Tired of poor governance, people yearn for a new dawn
Shadow Millionaire

Free education, cargo cults & the handout mentality


An entry in The Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for the day, teach him how to fish and you feed him for a life time” - common Chinese proverb

OUR commentary cannot be expressed any better than in the Chinese proverb. And it directs us to the Papua New Guinea government’s current policy of ‘free-education’.

This policy is cultivating a cargo cult and a free handout mentality that will have adverse implications in many respects.

The media has been frantic about the policy, likewise the masses who threw in arguments for and against it.

In the lay understanding, ‘free-education’ is going to school without paying for it. How absurd this is.

A front page of The National newspaper told us that the ‘PM reveals major changes in education’.

The story said that the government was introducing sweeping changes for the education sector: the controversial outcome-based education approach would be scrapped; the government would pay tuition fees for students from elementary to Grade 10 (that’s the ‘free education’); the government would subsidise 75% of fees for Grades 11-12; and K350 million would be paid into a special trust held by the Education Department for distribution to all schools

The then Minister for Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology in a media release then clarified that ‘free education’ was not free but ‘subsidised.

But my argument is that the terminology ‘free education’ is disseminating a wrong signal to the masses.

A ‘free handout’ mentality riddled parts of this land during the cargo cult activity that broke out during and after World War II. It seems this was due to the people observing the Japanese and American combatants bringing in large amounts of material.

In an attempt to attract further deliveries of goods, the cultists engaged in ritualistic practices such as building crude imitation airstrips, aircraft (see photograph) and radio equipment, and mimicking the behaviour they had observed of the military personnel who operated them.

This attitude has kind of transposed to our population today: the false belief that politics, through a figurehead, will shower upon the people goods and services. We will eat, drink and make merry.

Politics in PNG is greatly influenced by this madness. And I cannot see any drastic change to it in the foreseeable future.

A reasonable person knows that nothing in this world is free except air and sunshine. Apart from that one has to sweat one’s guts out to gain something.

Laziness and an inability or reluctance to save are already creeping into the population. With the burden to raise money for school fees having now been taken away, why save?

Free education could be the sounding of the trumpet that the saviour has come. All souls should now rejoice that our burden have been lifted and we should proclaim PNG Eden reincarnated.

But the public must be careful and not be so-moved as it is too early to count our chooks before they hatch.

The late Bill Skate was termed ‘The Grassroots Prime Minister’. Where did the country go to under his tenure? Being advised by a contract advisor with connections to the Mafia raised controversy.

Now we have another PNC man who is ‘The hope of the hopeless’. Only God judges and I leave the comparisons and the contrasts to your inquisitive minds.

Here we have a scenario where the previous government was seen to be misleading and not doing things in the best interests of the people it represented. 

Then came the current government as a ‘Mr Fix It’ to dismiss things done by the previous government and put on the helmet of crisis management. I feel I am on a merry-go-round.

Free education policy is ambiguous and simply putting the cart before the horse.

With no blueprint in place there is no confidence that this ‘free education’ this policy can achieve the desired results.

The concept may be good but there has to be a master plan about where to start and where to finish. There has to be a head and a tail.

Concentrating on increasing enrolments is one factor. How can students be imparted with quality education when infrastructure is sub-standard, teachers are half-baked and the system is too bureaucratic.

Next the huge early enrolments will be bottle-necked trying to into tertiary institutions, consumed with high fees and limited places. Then we will see a huge number of drop outs on the streets.

Before free education, the system itself must be overhauled.

How long are we to witness adversities like the bungling of teachers’ air tickets, resumption notices reaching education offices late and ‘without pay’ periods?

Without a proper blueprint the whole policy is piecemeal.

Please don’t send us back to the 1946 model of cargo cult and the free handout mentality era.


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