Hidden gems in dusty old books
Real leaders should be good readers

Let's give PNG a reading culture

Caroline Evari - "I decided that, as part of my journey promoting PNG literature, I would try to find the underlying cause of the claimed ‘not reading culture’."


PORT MORESBY - The statement, ‘PNG does not have a reading culture’, kept popping up among authors and publishers gathered at the National Library during the National Book Fair in October.

“What’s the point of writing and publishing books, if people are not reading them,” asked Professor Steven Winduo during the week, which had the hopeful theme, ‘PNG Books, PNG Knowledge, PNG Stories - Read PNG’.

Winduo’s was a tough statement for me as a new author and a person passionate about promoting writing and publishing in Papua New Guinea.

At the end of book week, I sat in a quiet place and reflected on everything that took place.

I decided that, as part of my journey promoting PNG literature, I would try to find the underlying cause of the claimed ‘not reading culture’.

I told myself that, in every school I visit to talk about writing and reading, I would see if they had a school library, check if the library had a variety of books, find out if the teachers had an active reading and writing program with their students and determine any additional challenges.

My goal: I believe a writer’s job is not only to point out problems but offer solutions.

Waseta Primary School
Students and teachers of Waseta Primary School

During my recent travel to Popondetta, I visited six schools - Popondetta Secondary, Resurrection Primary, Resurrection Elementary, Inonda Primary, Higaturu Oil Palm International and Waseta Primary.

Higaturu receives support from the oil palm company and is an outstanding school in terms of classrooms, teaching and ancillary staff.

It was much like other private schools I visited in Port Moresby like Paradise College, St Joseph’s International College, Sunrise Bethel School and the Caritas Secondary and Elementary Schools.

Popondetta Secondary has a library with books but cannot cater for its current student population. Inonda Primary also has a library but I could not have a look at it. Resurrection Primary, Resurrection Elementary and Waseta Primary do not have libraries.

As a result, very many students have no access to reading books. When books get donated, teachers take them home and over time they are stolen or misplaced.

So, although there may be books, storage is an issue because there are no libraries. The result is that students do not have access to them.

Resurrection Primary School
Students and teachers of Resurrection Primary School

Out of 40 students I spoke with at Waseta Primary in the Sohe district, a 45-minute drive from Popondetta, only five knew how to read.

It was disappointing to learn that almost all Grade 8 students who sat for the recent national examinations did not know how to read and so could not do their exams.

Although the school has a library, they had to convert it into a classroom and the few books there were mostly encyclopedias. I wondered how a school accessible by road did not have a stocked library. I also wondered why almost 90% of students could not read and write simple English.

I thought of the schools out there in Musa, where the only access is by walking the bush tracks or dingy. I tried to reason, but nothing made sense.

It was interesting to observe that students whose schools had a decent library could interact with me by asking questions, nodding, smiling and responding to my questions whereas students from schools that had no library stared blankly at me as I spoke.

I learnt during my interaction with teachers that most students come to school without knowing how to read or write.

“Education begins at home,” one said. Parents need to play their role by imparting basic knowledge to their kids before sending them to school.

Resurrection Primary School 2
Happy readers at Resurrection Primary School

For parents in the cities and towns, we can say they may be inattentive to their children’s needs; for parents in remote areas, it is because they themselves cannot read and write.

In Popondetta, the Anglican church provides adult literacy programs and it also may translate English into local languages to make learning easier.

The teacher to student ratio is around 1:40 and in most cases one teacher teaches two classes at the same time making it difficult for students to remain focused and dedicated.

Most teachers do not receive ongoing training or support, and as a result lack motivation.

As I stood in front of the students and stressed the importance of reading and writing, I realised that they had nowhere to go to find a good book to read.

Books with colour and a lot of artwork. Books that are attractive, books that could make them smile, laugh, sing and even dance.

Books that could help them develop their minds and fill them with imagination. Books that could change their entire world.

Some students ran after me asking me for books, but I only had a few copies and they were all donated. I fought back the tears that wanted to roll down my cheeks and promised I’d do what I can to bring more books to them.

When the 2017 Crocodile Prize survey of provincial participation came out, there were only two writers from Oro Province. It is among the lower provinces in PNG in terms of development, and perhaps the worst in terms of education.

On average, five or six students make it past Grade 12 to get to university.

Those of us fortunate to go to school in Port Moresby can make use of avenues to get decent certification.

Those back at home find comfort in drinking home-brew, smoking marijuana and getting involved in petty crimes (boys) while girls get married at a young age or fall pregnant with no hope for their own future.

I distributed the remaining books Phil Fitzpatrick had given me for the schools I visited. And I prayed this was not my last trip as a writer from the province.

Caroline Evari
Caroline Evari - on a critical mission to promote PNG literature for the advancement of culture and education

My solutions to address the lack of a reading culture is for the government to focus on:

  • building more libraries across the country
  • purchasing books to fully stock these libraries
  • a curriculum encouraging students to read books and submit reviews (forming part of their assessment)
  • supporting the Crocodile Prize and rolling it out to each province

Books unlock knowledge and, without writers, there are no books.

Without libraries, the books are inaccessible.

Without libraries and without books, knowledge is inaccessible.


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Philip Fitzpatrick

I'm not so sure that people in PNG are not reading books. In fact, I think plenty of people read books. I've seen them doing it and I've lent people books to read. It's just that they are not reading books by PNG writers.

The reason they don't read books by PNG writers is because they are hard to find.

If PNG writers were helped to publish their books and those books were stocked in a good public library system then people would read them.

The trick is to get them published and into the libraries.

In Australia we have a system called Public Lending Right. If one of your books is in a public library they pay you an allowance. It's to cover the fact that people borrow the book instead of buying it and sometimes,if it's an academic or technical publication, if people photocopy it. I've got a few books registered with them and get a cheque most years.

Caroline Evari

Thanks all.

Jordan - I reached out to Library For All but their focus has been on Central, Morobe and Madang under their Together for Education program under Child Fund (I believe).

What's needed is to find a donor for Oro.

Michael Dom

Thank you for that good news Daniel.

Daniel Kumbon

Phil, Prime Minister James Marape has responded to our letter to see him in his office to present the petition. He directed us to provide some information, which we did on Monday this week. We are now waiting for a response that second letter hoping he will call us to see him.

Tomorrow in PNG Attitude people can read some information we provided to the prime minister in the second letter.

I notice that James Marape writes well, and shares his thoughts on Facebook just like Garry Juffa, Bryan Kramer, Sir Mekere Morauta and a few others who also do that.

I believe those people who write will also read other people's ideas, thoughts and experiences.

Our request letter to see him was read by James Marape and he has given us directions. Let's keep our fingers crossed that he will call us to his office.

I applaud Caroline's efforts because nobody cares about you in the whole wide world. Nobody cares if you are dead or alive. Don't think you've done something after publishing one article or one book. Nobody knows about it.

Thousands of new books are published every day in the world. If you want your work to be recognised, you have to act. You are the one who should market the product.

Interact with people - other readers, writers, publishers, authors, friends wantoks etc. Let people see you, know you and accept you for your efforts for the greater good.

So carry on with the good work Caroline as we patiently wait for a response from prime minister James Marape.

Jordan Dean

Try discuss with Library for All if they can extend their program to Oro Province, Caroline.

Baka Bina

During National Book Week in October, PNG Attitude was mentioned time and time again.

I remember writing for more than a handful of people to subscribe to it. Why did I do that? PNG Attitude, while it talks about a range of issues affecting Papua New Guinea, has a core that is garnered for literature and it does a lot of exposition on literature.

The people who could benefit from this are people in the business of promoting literature in the various forms. I surely have benefited from exposure with and on PNG Attitude.

To those that I signalled PNG Attitude to, I hope they have done connected with it and, if they did, that they would be reading these sentiments.

I would like to believe that the people that I promoted PNG Attitude to were staff of the National Library.

These were people who are responsible for making policy decisions and their policy decision affect the literacy level of the country.

Caroline highlights an issue, two situations; an urban school and a rural school starting from the edge of the town - the have and the have-not divide.

I cringe at this and hope that those at the national library read and put up flags for thought.

And to Caroline, well done on your Oro trip.

Michael Dom

Caroline, don't ask, tell. That is, inform Mr Juffa of your next plans and extend an open invitation.

Like suggesting that he can join in if he feels your cause is valuable enough.

The more often your invite is disregarded or the longer time between unattended events will give you a better measure of his leadership.

But the first measure is if you have raised your voice loud enough at the most appropriate venue to have been heard and consequently ignored.

No response is an answer: the person has no thoughts worth sharing.

Phil and Keith, in relation to this, it is now very clear that PM Marape is aware of PNG Attitude writing/voices, if the last private message to Phil regarding the Maserati sale scandal is to be believed.

There are messengers.

We can then assume that our other less volatile messages have been ignored on purpose.

PS, I wonder if he's read my poem about him. I've grown rather fond of it and intend to put it in print.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Anyone out there know a provincial governor who reads books and is interested in literature?

Justin Kundalin

This article exposes the greatest need that PNG has in the area of education.

Education is not true without reading. We have more teachers in PNG who I believe don't encourage students to read and that's why, in many working sectors of this country, many people are educated but still illiterate.

I have noticed in PNG we graduate become illiterates again and the cycle continues on forever.

I believe one of the greatest contributions the government can do to PNG is to build more libraries and donate more books written by our own authors and a few from overseas that can help move students to be smart in their education journey.

Thanks Caroline for raising the concern and also letting the public know about the need.

Caroline Evari

Phil - Gary Juffa is well aware of my program and although we planned to meet prior to my visit to Oro, it never happened. I, for one, do not prefer asking over and over.

Michael - Thanks, I am going through the site now.

Philip Fitzpatrick

When Keith and I were managing the Crocodile Prize we debated whether seeking support from the government was a good idea.

On the one hand the funding they could have injected into the prize would have been valuable but on the other hand the meddling, self-aggrandisement and corruption that might have come with that money was a definite possibility. If they were to supply financial support it would have had to have been with no strings attached.

In any event they showed a distinct lack of interest and all our approaches were a waste of time. Clearly they did not put a value on reading and literature. Why this is so is still a mystery.

Do politicians actually read books? Who knows. At a guess I'd say few of them do. Maybe they see an educated and literate public as a danger. Maybe they are just plain dumb. That's a big hurdle to overcome when seeking assistance from government for literature.

The question then becomes whether it is actually worth trying to get them interested. Most politicians when they see something working well and is popular with the public will fall over themselves to take credit for it.

The Crocodile Prize was working really well for a while and a few politicians jumped on the bandwagon but when it began to falter they lost interest.

The current campaign with the writer's petition and the problems being encountered to even speak with the prime minister seems to me an indication that getting government support is a lost cause. This is terribly sad and an indictment of the quality of politics in PNG but it seems to be the reality.

That leaves the job firmly in the hands of the PNG writers and readers themselves. Ways have to be found to make literature work with the government.

Professor Winduo is right. There is no point in writing and publishing books if people don't read them. This suggests the key to promoting writers and literature in PNG begins with building up a reading public. To do this the logical place to start is in the schools. In this sense Caroline is well and truly on the right track.

In the small town where I live in country South Australia we have a combined school and public library. The library is located on the school premises but is also available for the general public. It is linked to a very efficient interconnected state run library system.

Adult readers are strong supporters of the library and carry out a lot of voluntary work there. One of the things the volunteers do is coach problem readers among the school pupils.

If I want to read a book that is not in the local library I can order it via the state library which will source it from the many libraries in the state and send it to me via the local library.

The key elements of the success of the library seems to be the mix of adult and child services, strong support from the reading public and strong state government support. An important point here is that people, children and adults alike, don't steal books.

This proven system could be replicated at the provincial level in PNG. A well-resourced library in the provincial capital could supply and manage libraries based in the provincial schools used by both pupils and adults. Controlling theft would be a problem but introducing a shame factor might mitigate it.

With this in mind maybe the current petition campaign should be re-directed towards the provincial governors.

It would be worth talking to people like Gary Juffa to see what they think.

Michael Dom

Some resources can be found at Commonwealth Education Trust

Previous projects include Children's literature

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