visits to provincial areas that were directly and indirectly affected by the conflict. The resulting report, released in 2004 has helped build an understanding of what the conflict was and was not, and it tore down widely held and potentially dangerous beliefs that the conflict was fundamentally about ethnicity.
Peace Education Curriculum
In the aftermath of five years of civil unrest in Solomon Islands, educational institutions, the National Peace Council, and NGO leaders expressed a need to build capacity in educational and community settings to teach peace building concepts and skills.
In 2004 a peace education curriculum was developed with support from UNICEF for primary and secondary schools. The secondary module was pilot tested in November 2004 and the primary module was pilot tested in February, 2005 in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Human Resource. The Peace Education module for youth and young adults entitled “Practicing Peace: Come Together, Talk Together, Work Together” aims to help young people resolve interpersonal and inter-group conflict through productive and peaceful strategies and to teach young people how they can participate in public life. AusAID and the UNICEF New Zealand National Committee are contributers to the peace education programme.
The Peace Education Module for Youth and Young Adults promotes deep and reflective thinking on issues of peace, diversity, conflict. It includes practical activities and lessons on practicing inter-personal and inter-group peace and on good governance and peace. The module contains set lessons to be implemented in secondary schools over a period of time through a range of activities like role play, discussion, small group work, opinion polls and negotiation exercises. UNICEF had been implementing the Pacific Stars Life Skills curriculum in community settings. Practicing Peace is intended to be used as the final module in this curriculum. It can also be used as a stand alone module.