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21 August 2017

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Paul, I taught for a year before leaving. I also had fond memories of going to school to read and plot my scores on the wall at the back of the classroom on how well I did with the SRA Kit whenever the teacher was not around.

I now have a grade twelve graduate student who says ‘he want to went to the saina man’s stoa up there on the road’ and I can relate to all the struggles that teachers have in school.

I have in two years been trying to reteach this young man sentences structures that I was taught in primary school. He initially started replying to me back in Tok Pisin and I bluntly told him off and then refused to talk to him unless he spoke to me in English. He has progressed and he now has a book to read all the time. He is helping himself but if he did that in school he’d be in college someplace instead of eating into my patience and still struggling at ITI where he is enrolled.

When I started to teach grade 7 English we were to share one text book with three other teachers, I found it inundating going after one teacher for that text book that he would either have it in the classroom or at his house.

In the end I gave up. I however liked the idea of the SRA kit and looked for it at the school and could not find one. I asked around and got a nope for an answer. (We are stuck to the syllabus and we teach that) and that was how? How do you teach the syllabus when there is no text book to help you determine the lessons for a particular time and week?

There is no room for innovation. The teachers are given a lot of latitude but it is only to teach the curriculum in any manner the teacher finds fit – that is the latitude they have, to go outside of the norm is a no no.

I tried to work around the system. I need to give my class something to do when I didn’t know what to teach on a particular day. I was fortunate to have made a project similar to the SRA kit - a self learning kit where the students read materials and answered questions - for my major assignment in college and made up my own.

In two weekends, I had it out for three of the five grade 7 classes that we had. (We didn’t have the numbers you now have but 40 was still a big number to me. I had to make copies for each class and we had a good time afterwards. It kept my class rapt and every now that then I would take contemporary stories from the papers and have it in the box.

I now chair a school board and the board that I chair does dictate by policy how the funds (we are not signatories) should be used and we have an oversight responsibility only over the school funds to ensure that it is spent on areas that the board thinks that funding should be spent.

We have determined that text books for staff and students are important and we try to maintain enough for the school. The school also has a policy to spend a certain portion of its budget buying books for the library. We now would like to invest in e-library. The last three years, the school has not had monetary issues. Currently we are investing in a termite exterminating program and a big part of our budget goes to that and we will suffer next year in the books and textbooks.

The roles and function of the school board is clearly spelt out and they should take an active role in ensuring education takes place in the schools. Having said that, I know one headmaster has not put out any financial report in the seven years he has been principle of a major school and they have text book issues.

I also know of another school where the principle and certain members of the board including the chair are buddies in one way or another. Funds from the TFF program is not for the headmaster to use nilly willy but to spend according to a budget formulated for the approval of the board and Education office.

I hope you can be able to convince the chair to be involved in a positive way for the school as our children are our future, if we have half educated population, I can imagine what it will be like.

There is a glimmer of hope, though. Form this very type of schools we have had some smart students that have shot through the clouds of doubts to sunshine. We can make it.

Quantity over quality. Even our universities like UPNG allowed students to continue last year regardless of their low GPA's. In the end we have 'half-baked' graduates who enter the job market.

Some things, it appears, do not change. When I took up my first posting at Angoram in early 1966 there were 6 teachers for 7 classes (and 4 of us were fresh from teachers college) and the appointed head teacher had resigned rather than accept a transfer to what was regarded as a less than desirable posting. We had some, but insufficient textbooks for the lower classes and essentially none for the upper classes: the excellent Minenda series of readers and texts were still being produced and we had to rely on some leftover and quite inappropriate readers and texts which had been produced for use in Africa and Malaysia.

Nevertheless, my PNG teacher colleagues reported dutifully every day; the children attended every day without fail (and were always well-behaved) and we managed to muddle our way through until sufficient teaching material eventually arrived. It is so sad that, fifty years on, the situation in PNG primary schools is worse, not better.

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