PORT MORESBY - High profile journalist Scott Waide’s recent article about the high cost of his daughter’s university fees highlights a conundrum Papua New Guinea faces in terms of the quality of its education system.
Scott was shocked about the high cost. But let us reflect on what is a major crisis in the sector.
When the O’Neill government introduced the Tuition Fee Free (TFF) education system for primary and secondary schools, it failed to account for capacity constraints.
Schools were flooded and schools lacked and continue to lack learning resources, infrastructure and staff numbers to cope with the influx.
Primary and secondary schools in PNG have essentially become child-minding centers as opposed to centers of learning.
In terms of TFF, the government contribution is K20-K50 a child and it warns schools not to charge fees.
Schools are then expected to turn this miserly level of fees - five loaves of bread and a couple of fishes - into something to feed knowledge to thousands of students.
Universities also continue to be grossly under-funded leading to massive fee hikes. However when one considers the true cost of providing university level education, the fees are a drop in the ocean.
Student strikes in recent years have made the government wary of funding revolutionaries.
Students, particularly those in rural PNG, don’t stand much of a chance in terms of social mobility that a good education provides.
The member for Menyamya recently highlighted in parliament the rural-urban technology divide and how rural students are disadvantaged in terms of securing places at university.
While the predatory elite in government is dumbing down the general population, their children are being trained overseas to rule over a dumb population in the future.
The O’Neill government, whether by design or accident, is increasing inequality and making social stratification much more pronounced.
The constitution of the independent state of Papua New Guinea calls for integral human development as its first national goal and directive principle. The way things currently are under the O’Neill regime, this national goal is ignored.
PNG’s constitution also calls for equality and participation as another national goal. Whilst the TFF policy can be seen as being reflective of this, the poor quality of education means many students leave school unable to equally participate in the economy. They become a liability.
The rural-urban divide also means rural students don’t have the same level of opportunity to attend university, thus furthering social inequality.
A poorly educated population that lacks capacity to engage in the modern economy becomes reliant on political patronage.
This is a politician’s dream because, as long as people keep waiting for handouts from politicians, politicians can control voting behaviour.
This is not reflective of PNG’s third national goal – the one that calls for national sovereignty and self-reliance.
O’Neill originally came into power unconstitutionally, so it is not surprising that the regime has marks of unconstitutionality in its mismanagement of the education system.
So parents need to support learning institutions with additional resources. They also need to take a greater interest in their children’s academic performance and perhaps support them with extra-curricular tutoring and coaching.
Given the tens of billions of kina that have been spent recently on white elephants, there is no justification for having poor quality education.
The O’Neill government’s resource allocation decisions are destroying a generation of Papua New Guineans.
In its defence, the government may point to new infrastructure, but buildings are just shells if complementary learning resources are not provided.
The decline of PNG’s education system will continue unless a change of government produces a shift in policy priorities.
PNG also risks future class warfare (which is already happening) if the status quo is allowed to remain.