GOROKA - The diminishing educational standards of Papua New Guinea are of grave concern to citizens and stakeholders with the outcome-based curriculum (OBE) adopted a decade or so ago continuing to be blamed for this.
The talk now is of a standard based education/curriculum rescue package, which – if adopted - will surely take a time equal to the lost decade to recover the situation. This means that PNG might see quality and affordable education system in maybe 20 years.
I am of the view that there is no problem with either curriculum. OBE was fine in theory and design but not in practice. The implementers (teachers) were not ready for, nor receptive to, the change. And they were defeated psychologically by the foreign concepts and terms used.
One of the major challenges was to develop activities relevant to the grade and context suitable to the diverse needs of students. Building the capacity (skills) of teachers to implement the curriculum was another problem.
The government failed to seriously address this through quality training at higher institutional levels. Monitoring and inspectorial mechanisms were also poor.
Teachers were inducted by a few officers who had attended Training of Trainers workshops which focused only on how to plan and program the syllabus without delivering skills in curriculum adaptation.
Most elderly teachers were knocked out by the ‘foreign’ OBE concepts. Dictionaries and thesauruses were needed by these old timers during the implementation trial stage in 2004 and 2005. They were to become strong opponents of OBE until it was finally disbanded in 2015.
The OBE curriculum was criticised as being developed by foreign consultants and irrelevant, but this is not true. It was relevant and appropriate for Papua New Guineans.
The outcomes, strands, sub-strands, indicators and activities were designed to be progressive and consequential from simple to complex or known to unknown.
True, the teachers have to be imaginative, sensitive, creative, innovative and productive in translating the syllabus into a learning avenue for students. These qualities have been lacking in teachers who also lack research skills as well as curriculum design, development and innovation skills.
Young graduate teachers need sound content knowledge in different subject areas so they can plan accordingly for the classes they teach. This knowledge then needs to be deployed through effective teaching methods to impart meaningful learning to the diverse young brains eager to receive it.
The principles of OBE were based on the diverse cultural contexts of PNG. In essence, they were aligned with the national goals and directive principles of integral human development. OBE also acknowledged the philosophy of PNG education for to serve the intention established by our forefathers to create an educated population which would mean a prosperous nation.
The late Kondom Agaundo of Simbu once said, “You laughed at me when I struggle to speak Pidgin but my children coming after me would communicate with you in English and share the same table with you. My sons will come! They are coming!”
Kondom was a visionary. He believed in the potential of his fellow Papua New Guineans to become leaders who would guide and shape the people and the nation. In doing so, education was a top priority in this era of the 1960s and 1970s.
This philosophy also sought to ensure that PNG’s cultural heritage would be maintained. It was not to be and our traditions are quickly dying out. Inter-regional marriage and globalisation have accelerated this. Pidgin and English are squeezing out our indigenous languages and with them the traditional ethos and cultural practices they supported.
Standard based education (SBE) also honours the national goals and directive principles enshrined in the Constitution. Here there is not much difference between SBE and OBE except that consultants benefit from changing one for the other.
The structural change will not have the desired impact unless teachers are well prepared and equipped to implement the new policy. If the current government intends to up-skill serving teachers or hire skilled teachers to provide quality education through SBE, the same applied to the OBE system would have worked just as well.
OBE set an outcome within subject areas to be achieved by students through the guidance and facilitation of teachers. Teachers worked towards ensuring students achieved the outcomes. However, the activities varied from context to context and teachers had to be creative and innovative to achieve the desired outcomes.
On the other hand, SBE sets a national standard for students all over PNG to uniformly meet despite their varied contexts.
Rural or urban, resourced or not, will be treated indiscriminately using a national performance matrix for both students and teachers. Again teachers will have to pull up their socks to hit the national target considering the scarcity of places in tertiary institutions.
All students will have to be taught by teachers in a manner that meets the national standard, which unfortunately - although much talked about - is still blurred and vague because detailed curriculum principles have not been established.
Why? Because there has been no curriculum statement developed to date. There is now a likelihood of adopting the old curriculum statement as was adopted under OBE
If this is the case, there may not be much difference between OBE and SBE.