Yo ho ho & a book – full speed ahead; damn the critics
A Papuan answer to the Bougainvillean

Tough issues for PNG education still unresolved


School in Morobe ProvinceRECENT REPORTS THAT STUDENTS in some areas of Papua New Guinea are crossing into Indonesia for lessons provided a stark reminder of the challenges the PNG government faces in its bid to improve the education system.

Reforming PNG’s education sector is proving to be far from straightforward, with a controversial and heavily criticised teaching curriculum introduced in 2007 now set to be scrapped.

In March, a former PNG defence attaché to Jakarta, Colonel Tokam Kanene, told local newspaper The National that students from South Fly, Western, had been attending a school on the Indonesian side of the border since 2005.

Kanene said that Jakarta had allowed the practice to continue even though the students lacked the necessary documentation. “The PNG government has failed to bring very basic services to its people and especially the PNG children’s right to education,” he said.

Similar criticism in 2008 prompted Sani Rambi, then acting Education Minister, and Education Secretary Joseph Pagelio to commit to implementing a system known as the outcome-based education (OBE) curriculum, which focuses on student-centred learning methods, across all community and primary schools.

The announcement provoked a critical response, with experts arguing that the student-directed approach was not suitable for a national curriculum. Critics also pointed out that Western Australia had abandoned its OBE system one year earlier after its “vague” objectives were deemed too difficult to measure.

In an article published at the time, entitled OBE is a recipe for disaster, The National called on PNG’s leaders to engineer an exit from the education system. Statistics back up suggestions that the OBE has failed to produce an improved education system in PNG.

UNESCO estimated in 2011 that “more than a third of the six-million-plus population … are unable to read and write”. In separate research, AusAID found in 2012 that the average years of schooling for adults over the age of 25 in PNG came to just 4.3. The net enrolment ratio in primary education stood at 29.3, while public expenditure on education was only 4.4% of GDP.

Prime Minister Peter O’Neill announced last August that OBE would be scrapped in early 2013 and replaced with the previously used curriculum. He also said English would take the place of Tok Pisin as the language of instruction from elementary level.

However, hopes that a replacement system would be introduced quickly were dashed in December with news that the OBE would remain in place until a year-end review, led by a government-appointed taskforce, is completed.

When making the announcement, the prime minister was also keen to highlight government spending on education, saying, “I can guarantee you that we are spending close to K2bn on the education sector in 2013.”

Arnold Kukari, a senior research fellow at PNG’s National Research Institute, told Radio Australia last October that the OBE had failed to deliver on student learning outcomes. “There is poor reading levels among all children,” he said. “There is a lack of critical understanding of subject content among our children. There is lack of teacher training, poor teacher support in terms of further learning. And a massive, massive problem with resources.”

However, while criticism of OBE has been substantial, the PNG Teachers Association urged the government to take its time before introducing a replacement system.

“A curriculum is the fabric of a country and developing it requires proper and in-depth consultations. This can’t be done overnight,” Ugwalubu Mowana, PNGTA general secretary, told EMTV.

He added that teacher training and incentives were key to a successful transition. “Teachers were not trained in OBE, they were just told to implement it,” Mowana said.

While PNG’s elementary schooling system remains caught up in difficulties, demand for higher education is still strong.

Ben Thomas, vice-chancellor of the Pacific Adventist University, said that around 14,000 students leaving high school in 2012 would be looking for university places.

“Our biggest problem is keeping our enrolment under control,” he said. “I believe tertiary institutions need to be scaling up to meet demand and maximise our ability to up-take a surging demand for university places.”


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Michael Dom

An interesting talk on education in the USA. Education is a challenge no matter what amount of resources countries have, so lack of this or that is not a good excuse.

Nathan Gabara

OBE is not that bad, the only problem is that all schools in the country don't have the required material for the students to learn.

OBE helps student to help themselves in terms of learning so why is the government wanting to do away with it?

That is what we asked for from Australia, so take it with a smile because we cannot make decisions on our own
but follow what as been set for us.

Paul Oates

The design of an appropriate education system should be predicated on the available employment opportunities school leavers will have to look forward to.

Given PNG's current 'youth bulge' and that roughly 1/3 of the country is still under high school graduation age, what possible employment can those who will be lucky enough to have completed both primary and secondary education look forward to?

Isn't it about time the community who sends their children to a school start thinking about helping potential school leavers find gainful employment? Why is it always the government that must take responsibility?

In our local rural community, Service clubs get together with the local high school and arrange for field days with local industry and businesses to explain what employment opportunities are available and what businesses are looking for as far as qualifications and personal qualities are concerned. We run mock interviews to help those who want to get a job, do their best in the application and interview process.

In PNG rural areas, there seems to be an expectation that after as much as 12 years at school, a graduate then has to return to the village and find some gainful employment. What that employment might be is anyone's guess?

No wonder there is a growing trend for the young to be recruited into criminal activities.

Rozabell Hota

Being one of those students who was in the trial for the first OBE exams, I can tell that this education system is not good in the sense that it does not give good learning skills to the students.

When OBE was first introduced the teachers with the students found it hard to cope with. It took them a long time to adapt it and get used to it.

OBE is believed to be a poor education system internationally. It was adopted by our government to be used in replacement for our own system.

OBE should be removed and the government should agree so that we could go back to our own system.

Colleen Ambrose

The government should do more for the education sector than just free education.

I appreciate that the policy is of great help to the struggling parents and the students who would be unfortunate. However it needs to do more.

It should also build more schools. Some primary and elementry students in remote areas travel very far to school. Some provinces such as Madang does not have enough high schools to cater for more Grade 8 and 10 school leavers.

In the same way our current universities can only select a handful of so many applicants. It should also improve and maintain schools infratructures, and build more so that students and teachers teach and learn well in a good and up to standard environment and facilities.

Also the more students would be able to enrol at universities. In addition it must increase the salary of teachers. PNG still lack teachers in all schools and the major reason is unsatisfactory salary.

If all of these issues is addressed than PNG will have a quality education sector and most Papua New Guineans would be educated.

Cygil Glasper

Prime Minister Peter O’Neill announced last August that OBE would be scrapped in early 2013 and replaced with the previously used curriculum. He also said English would take the place of Tok Pisin as the language of instruction from elementary level.

That's a surprise to me -- I wasn't aware that Tok Pisin was ever an official language of instruction that could be replaced by English.

And if they are returning to the "previous curriculum", how can they be simultaneously replacing Tok Pisin with English?

I'm not surprised about the removal of OBE, which was the latest educational fad concocted by overpriced consultants, but an "English only" policy seems like a recipe for disaster.

How students outside a few relatively wealthy enclaves are fluent in English? (My guess: the PNG government zero statistics on this.) How do you even get fluent in English if the system isn't even delivering basic literacy?

What precisely is the level of actual functional literacy in PNG (let me guess: the PNG government has zero statistics on this.)

PNG is the only country where children /queue/ to get into libraries, because there are so few. Where children are sometimes expected to learn to read and write without having a single damn book in the school, assuming they can afford to be in school in the first place.

No need for pedagogical fads or English only policies. A demonstrable need for books and teachers and cheaper access to both of them.

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