GOROKA - The forces of globalisation exert both good and bad influences upon Papua New Guinea’s ability to attain economic independence and social cohesion.
Our over-reliance on other countries can be both helpful and detrimental and, as free-thinking individuals, we must shun the bad and embrace the good in order to progress as a people.
One of the positive trends of globalisation is the mass mobilisation of human labour beyond people’s cultural or ethnic demarcation and Papua New Guineans educated in PNG do – and increasingly will - live and work elsewhere in the world.
This thought leads me to consider the kind of education have we provided for our young people over the last 20 years and whether we have the best education plan for this country.
Education is the framework within which each generation of people is nurtured and groomed to lead in the future.
According to many Papua New Guineans, the quality of education delivered to our children is not on par with the rest of the world. They are right. The brutal fact is that the quality of education has dropped significantly over the last 20 years.
This is doubly unfortunate. It is ill-starred for the individuals concerned and it is unlucky for PNG because we need to export skilled human labour to the global job market to bring in much-needed revenue which ultimately improves the livelihood of our citizens.
Education reform in PNG has been an issue of much controversy in the past, but it now seems to have been swept under the carpet. We go about our daily lives not really sparing a thought to what is being systematically done to the current generation of school students.
The government is the architect of education planning and we are told time and time again what the government proposes is always the best.
But how do we measure and evaluate the success rate of PNG education policy over the last 20 years? Teachers and officers within the education department are in a good position to provide concrete data but it is fair to say here that our education policy is not without its share of irregularities and failings.
It may be unpatriotic to raise my voice on the shortcomings evident in national policy but the declining trend in educational quality is appalling and it demands the attention of all of us who care to find an alternative and more successful model as a priority matter.
I want to share with you the first-hand experience of a PNG classroom teacher.
Everywhere you go in PNG, classrooms are full to the brim. For example, there are around 55-60 students in each of the classrooms at Kondom Agaundo Memorial High school where I teach.
This is a rural school located some three kilometres outside Kundiawa town. Classrooms are overcrowded because there is no control of enrolment and I know the same scenario to be true for nearly every school in PNG.
We do not have the ability in such crowded classrooms to adequately supervise individual students. So what we do is stand in front, deliver the lesson and walk out of the door when the bell rings.
Textbooks are almost non-existent in each of the departments. Those of you who went to school prior to education reform will recall that we were issued textbooks at the beginning of the school year.
But over the last five or six years, my school has not receive any new textbooks under the government’s tuition fee free policy.
So my students do not have textbooks. They come into class, sit down and listen to what the teachers tell them. They copy what teachers write on the blackboard even if it is erroneous or irrelevant. They believe it to be the truth because there’s no other source by which they can find out.
Students’ understanding of the world beyond is limited. If you ask them to name five cities in Australia, they can’t. Moreover, the English language is too much for them to grasp. In many cases they have given up trying.
Some students cannot do simple arithmetic or write a simple sentence in English and yet they are in the classroom because that’s where the government says every child must be.
There is lack of motivation among students to excel academically because they know they will still move to the next level of schooling regardless of their capability.
In these conditions, teachers lose enthusiasm. This leads to attitude and behaviour problems with some students. We spend much time trying to control errant behaviour. And, it should be noted, teachers are educators, not law enforcers.
Teacher absenteeism is high in some schools because headmasters themselves may not be committed – getting drunk and socialising using school funds and failing to monitor their staff or the operations of the school.
Teachers are overworked and sometimes stressed to breaking point: Some teachers do not care what they deliver to students. Some times they deliberately skip a topic they are supposed to teach because nobody will find out.
If the current education policy is not working to the advantage of our children, we have to discard it.
We must come up with an alternative model that is best for Papua New Guinea.
And it is my view that we have to do this soon.