THOSE of us old enough to remember the late 1970s and well into the 80s will remember the strong spirit of nationalism and “can do” spirit that captured our newly independent PNG.
An overwhelming sense of optimism grabbed the minds of our nation’s first university graduates and propelled them into a variety of jobs formerly occupied by Australians. No goal seemed out of reach. Nothing but bright skies beckoned us to march into our future with confidence.
These were the years of counterparts and localisation so that nationals took over the roles of the colonial era expatriates. Yes, we localised. But only in the sense that Papua New Guinean bodies replaced Australian ones.
We obviously did not localise the capacity needed to do many jobs effectively. Thus, increasing numbers of jobs were filled by nationals whose capacities fell short, particularly during the 1990s and continuing until now.
Rather than immediately seeing the collapse and taking remedial steps, we denied the obvious, closed our eyes, and suffer the continued decline. We thought the problem could be solve by complaining, rather than realising that the only way to build capacity is through better education.
Fully capable brains were left partially developed, and the level of partial development declined with each passing year. As those partially developed brains failed to do the job as well as had been done by those occupying the jobs before them, we continued to deny what we were seeing.
Yet, the decline had an impact on all of us. We let the results slowly destroy our optimism, morale, and confidence that we could do things for ourselves as well as anyone else in the world. The problem was not our brain power but the slackness in developing our brain power to its fullest.
By denying the problem, we began to suspect that indeed, our brains must be smaller than those of the Australians, or somehow our brains weren’t wired to do things capably.
Foreigners who wanted to keep their high paid jobs in this country were more than happy to take that sentiment and hammer it strongly into our heads. The result was an even greater decline in our morale as we began to reverse localisation and bring in foreigners to do jobs that nationals had been doing.
Although it has now been nearly two generations since we have gained independence, the signs of a continuing slide backwards are now everywhere, be it the senseless diarrhoea of dying babies in the villages, the years of erratic power and water of our towns, the constantly falling apart roads of the nation, our ranking as one of the most corrupt nations in the world, and yes, the nonstop deterioration of our schools, be it community, college or university.
Our politicians and our riches businessmen remain untroubled by the above. The fact is that the Somares, Wingtis, Chans, and O’Neills have quietly accepted that very few of us are competitive against the Australians and other foreigners we replaced.
They may continue to speak the sweet words that PNG university graduates and nationals in general are fully capable and can do the job as well as any foreigner. Secretly and behind our backs, they hire foreigners right and left to do the jobs they want done. The only job our politicians have truly localised is the job of tricking money out of other people’s pockets into their own, expending as little effort as possible in the process.
Our leaders have convinced us to allow them to decimate our educational system instead of improving it. They convince us that classrooms are the important thing and through free education the Wingti government now fills those empty classrooms to the top. But where are the teachers in many of these classrooms?
When the teachers are present, are they even comfortable enough speaking English that they do so inside and outside of class, or do they teach Engla-lish and 800 varieties of other baby talk, distorted English that makes first language English speakers roll over in laughter?
When we have good teachers in the classroom, do they have any books to work with? Are they able to attend meaningful extended learning courses to further boost their capacity during school holidays?
Our politicians point to the few super achievers we have amongst us (many of whom attended schools overseas anyway) and use that as proof of what we can do. Of course they’re right: Those role models are proof of what we can do, but only if the level of capacity they possess is achievable by all within our society.
The tendency to highlight one or two exceptions to the rule does not make the rule. Our leaders constantly pointing to the achievements of exceptional nationals has become yet another blanket to hide the reality of the poor level of education the average young person now gets from our schools.
Starting during the 1980s, we fully deceived ourselves into thinking we had achieved the international standard of education necessary to succeed in today’s world. We had not. The generation after that still bought into the fairy tale that we were doing fine in PNG, steadily localising jobs, creating employment, and mastering independence economically as well as politically.
All lies. But we fooled ourselves into believing those lies because the reality was becoming too painful to behold. We didn’t want to face the facts that clearly showed what a bad education our children were getting in PNG compared to what we parents had acquired in those same schools.
And because so few of us have ever gone overseas, much less done so regularly, we remained happily ignorant of how fast the world was passing us by and how badly we were falling behind.
Sleeping time is over. The younger generation is now waking us older people up in a way that is proving to be worse than painful. We are being humiliated by today’s students as they become aware of what a bad education we’re contently giving them.
As young people become increasingly connected with the outer world through internet and cable television, they’re seeing for themselves that the quality education they are getting from outside is not being replicated inside their PNG classroom.
Their teachers may not even show up, or when they do, they don’t want their students to realise how little they know about what they’re teaching. That’s why today’s teachers are more prone to demanding respect, silence, and definitely no asking of questions of their students. The students are now respectfully silent but their brains are not quiet. They see through our tricks and now they are beginning to rebel, with the Unitech student boycott being the most clear cut example.
The Unitech Boycott of 2014 represents a humiliation of the O’Neill government and a turning point in the history of our country. By the thousands, Unitech students demanded that a white face replace a black face. They refused to buy into the argument that PNG jobs must be filled by Papua New Guineans. They simply demand quality management and quality education.
They expect whoever is teaching them to be as honest as an Australian teacher, as knowledgeable as an Australian teacher, and as effective in teaching as an Australian teacher. The more they’re learning about the outside world, they more they expect to have access to the same learning resources that Australian students have.
The humiliation of nationals to see their own kids reject their services in favour of foreign replacements is debilitating. But consider the reason why: we have been in self-denial for to many years.
Our government’s immediate response to any complaining about the quality of PNG education is that we’re wrong and our students are receiving international standard education. Bullshit! When we say BULLSHIT loud enough, their next response is that PNG can’t afford to educate our children to international standards.
Can we afford not to? Are we getting ahead economically by bringing in larger numbers of foreign workers to develop our resources, the proceeds of which mostly go into foreign pockets and are shipped out of PNG? Is it a sign of progress that PNG has become any more than a global treasure chest for the entire world to scoop out whatever they want, while offering small donations in return?
Any nation that can pay a corrupt lawyer over K70 million kina in one cheque, following hundreds of millions of kina that went into that same corrupt pocket cannot say “cannot afford” when it comes to the quality of learning in our schools.
Any Office of Higher Education that presides over the embarrassing rundown University of Papua New Guinea, PNG University of Technology, University of Natural Resources and Environment, and University of Goroka cannot continue to pretend that they are doing anything but failing abysmally to make high education of the highest priority at budget time.
The O’Neill government seems to be able to pass the 2011 K500 supplemental budget to fund the campaigns and local level handouts and bribes to help the candidates of two political parties. Yet this same government cannot double the budget of UPNG to the level of around K200 million?
HERST Minister Delilah Gore and OHE Director General David Kavanamur may be well intentioned but they obviously have no capacity to radically chance things the way they need changing. They all need to be swept out the door and true education radical reformists take their place. The time is here for radical reform, not another year of empty words and false promises.
The O’Neill government better start shaping up if they don’t want to repeat Thursday’s humiliation in Lae where an unprecedented thousands of nationals screamed, cried, saluted, and even carried a Dutch vice chancellor from the airport to his seat of honour at Unitech.
The national budget is formulated in May and June and there had better be more money in the PNG university budget for the things that count: laboratory equipment, supplies, plus books, computers, better internet access.
The government, and the unrepentant ‘localisationalists’ who continue to demand that Papua New Guineans must fill PNG jobs are being lost behind in time as the new generation of young people takes up the cry of quality education as being more important than localisation.
We have many excuses and even some valid reasons why we national educators failed to maintain the standards that guided our learning when we were students being taught by expatriates. If we do not reverse course and start doing things right, more of us can expect to be shown the door by increasingly frustrated students.
University students are the only hope for reform at this point. They have become the only source of anger and motivation strong enough to bring in whatever foreign teachers are necessary, buy whatever equipment and supplies are needed, and manage the institutions of higher education if we nationals cannot do so. It is their future that motivates them and so it should be. After all, the future of our young people is the future of Papua New Guinea.
Let the students of our nation increasingly strike and march for a better education for all. Let expatriates fill the ranks of teachers if we cannot do the job of giving our students a world class education. In that way, the next time we localise, it will be a sustainable localisation.