Morrison’s Manus cruelty, by the man who got away
Of Ulli Beier, Obotunde Ijimere & M. Lovori

Graduating to illiteracy? Just not on

Justin Olam - rugby league champion (
Justin Olam - rugby league champion (


KANDEP, ENGA – Papua New Guinea is a developing country doing everything it can to catch up with the Western world.

In my view, easily the greatest Western influence in shaping PNG has been education; although other transformational forces, such as building a minerals-based economy, have been crucial.

Something that really concerns me, however, is whether our people can cope effectively in what is a complex, competitive and challenging world.

I make this remark because it seems to me that many young professionals are graduating from universities and colleges only to begin moving backwards to a form of illiteracy – the place from which you began.

This could be a tragedy for our nation, so how does it happen and what does it mean?

Many people who have studied at the better educational institutions in PNG fail to grow and improve their knowledge and performance after graduating.

True education is not just attending lectures, reading textbooks, completing assignments and passing examinations in the academic environment.

True education is about continuing to learn by whatever means to refine the intellect and build knowledge so as to become an effective person whatever your field or wherever life takes you.

To not keep learning is to risk backtracking to a state which degrades the value of the education you have received and the credentials you have earned.

Too many people leave the academic world and lose touch with the learning that can assist them to serve better.

It’s as if their knowledge dies in them. They become graveyards of wisdom.

Squandered is the knowledge that should drive them to excel in their field and have brilliant careers.

Let me offer two practical examples.

People graduating to become accountants should read books necessary to their profession to keep in touch with current practice, new skills and changing laws and rules.

A Graduate nurse (Red Cross)
A nursing graduate - "Papua New Guineans are not just good at wishing and dreaming. We do know how to keep educating ourselves"

Graduate in a medical field must read books, journals and articles, keep building their skills through further study and professional interaction, and keep in touch with new developments.

They must not rely just on attending to the needs of patients – critical though this will always be. If they do not keep learning, they will not be well placed to best attend to those needs.

This thinking applies to every profession and I believe represents a power we all possess to help ourselves not to become virtual ‘illiterates’ in our field.


So here’s a summary of things you can do to keep pace with the world:

read consistently in your field of study; read something every day

write consistently in your field; think about your profession and share your knowledge

don’t serve long terms in your field without refreshing your knowledge through further study, engaging with your professional peers, joining relevant associations and, as you build your skills, training others

spend less time on social media absorbing unnecessary garbage; social media offers too many really good learning opportunities that should not be wasted

learn how to manage time better so you can do more with the hours you have

Dr Yalinu Poya at the University of Glasgow
Dr Yalinu Poya at the University of Glasgow

I believe that a tendency to read and write less after graduation only helps us to slip backwards into a form of professional illiteracy.

In 2010, Yalina Polu graduated from the University of Papua New Guinea with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and her first job, which lasted for two years, was as an executive assistant.

She then managed to enter her professional field and worked for 18 months as a process technician for Barrick Gold before winning a scholarship for further study in China, graduating with a master’s degree in inorganic chemistry.

From there, Yalina was unstoppable. Offered the opportunity to study for a PhD at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, she graduated in 2020 and now lectures in six subjects at the Glasgow International College.

She is also editorial advisor for the Journal of the PNG Institute of Chemists in and PNG country representative on the International Younger Chemists Network.

Justin Olam in full flight against the Brisbane Broncos (Wikipedia)
Justin Olam in full flight against the Brisbane Broncos (Wikipedia)

The rise of my namesake, Chimbu-born rugby league champion Justin Olam, has been equally spectacular but in a very different field.

While he was at school, his parents wanted him to prioritise education and he didn’t play rugby league until university. He graduated from the PNG University of Technology with a Bachelor's degree in applied physics.

He played his first international game for PNG in 2016 and since 2019 has been a top performer for the Melbourne Storm Club in Australia, appearing in three premiership finals and in 2021 being voted as centre of the year.

There are many Yalinas and Justins in PNG and the world. Our country has produced marvellous champions in every field from aviation to zoology.

Papua New Guineans are not just good at wishing and dreaming.

We do know how to keep educating ourselves after leaving the classrooms and lecture halls.

Manila and Justin Kundalin with Justin Jr
Manila and Justin Kundalin with Justin Jr

But once we have wished and dreamed, we need to do.

My plea to you is to read and write and do, to keep abreast of the modern progressive world and take advantage of what is open to us – which is everything.

Let’s not graduate backwards to illiteracy. Let’s never allow the knowledge to die.


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Bernard Corden

The following link provides access to a fascinating article from Henry Giroux, published in 2010, 'Rethinking Education as the Practice of Freedom - Paulo Freire and the promise of critical pedagogy'.

Justin Max

Thank you Justin. The constructive ideas you pen are not only for the learned but also for the semi-literate and dropouts.

The spirit of sluggardness seems to dominate active learners who are at an institution or have graduated and turned professionals.

Papua New Guineans have a tendency to spend less times on books.

The author, Justin Kundalin, to me has proven to be a bookworm. I have met him in person and would admit that he is an avid reader and prolific writer.

The food for the thought might be helpful if it was used to conduct a seminar at universities.

Bernard Corden

The human brain does not make decisions it merely hosts conversations and education cannot be solely categorised a a choice you make, which takes us down the path of behaviourism. This often includes authoritarian, mechanistic and militaristic concepts such as operant conditioning and more recently behavioural economics or nudge theory. Is there such a thing as military intelligence?

Indeed, behaviourism tells us much more about the observer than those being observed.

Bernard Corden

Dear Keith,

Many thanks for the additional links.

Sir Ken Robinson grew up on Spellow Lane in the Walton district of Liverpool almost next door to the Everton FC stadium at Goodison Park and adjacent to the Stanley Park Hotel, which was locally referred to as The Blue House.

His brother played professional football for Everton but Ken contracted polio as a child and entered the education profession.

He was a remarkable and inspirational man but many of his recommended reforms to the education system in most liberal democracies have never been implemented. Several other notable free-schoolers include Guy Claxton, Michael Polanyi, Paulo Freire and Ivan Illich

Simon Davidson

To graduate and then descend into illiteracy or to become a scholar for life is a choice.

In this 21st century, those who choose the easy road will become technically redundant.

Their education use-by date expires the moment they stop reading and learning.

Baka Bina

Tenk yu Justin.
Mi usim narapela hap rait bilong yu bipo long treinin mi save ronim long ples wok. Tru tru ol wok mahn nau lus tingting long skulim ol yet na save long strong long skul ol mekim taim ol sumatin yet. Olsem na planti taim, ol mak taim na tu kantri mak taim na no ken go fowud.
Sampela i tok long ol academic pepa ol papuaniugini i raitim ino gat planti kik tumas long wonem, mipela ino soim mipela i rid na kisim aidia long planti hap.
Igat bel hangere kantri i laikim ol mahnmeri husat save long rid. Tasol em laik bilong wan wan wokmahn long rid na kisim moa save. Igat hevi long kirapim tingting bilong wokmahnmeri long rid. Hau mipela ken kirapim bel hangere, mi nogat save long em.
Em i moa gutpela yu raitim kain stori na putim long ol pablik space olsem PNG attitude na Ples Singsing. Dispela mi gat bililp iken kirapim dispela liklik bel hangere.
tenk yu

Chris Overland

This is an excellent article and makes a very important point.

I spent a career working in health. In doing so, it was necessary for me to engage in a continuous learning process that lasted the whole of my career.

There was never a day went by when I did not learn something new about the extraordinarily complex system within which I worked.

My original qualification was a Bachelor's degree majoring in politics and history. While the subject content was mostly not even indirectly related to my career, I learnt how to read, research, analyse, synthesise and write coherently about complex subject matter.

It was these generic skills that were of most value to me, plus the repeated admonition that a degree represented not the end but merely the beginning of the educational process.

So I entirely agree with Justin on this point and it is validly made not just about PNG but about the world generally.

Bernard Corden

Dear Justin - A splendid article. The curriculum in most Western democracies is merely cultural reproduction or schooling and indoctrination with very little emphasis on learning.

The following link provides access to an article from Henry Giroux entitled 'Lessons from Paulo Freire' and focuses on critical pedagogy.

Back in 2017, the late Sir Ken Robinson produced a fascinating TED Talk entitled 'Do schools kill creativity?' It is well worth watching:

Robinson's book, 'Out of our Minds', is also a good read:

Footnote from KJ:

There's a free summary of 'Out of Our Minds' available on YouTube. It's about 18 mts long and read by a robot but it won't cost you so much as a toea:

And there's a video of Sir Ken making a speech here. As you might expect, he is a wise and amusing speaker:

Lindsay F Bond

Their reason always must ride high,
their learning extends until they die,
their knowledge honour bound to apply.
the honoured schools where they began,
a most worthy contribution to our land.

Michael Dom

I like this article Justin.

Ples Singsing - A PNG Writers Blog has a standing agreement with Keith Jackson to reblog relevant articles.

We are going to reblog your article.

You are most welcome to join us on Ples Singsing.

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