1955: things are bad, time for a plan
31 March 2008
By 1955, ASOPA and the PNG Education Department under Bill Groves were still struggling to find answers to the challenge of establishing a decent school system in the Territory: the major educational problem being the supply of qualified teachers.
The most recent analysis of documents in The Blatchford Collection [see ASOPA People Extra] shows that six Cadet Education Officers had been appointed in 1954 for the first year of a two-year course and another eight in 1955, numbers not large enough to count as even a drop in a bucket.
Groves was pushing for 25 CEO recruits in 1956 – to be spread across Bathurst, Wagga and Sydney teachers’ colleges. He also proposed that cadetship be extended from two to three years, with the third year divided between ASOPA and the Territory. This was an idea that seemed more likely to add to Groves’ problems than ameliorate them.
Groves himself was jaded, nearing retirement and growing increasingly disenchanted and uninterested with his role. He wrote to ASOPA Registrar Vic Parkinson in August 1955 that after four months leave he was about to take: “I will not personally be greatly concerned with the [posting of Cadets], since I will be approaching retirement age by then – or may perchance have moved myself off to some other sphere where I will no longer be directly concerned with the Department of Education in Papua New Guinea.”
Of the CEOs themselves, he wrote: “As I have reviewed the reports received on them, I can see that they will need a lot of in-service training and supervision after they have taken up duty here [and] that it will not be possible to regard them as fully effective as teachers and to give them much responsibility in their respective postings for at least two years after they commence”. It was far from a ringing endorsement.
In October 1955, GT Roscoe – by then acting Director of Education - told the Arbitration Court that the Department was 8,300 teachers short of the number required. The Department employed only 100 European and 200 local teachers and the wastage rate was more than 10 percent a year. Housing was poor, said Roscoe, and the Territory was a professional backwater.
In December, Territories Minister Paul Hasluck approved 26 Cadet appointments. Groves wrote to Roscoe: “We may get 20 ultimately. But by the time they’re trained we’ll have lost just as many: and in any case I’ll be just about on my way out then – so I can’t be giving much thought to them.”
Undaunted, but also under pressure from PNG Administrator Donald Cleland, Roscoe proposed a development plan that aimed for a good primary school in every village by the end of 1963, an efficient post-primary school for every area, 8-10,000 trained teachers, a good primary school for European, Asian and Mixed-race wherever there were 12 prospective pupils, at least ten secondary boarding schools, adequate facilities for technical education and a University College affiliated with the University of Queensland, to commence operations by the beginning of 1960.
In 1955 this seemed like a bold plan indeed; excessive in its optimism. By the mid 1960s, however, it was surprising how much of it had been achieved.