We’ve recently been discussing the state of written and spoken English in Papua New Guinea.
Since the introduction of Pidgin as one of the national languages, English is increasingly looked upon as a foreign language and many people are neglecting the effort that needs to be put into learning it.
The people of PNG need to see the great value of being able to speak English, a language which can be used as a means of communicating with people throughout the world.
Back in colonial times, primary schools had a rule that, as soon as a student entered the school grounds, only English would be spoken.
Any student who spoke Pidgin or tokples was punished. This made students try their best to speak English.
One of the ex-Keravats found when he was visiting non-English speaking countries like Thailand, Indonesia and Japan, many people would try to come close to him just to listen to him speak English.
They were really interested to learn to speak the English language and appreciated the opportunity to do so. The ability to speak good English is a valuable skill in the modern world.
English is a subject that now concerns my correspondent, who now holds an important role in a government service.
Often, when screening job applications and interviewing applicants, he finds the level of English, both spoken and written, has dropped to a level so low that now Grade 10 students speak English like Grade 4s did in the old system.
He believes that, unlike in the old days, when many of parents were illiterate, they today are now educated to at least Grade 6 level so should encourage their children to speak English when they are at home.
One of the ex-Keravats, who works at Unitech in Lae, said many Papua New Guinean students who wish to study overseas in an English speaking country are failing two crucial tests: the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language).
These two tests are important when applying for scholarships for further studies overseas.
A good foundation in English is crucial to the PNG education system and many Papua New Guineans have to attend classes to improve their English before they can take up further studies overseas.
In the old days, English speaking people from Australia, Britain, Canada, the USA and New Zealander came and taught English.
Maybe the Education Department should be thinking about bringing back English-speaking teachers from these countries to teach in National High Schools, or even back at Grade 7 to 10 levels, for students to get a good start in the education system.
The Keravat ex-students suggest the Department of Education run a campaign. They could call it ‘Let’s Speak English’. It could be run on television, radio and in newspapers and schools. The aim would be to lift the general level of English, both spoken and written, throughout PNG.
Image: In the 1960s the PNG Education Department and the ABC collaborated in producing many school broadcasts and publications. One of the series I worked on was Let's Use English'. This is the cover of the accompanying teacher's booklet - KJ