‘Overwhelmed’: PNG cabinet minister calls for social media regulation

PNG's secondary schools fall short on their cultural mission

Macmillan English for Papua New Guinea SchoolsKEITH JACKSON

OBSERVING that many of Papua New Guinea’s cultures, customs and traditions are disappearing, Jane Pumai Awi and Rose Bolgy - both senior lecturers at the University of Goroka - decided to look into the matter of how this trend might be reversed or slowed down.

Taking as their starting point the notion that  one way to preserve PNG's traditional cultures was through teaching literature in schools, they decided to undertake research to ascertain the extent to which the teaching of literature in secondary schools promotes PNG traditions and customs.

Their research found that, while teachers are willing to teach literature to promote culture, they are severely handicapped by the lack of relevant materials.

The two researchers also found that many teachers could not differentiate between different types of literary genres. For example, they did not know the difference between a short story and a novel.

Poetry. The research discovered that teachers in secondary schools do want to use poetry to promote PNG cultures and customs, and many of them do this already. But they are hindered by the lack of relevant materials. Teachers say they feel comfortable teaching poetry: 68% teach it; 32% do not.

Short Stories. Seven out of 10 teachers say they use short stories in their lesson to test students’ comprehension and do vocabulary exercises. The most commonly used short story texts are Moments in Melanesia, Toropo the Tenth Wife and Through Melanesian Eyes.

Drama. This wa the most unpopular of all genres. The majority of respondents did not any answer the question of whether they used it. The researchers concluded that this was indicative of the question not being understood or of teachers’ unfamiliarity with the concept of teaching drama. 

Novels. The novels used in most schools are The Crocodile, Canoes of the Dead, My Mother Calls Me Yaltep, Ten Thousand Years in a Lifetime and My Childhood in Niugini. The classroom activities flowing from this are identifying elements of novels, group discussion, book reviews, book reports and writing stories.

The researchers conclude that, while teachers want to teach literature to promote customs and cultures, they are handicapped by the unavailability of materials. There is also some confusion about how they should teach the different literary genres.

Some respondents indicated that there is a grfeat need for the relevant institutions - that is the Curriculum Division, the University of Goroka and secondary schools - to work together to develop a syllabus that stipulates the importance of teaching literature.

A valuable research report by Jane Awi and Rose Bolgy which needs to be taken seriously by the responsible politicians and institutions. 

The complete version of the report is available here -  Download Promoting PNG culture through literature teaching

Jane Awi lectures at the University of Goroka in creative arts (previously having taught literature) and has just completed PhD studies at Queensland University of Technology. She is a member of the Crocodile Prize Organising Group. Rose Bolgy has been teaching language and literature in secondary schools since 1982. Rose joined the University of Goroka in 1997 and, as a senior lecturer, teaches language, literature and linguistics. She has Masters degrees from the University of Sydney and the University of NSW and is currently pursuing a Master of Creative Writing with the University of Sydney. 


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Bernard Yegiora

Baka I like your comment.

Comparing my grandmother's village in Koge (Sinasina-Simbu Province) with my wife's village in Tapia along the Simbu-Jiwaka border, I found that young kids (2-6 years old) in my wife's village speak only the Mid-Wahgi language, while in Koge kids of about the same age converse in Tok Pisin.

The Kora dialect spoken by the Nimai tribe is slowly dying out because adults are speaking to their children in Tok Pisin rather than Tok Ples.

Interesting research and comments by other bloggers, hope the researchers took note of all the comments.

Baka Bina

Culture the science of it, can be taught but culture is inbred and cannot be taught. For a PNG culture, it is difficult to say which is the best and should be the one that is taught.

Now given the difficulties and I appreciate pidgin replacing our mother tongue, we can do nothing collectively until we collectively speak to our children in our mother tongue, something that is becoming difficult by the cosmopolitan communities in all sectors be it urban, peri urban, rural or in the bush.

Inter marriages are introducing new concepts and appreciation of cultures but recording of cultures is a responsibility that is now bestowed on all of us.

Writing a book that holds a cultural concept is difficult when an exposition on a subject say when a young girl has her first period.

I may know what happens when the young lady is 'housed' but writing descriptively to tell what happened and the little nuances for what one little act may fill a volume.

Trying to write in prose that is interesting to keep the attention of the reader is some task and to write it so that students can enjoy it and appreciate 'a culture' is something else.

That being the problem, at least we are writing. But to publish is another issue when the Education Department and the Curriculum Unit don't want to encourage local authors.

The Crocodile Prize is a catalyst to get us writing. All you local writers, start writing.

A bit of an advertisement. Watch for my two books, 'Haffies are made, they are not born' and 'Curse of the Lamisi' (self published last week with Createspace and available on Amazon and Kindle). And soon to be available 'Man of Calibre' for an insight into the Goroka culture.

Michael Dom

Perhaps taking the lead of the one truly universal language, mathematics, we can appreciate that local languages may be quite readily blended into the school curriculum.

It might even be suggested that if Pythagoras theorem and basic trigonometry can be taught to students, even at primary school, say grades 7 & 8, then why not language.

Of course we are missing the alphabetic symbols.

So why not by comparing and contrasting - words, grammar and sentence structure.

The term 'enrichment studies' comes to mind.

Regarding culturally relevant material as opposed to general humanity, there is a need to identify literature that provides PNG's unique perspectives, ancient and contemporary, as well as the uniting themes which make us just another world citizen.

We should be reminded that we can make our distinct contribution to the world despite the differences in culture.

Language and literature provides an opportunity to appreciate unity in diversity.

John Kaupa Kamasua

On "many of Papua New Guinea’s cultures, customs and traditions are disappearing", here is a problem I have observed in many villages in Simbu.

Many toddlers and young children are learning to speak and communicate with Tok Pisin before even learning their own vernacular.

Does this threaten the local dialects in Simbu with one day completely disappearing? We can end up with a situation in which the young generation will end up having a very poor command of their own tok ples.

This is frightening because with the loss will go traditional knowledge on herbs, names of certain trees, animals, birds, garden food, knowledge on food preservation and habitat conservation, and the list can get much longer here.

This should be a research problem or topic. Something needs to be done to reverse the trend.

Chris Overland

When I was taught English, it was still considered important to use texts that were deemed to be "great" in some way. Typically, the books we were obliged to read cast some light upon what it is to be human rather than culture per se.

I certainly was not aware of any conscious attempt being made to teach us about our Australian culture, perhaps because just exactly what our culture is remains the subject of debate.

It was almost invariably the case that the major set books we studied were by non-Australian authors, e.g. Geoffrey Chaucer, Albert Camus, J D Salinger, William Golding, Charles Dickens and, naturally, William Shakespeare.

Australian literature was acknowledged and read, but I think that it was regarded as being a relative side show to the main game of "high culture" as represented by, say, Shakespeare.

I must admit that it was hard for most of us to directly relate our own necessarily very short life experience to that of, say, a character in an Albert Camus novel or even to J D Salinger's memorable Holden Caulfield.

In a PNG context, it still seems to me to be important to teach literature by reference to "great" books that deal with the human experience in some way.

Of course, a complication is that English is a second language for virtually all Papua New Guineans. At least I had the advantage of reading in my own first language, even if it is a somewhat modified version of "proper" English.

In the absence of a substantial body of indigenous literature, perhaps it might be wiser to promote literature that touches upon universal themes rather than become too concerned about promoting Melanesian customs and cultures.

My guess is that this will look after itself in due course, not least because of things like the Crocodile Prize and the associated emergence of PNG writers who clearly have some important things to say that can and do shed light on PNG's many cultures.

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