Not Africa. The sleeping giant of the Pacific awakes
Was PNG’s so-called election ‘success’ just part of the Matrix?

How are we going in educating our kids? Backwards

Ilo ilo classPAUL WAUGLA WII

GOROKA - The forces of globalisation exert both good and bad influences upon Papua New Guinea’s ability to attain economic independence and social cohesion.

Our over-reliance on other countries can be both helpful and detrimental and, as free-thinking individuals, we must shun the bad and embrace the good in order to progress as a people.

One of the positive trends of globalisation is the mass mobilisation of human labour beyond people’s cultural or ethnic demarcation and Papua New Guineans educated in PNG do – and increasingly will - live and work elsewhere in the world.

This thought leads me to consider the kind of education have we provided for our young people over the last 20 years and whether we have the best education plan for this country.

Education is the framework within which each generation of people is nurtured and groomed to lead in the future.

According to many Papua New Guineans, the quality of education delivered to our children is not on par with the rest of the world. They are right. The brutal fact is that the quality of education has dropped significantly over the last 20 years.

This is doubly unfortunate. It is ill-starred for the individuals concerned and it is unlucky for PNG because we need to export skilled human labour to the global job market to bring in much-needed revenue which ultimately improves the livelihood of our citizens.

Education reform in PNG has been an issue of much controversy in the past, but it now seems to have been swept under the carpet. We go about our daily lives not really sparing a thought to what is being systematically done to the current generation of school students.

The government is the architect of education planning and we are told time and time again what the government proposes is always the best.

But how do we measure and evaluate the success rate of PNG education policy over the last 20 years? Teachers and officers within the education department are in a good position to provide concrete data but it is fair to say here that our education policy is not without its share of irregularities and failings.

It may be unpatriotic to raise my voice on the shortcomings evident in national policy but the declining trend in educational quality is appalling and it demands the attention of all of us who care to find an alternative and more successful model as a priority matter.

I want to share with you the first-hand experience of a PNG classroom teacher.

Everywhere you go in PNG, classrooms are full to the brim. For example, there are around 55-60 students in each of the classrooms at Kondom Agaundo Memorial High school where I teach.

This is a rural school located some three kilometres outside Kundiawa town. Classrooms are overcrowded because there is no control of enrolment and I know the same scenario to be true for nearly every school in PNG.

We do not have the ability in such crowded classrooms to adequately supervise individual students. So what we do is stand in front, deliver the lesson and walk out of the door when the bell rings.

Textbooks are almost non-existent in each of the departments. Those of you who went to school prior to education reform will recall that we were issued textbooks at the beginning of the school year.

But over the last five or six years, my school has not receive any new textbooks under the government’s tuition fee free policy.

So my students do not have textbooks. They come into class, sit down and listen to what the teachers tell them. They copy what teachers write on the blackboard even if it is erroneous or irrelevant. They believe it to be the truth because there’s no other source by which they can find out.

Students’ understanding of the world beyond is limited.  If you ask them to name five cities in Australia, they can’t. Moreover, the English language is too much for them to grasp. In many cases they have given up trying.

Some students cannot do simple arithmetic or write a simple sentence in English and yet they are in the classroom because that’s where the government says every child must be.

There is lack of motivation among students to excel academically because they know they will still move to the next level of schooling regardless of their capability.

In these conditions, teachers lose enthusiasm. This leads to attitude and behaviour problems with some students. We spend much time trying to control errant behaviour. And, it should be noted, teachers are educators, not law enforcers.

Teacher absenteeism is high in some schools because headmasters themselves may not be committed – getting drunk and socialising using school funds and failing to monitor their staff or the operations of the school.

Teachers are overworked and sometimes stressed to breaking point: Some teachers do not care what they deliver to students. Some times they deliberately skip a topic they are supposed to teach because nobody will find out.

If the current education policy is not working to the advantage of our children, we have to discard it.

We must come up with an alternative model that is best for Papua New Guinea.

And it is my view that we have to do this soon.


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Baka Bina

Paul, I taught for a year before leaving. I also had fond memories of going to school to read and plot my scores on the wall at the back of the classroom on how well I did with the SRA Kit whenever the teacher was not around.

I now have a grade twelve graduate student who says ‘he want to went to the saina man’s stoa up there on the road’ and I can relate to all the struggles that teachers have in school.

I have in two years been trying to reteach this young man sentences structures that I was taught in primary school. He initially started replying to me back in Tok Pisin and I bluntly told him off and then refused to talk to him unless he spoke to me in English. He has progressed and he now has a book to read all the time. He is helping himself but if he did that in school he’d be in college someplace instead of eating into my patience and still struggling at ITI where he is enrolled.

When I started to teach grade 7 English we were to share one text book with three other teachers, I found it inundating going after one teacher for that text book that he would either have it in the classroom or at his house.

In the end I gave up. I however liked the idea of the SRA kit and looked for it at the school and could not find one. I asked around and got a nope for an answer. (We are stuck to the syllabus and we teach that) and that was how? How do you teach the syllabus when there is no text book to help you determine the lessons for a particular time and week?

There is no room for innovation. The teachers are given a lot of latitude but it is only to teach the curriculum in any manner the teacher finds fit – that is the latitude they have, to go outside of the norm is a no no.

I tried to work around the system. I need to give my class something to do when I didn’t know what to teach on a particular day. I was fortunate to have made a project similar to the SRA kit - a self learning kit where the students read materials and answered questions - for my major assignment in college and made up my own.

In two weekends, I had it out for three of the five grade 7 classes that we had. (We didn’t have the numbers you now have but 40 was still a big number to me. I had to make copies for each class and we had a good time afterwards. It kept my class rapt and every now that then I would take contemporary stories from the papers and have it in the box.

I now chair a school board and the board that I chair does dictate by policy how the funds (we are not signatories) should be used and we have an oversight responsibility only over the school funds to ensure that it is spent on areas that the board thinks that funding should be spent.

We have determined that text books for staff and students are important and we try to maintain enough for the school. The school also has a policy to spend a certain portion of its budget buying books for the library. We now would like to invest in e-library. The last three years, the school has not had monetary issues. Currently we are investing in a termite exterminating program and a big part of our budget goes to that and we will suffer next year in the books and textbooks.

The roles and function of the school board is clearly spelt out and they should take an active role in ensuring education takes place in the schools. Having said that, I know one headmaster has not put out any financial report in the seven years he has been principle of a major school and they have text book issues.

I also know of another school where the principle and certain members of the board including the chair are buddies in one way or another. Funds from the TFF program is not for the headmaster to use nilly willy but to spend according to a budget formulated for the approval of the board and Education office.

I hope you can be able to convince the chair to be involved in a positive way for the school as our children are our future, if we have half educated population, I can imagine what it will be like.

There is a glimmer of hope, though. Form this very type of schools we have had some smart students that have shot through the clouds of doubts to sunshine. We can make it.

Jordan Dean

Quantity over quality. Even our universities like UPNG allowed students to continue last year regardless of their low GPA's. In the end we have 'half-baked' graduates who enter the job market.

Ed Brumby

Some things, it appears, do not change. When I took up my first posting at Angoram in early 1966 there were 6 teachers for 7 classes (and 4 of us were fresh from teachers college) and the appointed head teacher had resigned rather than accept a transfer to what was regarded as a less than desirable posting. We had some, but insufficient textbooks for the lower classes and essentially none for the upper classes: the excellent Minenda series of readers and texts were still being produced and we had to rely on some leftover and quite inappropriate readers and texts which had been produced for use in Africa and Malaysia.

Nevertheless, my PNG teacher colleagues reported dutifully every day; the children attended every day without fail (and were always well-behaved) and we managed to muddle our way through until sufficient teaching material eventually arrived. It is so sad that, fifty years on, the situation in PNG primary schools is worse, not better.

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