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Reading culture is declining in PNG educational institutions

Nothing like a good bookJIMMY AWAGL

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

FAR from scaling new heights, the culture of reading – especially among students at learning institutions in Papua New Guinea - is declining. Why is that so?

In traditional Melanesian society, of course, we’d never heard of books. All we knew was our oral history, passed on from one generation to another – which is still the case today.

Only through the introduction of modern education did we come to know about books and their importance in learning and in transmitting culture.

And we responded to books with enthusiasm – but nowadays, at primary and secondary level, this newly-acquired reading culture is dying out.

There are four reasons. Firstly, teachers are not doing enough to promote reading and talking about books and other literature. Most teachers are text book or resource book-oriented, literature is another country, and they impart this attitude to their students.

Second, there are not enough reading and comprehension tasks assigned to students so they can practice language and literature skills and so they can be assessed.

Third, many schools and institutions do not have library so they are not buying books and storing them for students to read. A classic example is Simbu Teacher’s College; it hasn’t got a library.

Fourth, those schools that do have libraries are equipped with outdated books. This hinders learning because students can’t research and read confident that their knowledge is up to date.

Most primary and secondary school students in PNG do not read lengthy text books or novels. They are issued with handouts copied from foreign books.  They seem to love receiving these short passages and store them in manila folders after every lesson. But they seem not to read them in their own time.

Most language and literature teachers teach syntax and the technical skills of reading and writing but without involving students in much by way of reading.

Some schools are reluctant to buy books written by Papua New Guineans for their students to read. Their institutions don’t stock books written by local authors that have the authenticity to captivate readers’ interest.

So most learners turn a blind eye on books and substitute them with mobile phones. The short and condensed text messages seem to suit better.

As well as Facebook, playing games, web surfing and a bit of pornography.

Then there are the laptop owners with plenty of opportunity to surf for entertainment, to download music, burn audio and visual CDs.

Many parents encourage their kids to watch movies and television at an early age rather than reading a book.

As a result of all this, many students are very poor in vocabulary and grammar and consequently fail in their studies.

There’s a long way to go to build a reading and literary culture in Papua New Guinea.


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Jimmy Awagl

Johnny, its great to see that the same scenario happens in New Zealand.

John, Some of the schools in PNG and Simbu they do not have reading books. The head teachers a bit reluctant to purchases new books for students to read.

They believe that books cost a lot more than A4 paper and Toner to duplicate stories from a page for students to read.

There is need reading for we encourage students to read but where is the source?

Johnny Blades

Yeah I see it is also a problem in NZ , so don't worry you're not alone.

And I cen tell you that teh speling is going out the windo too

John Kaupa Kamasua

Jimmy, I think as a teacher you are better placed to recommend how we go about improving reading for our children and young people.

My view is to make reading fun. Some creativity and innovation are called for in connecting reading to the core areas of learning for young people in the lower grades.

You are better placed to try and address this issue.

Jimmy Awagl

Chris - Thank you so much for your comments. Your analogy of education policy makers in Australia and PNG should be a wake-up call to iron out the weak areas of improving reading in the institutions.

Chris Overland

Jimmy Awagl has highlighted a problem that is not restricted to PNG.

In Australia, the Bureau of Statistics releases a report on adult literacy every decade.

Its 2008 report concludes that about 54% of Australians have sufficient literacy and numeracy skills to function effectively within what the Bureau calls a "knowledge economy".

The remaining 46% lack such skills, with around 16% being, to all intents and purposes, illiterate and innumerate.

Given that education has been both free (or, at least, heavily subsidised) and compulsory for over a century, this is not a good result for a "developed country".

The reasons for this are complicated, but Jimmy's concern that an apparent focus on what might be called technical or academic reading, as distinct from reading what might be called "the classics" of English literature, is part of the problem.

Understanding technical writing is a markedly different discipline from, say, reading, comprehending and discussing the meaning and significance of major works of fiction or, indeed, often demanding but important non fiction works like Origin of Species, Wealth of Nations, Das Kapital and a great deal else besides.

People with low or no reading skills are effectively denied access to learning about their and others historical, cultural, philosophical, religious and scientific traditions and ideas.

This, in turn, effectively precludes them from having more than a pretty superficial understanding of their own world and the wider world as well.

Watching TV news and current affairs programs or reading newspapers and magazines is a sometimes useful and educational past time, but it cannot provide a solid basis for developing a sophisticated and nuanced understanding of the world.

In a PNG context, it is imperative for the long term wealth, health and happiness of its people that they can engage fully with the wider world's emergent "knowledge based" economy.

The capacity to read, understand, analysis and take advantage of the vast wealth of information and ideas in which we are all increasingly immersed, therefore becomes a personal and national imperative.

Jimmy Awagl is, in my judgement at least, entirely correct in pointing this out to education policy makers in PNG.

I suspect that some Australian education policy makers may need a similar wake up call.

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