Better education will tackle social issues in PNG
Deported! The mysterious story of PNG & Dr Schram

Education in PNG: horror-child of Australian left ideology


AUSTRALIA'S CARDINAL MISTAKE in Papua New Guinea was to allow a Westminster-modelled, party-based system of political representation to arise in a profoundly tribal, profoundly egalitarian, landowning, subsistence society.

It proved to be a white elephant which would never pull a cart or lift a log.

This unguided policy-free stance, allowing party-based politics to rise, provided for the empowerment of today's selfish and cynical hegemonic elite in all its mishmash of conflict-beset coalitions.

This oversight was compounded by another factor. The great grey elephant was the lack of a well-educated, disciplined and idealistic elite of a size sufficient to have a deep impact upon the unworldly and unsophisticated emerging society.

Formal western schooling came late to PNG. As the government system of education grew from almost nothing in the late forties to the foundation of UPNG and Unitech less than two decades later, the Aussie political leadership quietly decided that "black mastas" should never arise, and so mediocrity and "lefty-luvvy-ideology" became the guiding theme in educational and social development.

To hell with an informed, ethical, history-and-economics-savvy leadership during the most important decades of PNG's hasty transformation from tribal horde to nation state. The principle of excellence was not permitted in a society traditionally free of the ills of a class-system just as the pursuit ofexcellence was anathema to all dinky-di Aussies.

As with most colonial powers, Australia exhibited a supine even welcoming attitude to the flood of lefty political correctness which swirled like an Alpine fog behind UN visiting missions in the sixties and thereafter.

Any pretence to excellence of outcome in education was sacrificed to the sibilant susurrations of fluttering left wings.

It is no accident that names like Kidu, Rarua, Taureka, Siaguru, Namaliu, Nombri, Ainui and others all bring memories of balanced, urbane, highly-educated, personable and effective professionals; people of dignity and purpose. People who served the nation with distinction and honesty.

But it was not even a generation. Because of Aussie policy it was just a flash in the pan. So what happened to replace this cadre of leaders?

The output of a largely undistinguished caste of ideology-driven foreign educationists foisted upon a naive PNG in the formative years of tertiary education was unable to provide a supply of focussed, disciplined, ethical leaders in the same model.

Within its enclosed, self-protective academic community, this pod of politically correct pedagogues live on today, largely invisible and perennially unable to put the stamp of quality upon its product.

In this way, by closing the gate to a purposely socially-engineered class of properly educated, open-minded and pragmatic non-tribal Melanesian leaders, Australia closed off the only avenue whereby young people might see and aim for ethical, socially-positive and creative careers in politics and administration.

Social engineering didn't go away. It was put into reverse. And look at the result.


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Bernard Yegiora

Thanks Ed.

I like John's opening paragraph.

Australia had no choice but to establish a Western style democratic system. This made it easy for Australia to exert its influence ever since.

Ed Brumby

I don’t get it, John:

Were not Messrs Siaguru, Namaliu, Nombri, Ainui (and the likes of Bart Philemon) graduates of the very education system you have chosen to vilify?

Are you seriously suggesting that the likes of John Gunther, Elton Brash, John Lynch and their UPNG and Hitech vice-chancellor colleagues were an ’undistinguished caste of ideology-driven foreign educationists’?

Is it at all possible that Les Johnson, Ken McKinnon and Vin McNamara were uninformed, unethical and lacked ‘history-and-economics-savvy leadership’ and yet managed to craft an effective, innovative and professional national education system (from the bare bones of its precedent institutions) in less than two generations?

And how dare you suggest that those of us who worked at the education coalface throughout PNG were motivated not by expectations of excellence but by the mediocrity of “left-luvvy-ideology”.

Idealists we may have been. Ideologues, in the sense that you have described, never.

In any case, one has only to read the contributions to this site from the likes of Martyn Namorong, Joe Wasia, Michael Dom, Leonard Fong Roka, Bernard Yegiora (and many others) to confirm the efficacy of the education (regime(s)) they have experienced.

Constructive critique (and reflection) is a necessary condition for productive intellectual engagement and development. So too are balance and acknowledgement of credit where it is due – as in the case of those mentioned above.

Michael Dom

Arthur, I noted your comment regarding over 30,000 years of independence. Surely, this cannot be termed 'independence' in the ideology of statehood?

The people were segregated, undefined as a cohesive, functional social entity, without recognition of our inherent worth as a united people, with shared values and a future directive. State was unrecognised. Government was non-existent.

Now all the legal instruments are in place. But the pessimist in me smirks, things haven't changed that much have they?

"Beyond the measure of these shackled halls
Our hearts and minds must leap from prison walls."

Arthur Williams / Lavongai and Cardiff

John Fowke's right-wing harangue casting opprobrium on all things left was quite a diatribe that presupposes that Australia was/is naturally right.

Wondered at his unexplained 'lefty-luvvy-ideology' or lLefty political correctness' but he deserves a literary raspberry for his alliterative contrivance of 'sibilant susurrations of fluttering left' wings. Thought susu-rrations was some sort of baby powder. Surely he can't be a Pom – kos ain't heard no Ozzie use such Latin lingo.

Was good to see him apologise to Joe Wasia and, having once been a lowly Council Adviser myself, and, many years later a Councillor after Micah's reforms, I liked his ideas on making LLGs more integrated into the mainstream political scene.

In my time in New Ireland I can say that most islanders were in favour of getting Independence in 1975 and indeed my wife's people had tried hard to get it in the early 60s but were cruelly treated for that desire.

Far from the early days of independence being the best years, our leader and MP Walla Gukguk sadly gave up on Waigani with a revealing comment to me, 'Planti MP oli korupt'. That was in 1980.

And, in light of the posts on education, he also once said, 'Kalabus igat plantu savi man istap'.

What is needed is honesty in all aspects of one's life even at grassroots or village level right upto the highest office holder in the land. Do they teach honesty in schools?

Some thought provoking articles in Attitude and it seems readership numbers are increasing.

One little snippet that often niggles me in discussions is the idea that Independence was given to PNG in 1975. Even PNG born writers allow this fallacy to continue. PNG was independent for more than 30,000 years before strangers showed up on its shores.

Trevor Freestone

None of the students at Watabung in the Eastern Highlands had completed their high school education by 1975.

Therefore the people of Watabung had no one who could responsibly contribute to the debate about independence. This would have been the case in many areas.

I was surprised at the time for the patrol officers were developing local government and guiding the councillors on ways to govern.

We all expected this very successful program to then be extended to regional and national systems.

By selecting out-standing experienced councillors to accept roles in regional and national roles a better system could have been developed. This system was thrown out with some of the other systems that were working so well.

But now Papua New Guinea has the well educated people who have both a university degree and experience to take on the challenge of governing PNG in a manner that benefits all.

The past has gone, mistakes were made but now its time to develop PNG in its own way by the honest Papua New Guineans who have the education and ability to achieve great things. You have my blessings.

Joe Wasia

It's true that PNG was not ready at the time when it was offered the independence. Most of you are right. Yes, we failed in that.

So what shall we do now? Blaming the founding fathers? Aussies?

I think we should do something now. Every Papua New Guinean readers and contributors of PNG Attitude must start developing and educating youngsters in your own community. Read more in my article.

Government, NGOs and business etc may help educate and develop the young generation for better PNG in the next 30 years.

Let's not cry over spill milk. Do something now to save the future of our nation.

John Fowke

Vince Mycoe, you obviously have really firm grip. Be careful of warts.

And its "they're," not "their...."

Paul Oates

John, I have the feeling you've just reopened Pandora's box. Was PNG ready for full independence and what is today's view on those in PNG and Australia who had responsibility for the decision at the time?

Even using hindsight to dissect and analyse the decision it might still depend on your perspective.

Decision making based on ideology should always be subject to equivocation. The trouble was that at the time, there were no means whereby the vast majority of PNG people were in anyway fully prepared or consulted.

The ‘Political Education’ content of our patrols were just beginning to create an awareness when the decision was rushed through.

Those I met in rural PNG consistently spoke of delaying the inevitable until they felt they were ready. Clearly that was not the view of those few in PNG who thought they personally were ready to take control.

Looking forward however, there are now many educated and erudite young PNG people who are ready and have the ability to take their nation forward.

Perhaps in the future, people will look at the period you mention as merely a blip in the long term radar?

For those who lived through it however, it's a pity it had to happen when there were many examples around that could have been productively referred to and learnt from.

Terry Kelliher

Congratulations John for hitting a large number of nails on the head very succinctly - but as the other responder partially points out it's not all Oz's fault.

There are now large areas of PNG that have been independent for longer than the period they were administered by Australia.

Vincent Mycoe

John, as independence neared for PNG, self government was already starting to deteriorate. I remember the riots back then.

Stop blaming Oz for PNG's problems. They, PNG, wanted independence and us expats out. They said they were mature enough and ready to govern themself.

PNG got what it wanted (except for continued funding from Oz) and spoilt children don't like their pocket money allowance being reduced because their big now, so need more pocket money not less. Get a grip, John!

PNG receives about half a billion dollars annually from Australia and has been receiving similar amounts since independence in 1975 - KJ

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