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The European Commission is exploring new ways of providing education to rural under-developed areas. For example, alternative learning models are being introduced in the Salomon Isalnds with Commission funding. Education technology is currently being developed via a pilot project for rural development centres in the Solomon Islands’ nine provinces with Commission support.
The education centres in these provinces aim to provide education to some of the country’s outlying areas scattered over some 1000 islands. Developed by the Commission, New Zealand, and the Salomon Islands, this initiative is a three-year project that started in December 2004 and now has been extended to the end of 2007, with an additional budget of 1.6 million Euro worth of solar power and IT equipment. The centres are equipped with broadband internet using VSAT technology (small satellite ground stations connecting remote sites to a wide area network), allowing live lectures and other learning activities to be broadcast to all the centres simultaneously.
This technology is already impacting teacher professional development by training teachers scattered throughout the country’s provinces, a means to avoid the high cost of sending people overseas or bringing them centrally for training. Ultimately, the success and survival of the rural development centres will depend on their financially viability. The pilot project has already attracted the attention of other education providers in the area, such as the Papua New Guinea’s Open College. The prospect of alternative learning models is now high on the European education agenda and the Solomon Islands project provides as interesting model.