BY SCOTT WAIDE
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.
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.
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?