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Fee-free education in PNG flawed, says NRI

Research suggests that policy-makers now need to focus on the less politically popular aspects of education policy, such as improving teacher quality and oversight and monitoring


| Radio New Zealand | Pacific News

AUCKLAND - More than 10 years after it started, big changes are being called for in Papua New Guinea's tuition fee-free education system, introduced by the O'Neill government in 2011.

The National Research Institute (NRI) in PNG has conducted an assessment in East Sepik and Morobe provinces and found that, while fee-free education improved access for many students, the quality of education was undermined.

The researchers found it led to a surge in pressure on teachers faced with a much bigger workload, classrooms overcrowded, and there was a fall in performance by the students.

The NRI researchers spoke with more than 300 teachers and the vast majority reported they struggled with the increased workload.

They also found that students were handicapped by inadequate learning materials and textbooks, and suitable places to study.

NRI reported the situation was far worse in rural schools where textbooks were either outdated or not received on time.

Teachers had to create teaching and learning resources from their own pockets.

Some teachers reported they had to travel to neighbouring schools to get access to a photocopier.

The researchers also found low levels of parental and community support for schools and students.

They said the tuition fee-free funds must be committed by the government to support improvement programs.

Increased funding is paramount for the teaching and learning atmosphere in classrooms to be attractive and keep children in school for the full cycle from Elementary to Grade 12.

The NRI also said the government needs to train more teachers and build more classrooms.


‘Noble gesture’ policy seems to be unravelling

The women’s organisation, FAWCO, the Federation of American Women’s Clubs Overseas, established in 1931 to improve the lives of women and girls and now an international network of independent associations in 28 countries, has published its own candid critique of PNG’s Tuition Fee Free policy.

THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS - Tuition Fee Free was introduced by the PNG government in 2012 and has become its flagship education policy.

Free tuition is always perceived as a noble gesture.

However, it is argued that while the TFF policy has helped improve access and strengthened school autonomy, recent policy have threatened school-community relations, undermined school quality and weakened conditions for effective service provision.

The TFF policy with its numerous backflips is no doubt fragile. In real terms, the allocation for the TFF subsidy has been declining since 2012, and there are concerns that the current fiscal crunch could squeeze subsidies further.

There are numerous reports of TFF payments being released late, resulting in the board of education of PNG's largest province announcing that all schools will be required to impose school fees to make up for shortfalls in TFF funding.

It is difficult to know if the TFF and associated free education policies will continue for years to come, but the signs are not good given PNG’s worsening financial situation.

Recently however, questions have been asked about whether the policy is unravelling, as accusations of mismanagement and questionable policy changes emerge.

Despite these challenges, the TFF policy remains the longest running of the country’s four attempts to institute fee-free education.

Research suggests policy makers now need to focus on the less politically popular aspects of education policy, such as improving teacher quality and oversight and monitoring.

It also means being brave enough to roll back policies that will harm education outputs, particularly moves to take even more funding away from schools through establishing District Education Implementation Committees.

FAWCO, the Federation of American Women’s Clubs Overseas


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Albert Schram

Little known fact in this context: Only four countries in the world have no compulsory education: Vatican CIty, Bhutan, Solomon Islands and PNG.

Some strategic thinking and funding required to address all these challenges.

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