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So what is the story that I should tell?

BY SCOTT WAIDE

Class's Out! 

TUCKED AWAY behind the Nobnob mountains on Madang’s north coast is a small school – Nobnob Primary School.

Its students are the liveliest bunch of youngsters. Keen to learn and well behaved. Even when the teacher’s not there.

But like many schools in PNG, the fibro classrooms show the wear and tear of the generations of kids who have passed through.

Kids & Dictionary I was visiting the school to find a good vantage point where I could take some still photographs with Madang town in the far distance. Walking into a classroom, I met a teacher and asked if it was all right if I took a few pictures of the school and the children.

Nobnob Primary doesn’t have the luxury of brand new classrooms but it does have a well maintained playing field and a tiny library. I guess, that’s what’s really important to kids – being able to play and enjoy growing up and being able to learn.

Then you think to yourself: How many of our political leaders would choose to send their children to schools like Nobnob? I can’t answer that for you.

Some of the children, wide-eyed and curious, clutching worn copies of Oxford dictionaries, stared as I shot off a few stills. I wanted to tell a story. But what story?

I’ve seen the ‘run-down school’ story repeated a hundred times. So what new story was I going to tell?

A story about children not achieving their dreams because government subsidies aren’t paid on time? A story about demoralised teachers struggling with pay and living conditions as the cost of goods continues to rise? A story about teachers trying to decide whether they should have salaries deposited into a bank account, only to have ridiculous fees charged?

My university lecturers would have said, ‘Give the story a human face, Scott’.

Make people see that it’s not just about statistics on flashy Powerpoint presentations. The kind that aid donors and government officials love to play with in air conditioned conference rooms in Port Moresby.

Classroom Yes, but what story? Two other teachers I spoke to said Nobnob Primary is supposed to get 20,000 kina every quarter in school subsidies. But it’s not news anymore that the money doesn’t arrive on time or that, frequently, it doesn’t arrive at all.

It’s not shocking anymore that the kids don’t get the support they need to achieve their dreams.

It doesn’t bother people that maybe the kid in the picture won’t become a doctor because next year he’ll have to stay home because dad’s busy raising money to send his older brother to high school.

What story should I tell? This has become a repetition of stories with human faces. Faces we live with every day and ignore. But then, Nobnob may be fortunate to have teachers and classrooms and a road leading to Madang town.

What about the school in Fiak? I bet you never heard of this tiny school in a corner of Sandaun Province. It is an insignificant statistic in the air conditioned conference rooms of Port Moresby.

It’s a school that’s had chronic teacher shortages for a decade. Teachers don’t want to go there anymore, because the planes don’t fly there anymore.

So what story should I tell?

Comments

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M Kila

Scott - Tell the story to the Madang people of the likely damage to the Magadus Square by Ramu NiCo and Nautilus Minerals by mining and DSTP.

Ramu River is a major nursery for yellow fin tuna. It will be destroyed by pollution from the cluster of Chinese mines. This will kill the estuarine food chain so important for young tuna.

Please tell students at Divine Word University and the villages. Tell the committee that we read of in the report from "The National". They are to go around and tell the lies from the Chinese. That is the story you should tell.

The report on the village committee preaching for Ramu NiCo is below:

http://asopa.typepad.com/asopa_people/2010/10/ramu-nico-accused-of-threatening-landholders.html?

M Kila

Scott - If you are able, please support the primary schools across the nation. Write of politicians helping with discretionary funds.

Tell of a lack of resources for Universal Basic Education. Tell of unhappy teachers not willing to work in small villages in the rural areas.

Tell of worried parents having to send their young sons and daughters to live in villages near primary schools.

Alex Harris

Gina - While you still can.

Scott - Sad story beautifully told. I think you have captured the problem succinctly.

Kisere

Tell the story as it is, Scott. Thank you again for another great story. But what can we do?

2011 academic year is just around the corner.

Is anyone listening?

Trevor Freestone.

I'm thinking of writing a song. It goes something like this: "Somare why do you enjoy the horror / Of destroying Papua New Guinea's tomorrow?"

Teacher's living conditions in many areas are well below the poverty standard, as are those of the police, medical orderlies and other rural public servants. When will Australia wake up and start making their aid money work?

Papuan and New Guinean voters must be more careful who they vote for next election. Don't vote for the loser who gives you a cigarette or beer.

Vote for someone who you know will make an effort to bring the country back from disaster. But who am I to talk; after all you are smarter than me.

Don't get me wrong. I am not critising Papuan New Guinean voters. I'm just trying to point out that in Australia, too, we vote for politicians who make ridiculous promises. When will we learn?

Concerned Citizen

What an insight into our rural PNG schools. Thanks Scott. I hope the PM and his 108 members all have time to read this site as often as possible.

And ask themselves if they'd want to enrol their children or grandchildren in such schools missing out on vital necessities.

Where is PNG's future heading to tomorrow if our rural schools are not equipped with vital resources.

Most of these members today have come out from a rural school. They should start doing something.

David Kitchnoge

Thanks for the insights, Scott and M Kila. Although closely related, I think there are two distinct parts to the story.

1) Complete collapse of the core educational infrastructure and other enabling assets such as roads, bridges, airstrips etc. Add to that the breeding of a negative environment for teaching and learning with underpaid and overworked teachers, shortage in the supply of teaching aids, the use of school grounds to stage tribal fights etc

2) The curriculum content. Old curriculum vs OBE.

So which story do we want to tell first and which is more urgent to fix? Or have we now gotten ourselves into the chicken and egg situation?

M Kila

Scott - There is more to OBE than meets the eye. The weakness in the system is the lack of funding and resources.

Schools are disgracefully maintained. Only a few politicians give to schools in their electorates from their discretionary funds.

Books are only just starting to come. There is a realisation that children must be taught well and motivated from elementary school.

Poorly taught students cannot work independently when they have never read books.

Scott Waide

M Kila raises a good point.

A few years ago, the Australian government released a report about OBE in Australia and how it was being discontinued in a few states.

Armed with that information, I pursued the story hoping to get a response from the Teaching Services Commission, the Education Secretary and the teachers themselves.

I found teachers, who were tasked with the implementation of OBE, expressing concerns about it but too afraid to speak out. I didn't get any response at all from the TSC and the Education Department despite two months of pushing.

And we wonder why The Enga Governor is spending so much trying to get foreign teachers into his provincial schools and why he desperately wants to replace the current education system.

David Kitchnoge

Thanks Scott. We have lost a full generation of Papua New Guineans to ignorance and we can safely kiss the LNG boom, mining boom, this boom and that boom goodbye.

There is no point in me giving the best education to my daughter here in Moresby because she will only be one of only a handful when she grows up.

What's the point in educating my beautiful daughter when the rest of her brothers and sisters will be a lost lot and will be unfairly venting their anger on her when she grows up?

What's the point in me working my arse off and paying my taxes faithfully when I won't have the tomorrow of my dreams to retire to?

What's the point in retiring to a lost backyard full of ignorant and angry young people ready to vent their anger on anyone and everyone?

Barbara Short

Paul - I think Sir Pita Lus might have said, "What do trees have to do with schools?" ... but that's another story. Sir Michael Somare should understand, if he ever has the time to read PNG Attitude.

As I drive around Sydney these days I see all the Primary Schools getting lovely new halls etc as part of Frau Gillard's stimulus package.

I'm thinking, maybe Somare should come down and have a look. He might be inspired to do something similar for the schools of PNG!

M Kila

Scott - You seem to have opened this discussion without awareness of the problems of primary schools.

Please go through the blog on Outcome Based Education below and take in the general problems of education:

http://asopa.typepad.com/asopa_people/2010/09/corney-steps-up-pressure-in-schools-debate.html?cid=6a00d83454f2ec69e20133f437a6c4970b

Then go back to the school to see reading, writing, problems of Grades 7 and 8, difficulties of girls who have to stay in local village accommodation, lack of resources, training of teachers and teachers closing the school to go to collect
pay every month.

Then you will have stories to tell. Interview a pregnant Grade 7 girl. Interview parents who send their children away to school and worry about their safety.

Gina Samar

Thanks Scott - Never mind political leaders, I wouldn't send my son to school there!

Indeed!! What story(ies) will we tell our children?

"That I never vote, politics is full of rubbish anyway".

"My name wasn't on the common roll and I never voted therefore my 1 vote did not count towards Mr Parkop being re-elected or "Mr/Ms ?" replacing Sir Michael Somare as the governor of ESP."

"That I voted for "so and so" because he is my uncle or he gave me some food/money when I was down and out".

I am not sure what other people are doing but I hope they are educating their family, friends, colleagues and neighbours about the importance of voting.

We voted them in and this is what they are doing as our representatives in the parliament. We only have ourselves to blame.

I wonder who the parents of those Nobnob students voted for and why?

We are blest to be free and have choices, I think it is our responsibility to use this freedom and these choices well.

Meri PNG

Didn't the PM, AG and several other 'big men' attend Kerevat National High school?

Surely with all the money swimming around due to all the mines and other resources that we've been digging up and selling we could really have better school facilities and resources and free education!

Paul Oates

We're here Barbara. We just don't have an easy answer. Looking at the symptomatic health of each individual tree only distracts from looking at the overall health of the forest.

The health of each tree is dependent on the overall health of the forest they belong to. The guardians of the forest have long since been suborned by those who have no other interest than in short term personal gain at someone else's expense.

PNG needs a new forestry service in more ways than one.

You can't build an efficient organisation from the bottom up. Efficiency, by its very nature must start from the top and work its way down.

The essence of the problem is a generic malaise that has apparently crept in to the PNG kunai roots. Until there is a viable alternative to champion, what use is there in taking an active interest? The way its going, pretty soon there may not be any alternative.

Barbara Short

Scott - Thank you for your story. I think it sums up a lot about PNG schools today.

I hear that Keravat National High School may close next year. The school buildings have not been maintained.

The wood in the buildings has rotted. All the old classrooms, many built in 1965, may be bulldozed! The teacher's houses are in a bad way.

The men from Public Works, who used to work hard at maintaining the government buildings, would be heartbroken.

Then there are the teachers, often demoralised, almost at the point of giving up. No work parades, no regular cleaning, no louvres in dormitory windows, no regular sport, no night study, often no water, etc... That is another long story.

Hello, out there!

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