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Speak up & protect your voice: An open letter to Papua New Guinea

Hitting the bull’s eye: Educating the inmates of Bihute prison camp

Inside the prison camp
Inmates working at their educational tasks during an unusual encounter inside the Bihute prison camp


GOROKA – At the University of Goroka the professional and liaison office headed by senior lecturer Joseph Kerpei has been busy organising schools around Papua New Guinea to enable trainee teachers to gain practical experience in addition to their classroom learning.

The program includes private schools, technical and vocational schools and primary and secondary schools. And, in the case of two other supervisors and me, it included Bihute Correctional Service Institute.

Dr Luke Apa, Joram Seth and I were deployed to Bihute prison camp - 30 minutes’ drive from the university - to supervise a group of trainee students who would be teaching inmates.

But we were being educated too. The first thing I learned was that Bihute is not a formal school. There is neither formal curriculum, no established class structure and no planned content to teach. And as you might expect the inmates had widely varying education and literacy levels.

The first encounter was supposed to be an observation of three lessons by Bihute teachers to gain insights before the trainees had their turn. Well we could not implement that as there was no teacher or trainer to demonstrate a lesson.

However liaison officer Corporal James stepped forward to take one class and asked me to take another. There was no plan to deliver a demonstration class but I had two minutes to think of a topic and quickly decided on a social issue related to problem solving.

The message was that problems have not just one but a number of causes. Our ‘student’ inmates were taught how to address the individual causes of a problem rather than addressing the problem itself.

Towards the end of the lesson, inmates were grouped into four to apply the problem-solving concept to a personal problem they had encountered in real life. The inmates delivered interesting presentations in their groups and both our teacher trainees and inmates were enthusiastic about the topic.

In the teacher trainee group I supervised, there were two female trainees with health specialisations and a male with an agricultural background.

One of the health trainees was teaching about the different types of sexual transmitted infections including mode of transmission and prevention measures. The liaison officer granted permission to teach the lesson as planned. As a supervisor, I encouraged my trainee to be brave and teach the truth in the lesson.

She was calm and confident in her delivery despite the sensitivity of the subject. Confidence was part of the assessment.

The trainee used pictures and had to name the private parts of males and females in front of the inmates who listened enthusiastically and attentively. She did this successfully and was commended by the liaison officer. The inmates were also happy that the trainee delivered the lesson well and without hesitation.

The other trainee taught hygiene, especially hand and kitchen hygiene, while a home economics lesson from another female trainee was on cake baking - how to bake banana cake.

The only male trainee in my supervisory group was teaching topics on agriculture and at the end of the week he issued them with seedlings to materialise the theory they had learnt.

All the lessons were interesting and practical and the student inmates were kept engaged and participated in the activities.

On the last day an inmate thanked us and assured supervisors and trainees that the lessons were practical and meaningful and were of benefit.

The health lessons, especially on sexual transmitted infections, was powerful. “You are hitting the bull’s eye!” said the liaison officer. The hygiene lesson was also useful to prevent typhoid and related diseases in the camp.

The message to us was that the inmates were not in prison but in a correctional institute. Such lifeskills training and educational information will help the men to settle better in society upon their release.

To conclude, anybody can have content knowledge but if it is not delivered effectively it is of no use to learners.

The University of Goroka is embarking on developing teachers with content knowledge, teaching and practical skills and the professionalism to be called a teacher.


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