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Hope as 2M school textbooks come on stream


NEWS FROM PNG today will give hope to many PNG school children and their parents.

Two million practically designed and produced textbooks have been delivered to the 3,000 primary schools.

Apparently the PNG Education Department won a grant from EuropeAid to revamp the national primary school English curriculum.

While this report is obviously good news for schools, it does beg the question as to why the PNG Education Department had to apply for a grant in the first place, given the hundreds of millions of Australian dollars being given to PNG each year in overseas aid.

AusAID’s reported financial support by to pay for the education of lower primary school students is another step in the right direction but it surely doesn't end there.

Where is the holistic coordination of funding requirements for PNG education? What happens to students when their subsidised education runs out and they aren't able to continue?

What funding is available to produce and distribute textbooks for subjects other than English? Where is the maintenance program to repair and refurbish schools that are falling apart or not properly resourced?

Where is the practical support for rural teachers that aren't paid on time or provided with holiday travel arrangements?

Perhaps, as part of its multi-million dollar budget, AusAID could assist the PNG Education Minister and his department with a fully funded schools support program.

The future of PNG's young people should not depend on piecemeal and ad hoc decision making.


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arthur williams

When I revisited Lavongai’s Sub-District HQ at Taskul government station in 2007, I decided to have a look at the school attended by my grandchildren and daughter.

Firstly I had to walk along the overgrown track that had replaced the old patrol post road; mind you there haven’t been any vehicles for the 20,000 people of the island apart from those at the loggers’ temporary camps.

I first passed the rundown 1980s government building where 90% of the rooms are deserted for most of the week.
Then I walked near the preschool, which caters for Grades 1 and 2. It looked some squatter settlement hut with torn flywire and unpainted doors, window frames etc.

On I went, skirting the broken down police barracks and saw the remains of the once tidy station houses. Most had not been renovated for many years and a few were uninhabitable.

Then I saw it - Taskul Top-Up School serving Grades 3-8. I cried!

It was basically the same school I had seen when I was a kiap here in 1970. But its current condition was such a sorry reply to anyone believing that exporting a nation’s resources will lead to an improvement of the lives of its people; especially of its rural majority.

Remember that New Ireland has one of the southern hemisphere's richest gold mines; has exported many millions of logs, produces millions of litres of oil palm and is a port for copra, cocoa and the export of fish from the rich tuna grounds of the SW Pacific.

On part of the southern boundary of this educational complex remained the 1960s classroom I had once known, now housing Grades 3 and 4, but its roof leaked in heavy rain: the island has around 300 inches of annual rainfall.

Part of this building had once been a school library. There, I glanced through the broken doorway; all the louvre blades had long since been broken or stolen; the remnants of some old textbooks littered the floor along with parts of broken books and all over the floor were rain soaked loose pieces of paper. Hints of rats and cockroaches pervaded the atmosphere.

On the eastern side was a ‘modern’ (1980s) building that provided two classrooms. I shall never forget seeing the teacher’s chair. It was the sawn-off part of a tree trunk standing upright.

The dividing wall was badly attacked by white ants and other wooden fittings were unpainted. Just like the first building there were no windows only the long open spaces along both walls meaning children moving to the other side of the classroom when the rain storms break.

With all the rain Taskul receives, you’d have thought that good safe drinking water and water for hygiene would be easily stored. Alas both these buildings had no guttering apart from a few rusted and holed pieces still extant while the tank at the end received water merely from the catchment formed by the rusting top of a leaking tank.

Forming the northern aspect was the Assembly building: a travesty of description. It was merely a sago-palmed roofed limbon-floored building on short stumps. When I saw it part of the floor had a 10-15% tilt as the old stumps were rotting. There were holes too where the floor had broken or decayed.

On the western side was the ultimate in early 2000s education modernity. A good one-storey building divided into two classrooms with the store and headmaster’s room in the middle. It too had no windows to protect it from rain but at least one side had a verandah running the full length of the building.

It possessed the only tank for school use but the few staff living on the school grounds used it for their own family needs including laundry. Parallel to it was the Head Teacher’s home of no particular architectural interest but satisfactory after he managed to get someone to build him an exterior kitchen.

There was an uncompleted teacher’s house nearby while the old tiny two-room brick house across the road had been condemned for use. At one meeting called by high flying staff from town, the P & C was told: You must build four more teacher’s homes, a new assembly building and six (or was it eight) pit toilets in the five months before the next academic year. Or else!

Remember this is on the only active government station on Lavongai. The school at its nearest point to the station power supply is only perhaps 100 meters away but it has never been connected.

Mind in 2007 and 2008 the Provincial Government saw fit to allocate money for repairs and maintenance for Taskul power station but then amazingly failed to allocate any for fuel. So it wouldn’t matter if the school were joined onto the unused system.

You noted that this was a so-called ‘Top-Up School' that caters for Years 7 and 8. But I could not see any dedicated science room or any other such secondary syllabus classroom.

I think the advent of this type of school was a sop for the record books of PNG. By having children remain at school until age 14 the system gave the National Education Department kudos for improving education in the nation.

One night in my little home near the wharf, I saw my grandkids struggling with some homework in the dull glow from a single kero lamp. They were trying to write answers and sketch chemical apparatus that they had never seen nor handled.

“What’s a Bunsen burner look like, Pupu?” I managed to find a book in my collection which showed one and also told them that several other apparatus are shown in those stencils that come in those small brass coloured mathematical sets that you find in trade stores all over PNG.

This sad decline in even basic standards of education provision begs the question: Where were the educational hierarchy in all this?

Lavongai Sub-District did have its dedicated Inspector who had served some years of his appointment living in Kavieng some 20 miles across the ocean. I never met him during my recent 18 months on the island.

His house was apparently not fit for use (it was originally mine in 1970) and a large sum of money intended for several house maintenance jobs were eventually allocated to repair his. There was hope that in 2009 he would arrive.

The Pre-School Inspector did visit Taskul several times but had very little budget to assist its run-down school. In fact the same parents for the Top-Up School were ordered to build a new two room building and two teachers houses, pit toilets: “Before the next academic year. Or else!”

It was begun but never completed by the time I left in October 2008.

Thus the children are still in the rundown portion of the old community hall, we built in 1968 and where the opposite end of that old building collapsed one night.

Taskul Top-Up is representative of most of the schools on the island and indeed throughout PNG.

The teachers of the nation are expected to teach their pupils not only educational knowledge but also inspire in them an ethical feeling of citizenship, respectability for government but in such tawdry rundown ill equipped classroom when in their domestic life teachers are being treated as almost ignorant persons.

No wonder crime rates surge and children are disrespectful of their teachers, parents, government officials and police.

After all just by looking around them they believe that the government, the community and even their families appear not to be concerned about the conditions in which they are supposed to achieve a fulfilling education.

The only help I was able to provide in my brief stay was to contact the Rotary Club of Australia who were happy to tell me their local agent in Kavieng could once a quarter access old Australian-textbooks that schools could collect and transport back to their school.

I was able to inspire several head teachers to do this and at Taskul we were able to reopen the old library with a supply of these books after having obtained funds to carry out sufficient R & M to make it almost look like a library: it even had a lockable door and louvre framed windows.

Just like the rundown aid-posts, health centres and roads the failure to provide reasonable standards of buildings, equipment, housing for the nation’s teachers must be laid firmly at the source: the National Government who despite ruling the richest island nation in the South Pacific has permitted billions of kina to dribble away in a festering sore of corruption.

God forgive the leaders who have allowed this to happen and even now are seeking more billions for their greedy needs.

Walla Gukguk was MP for Kavieng Open in the late 1970s but stayed in his post for only a brief time. He resigned and later told me even that long ago, “Oli no gat seim - oli korupt!” [They are not ashamed; they are corrupt].

David Kitchnoge

Spot on Paul. It is exactly the ad hoc, uncoordinated approach to education that has failed a lot of Papua New Guineans since independence.

It's nice to have text books but availability of text books is just a small aspect of the whole education process. What about the teachers who must explain what's inside the text books to their pupils?

Where are the school inspectors who must provide that important oversight role to maintain the quality of teaching and learning? Where are the classrooms? What are the plans for a majority of the pupils who will not be able to make it to college? Where are the technical and vocational training schools for them?

I agree that a holistic approach to education in PNG is urgently required.

I said in another blog that the full value of AusAID to PNG should be split 70/30 between education and health respectively to help us address our own short sightedness in these very fundamental yet important areas of nation building.

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