PNG is Pasifika by necessity: A response to Martyn Namorong
Govt must introduce ICAC law; failure to do so is 'devastating'

Education is the key. Does anyone know what happened to it?

Trump and O'Neill
"If American and Papua New Guinean voters were better educated they might not have inflicted Trump and O’Neill on their respective nations"


TUMBY BAY - As Chris Overland and others have observed, Donald Trump is undoubtedly the worst president the United States of America has ever elected.

Chris calls him a serial liar and fraud, but he is worse than that. He is an existential threat to democracy, not only in the USA but in the whole world.

If you heaped up all the terrible leaders that currently hold sway in the world today he would surely sit on top of the smelly pile.

With that in mind it is instructional to consider what constitutes his supporter base.

Apart from the usual rabid neo-liberals his base largely comprises two main groups, those with poor educational backgrounds and those aligned with fundamentalist Christian groups. Quite often those two things go hand in hand.

If you look a bit closer at the aforementioned smelly pile you will probably notice Peter O’Neill sticking out from under Trump’s substantial right buttock.

The inference here is that perhaps the same sort of gullible uneducated voters and/or fundamentalist Christians who voted Trump into power might have also voted O’Neill and his cronies into power.

This then suggests that if American and Papua New Guinean voters were better educated they might not have inflicted Trump and O’Neill on their respective nations and on the world at large.

So let’s play the blame game. Whose fault is it that Papua New Guinean voters are poorly educated and easily conned by spivs like O’Neill?

The first inclination would be to blame Australia and say that it is guilty of leaving Papua New Guinea without enough educated elites at independence in 1975.

That may have been the case but it is now a specious argument. It has been nearly 44 years since independence. There has been plenty of time to correct whatever problems existed in the system that Australia left behind.

What can now be clearly stated is that it has been successive Papua New Guinean governments that have let down the education system.

And in doing so they have not only created but have also perpetuated the election of politicians who are wholly unsuited to leadership.

Just consider, if there had been a well-informed, discerning and educated voter base Papua New Guinea would not now have all the problems it experiences in so many facets of its existence.

With good leaders Papua New Guinea could have put its considerable resource assets to work creating an enviable society in its region.

Schools would be well-resourced, hospitals would be centres of excellence with dedicated and competent staff and landowners and their environments would not have been stripped of all their assets for no return.

In short, if Papua New Guinea had grasped the educational nettle at independence and made it their number one priority most, if not all, of the problems it now experiences would probably never have happened.

It is now very late in the day but there is still time to correct this national tragedy. Given the right leaders the situation can be turned around.

The benefits may not flow to the present generation but they would start with the next generation and build on their strength in generations after that.

And, as an added bonus, they would help in no small way with the survival of democracy, In Papua New Guinea and in the world in general.


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Daniel Doyle

I had waited for a response to this from some PNG educators but as that has not happened to any degree I submit my own thoughts. How, or if, you post this, Keith, is up to you.

Decline in quality of education in PNG

Phil Fitzpatrick asks, “Education is the key: does anyone know what happened to it?”

The Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea recently attributed the decline in education quality in PNG to curriculum changes instituted ten years ago. This was an important factor but only one of many.

Below are my thoughts on the causes of any decline, perceived or real.

The plan
Following the government’s commitment to the United Nation’s Education for All push in the late 1980s/early 1990s and the disenchantment within the Department of Education over the large numbers of pupils whose educational opportunities were terminated at the end of grade 6, 8 or 10. Despite the building of a relative small number of new classrooms in high schools, and an even smaller number of new high schools, transition from grade 6 to grade 7 was not improving. Transition from grade 10 to grade 11 had been stuck at approximately one thousand a year in only 4 National High Schools.

An Education Sector Study, funded by the World Bank but with minimal external input, was embarked upon to determine a way forward.

At the same time there was an international call, as well as in PNG, for greater efforts to be made in the support of vernacular literacy for educational and cultural reasons. Some provinces, notably Milne Bay, North Solomons, East New Britain, had established vernacular preparatory/elementary schools supported strongly by their own communities who saw them as critical elements in the preservation of the local culture. The Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) provided critical professional support.

The communities view was not necessarily shared by the emerging vocal urban middle class.

With the view of the majority in mind, the Sector Study resulted in a revolutionary proposal:

Schooling should begin at age six in a three year elementary school using a language of instruction chosen by the community, usually the vernacular, but not necessarily so. Apart from its contribution to cultural retention, the use of a language spoken by the children would allow for their introduction to reading and writing using a language that the children already knew, following a fundamental educational principle of going from the known to the unknown.

ALL elementary pupils would feed into six years of primary school from grades 3 to 8 with the transition to English as the language of instruction in grade 3.

After primary, ALL pupils would feed into high/secondary schools offering grades 9 to 10/12 and beyond, at least to grade 10.

To increase the number of students enrolling in grades 11 and 12, a high school in most provinces would be converted to Secondary Schools by the addition of those grades. Exceptions were to be made in the case of Western Highlands and National Capital District where the numbers of students qualifying for selection to grade 11 far exceeded the numbers anywhere else.

These represented the structural changes in the National Education Plan. The principal curriculum changes were: (1) the possible introduction of languages other than English as the language of instruction and the teaching of reading and writing in the chosen language in grades Prep, 1 and 2. (Transition to English as the language of instruction in grade 3; and, modification to the science curriculum in upper primary (grades 7 and 8) to remove the need for science laboratories.

What Happened


Communities and their school Boards of Management were left almost entirely to their own devices in regards to the building of classrooms for the elementary schools.

The regulation regarding the language of instruction, which provided for communities through their Board of Management to decide on the language was, in some cases, mis-interpreted as meaning a vernacular language must be used. Communities in rural and remote areas welcomed the use of vernacular as the language of instruction and for the teaching of reading and writing. The misinterpretation, however, brought immediate opposition from the emerging urban middle classes where there was no common vernacular language, with the possible exception of Tok Pisin or Hiri Motu or, in some cases, English.

An innovative elementary teacher training system was devised and successfully implemented while the Elementary Teacher Training Project was in operation but it rapidly declined post project as the Department of Education had never institutionalised elementary teacher training with the same seriousness as it had done for primary and secondary teacher training. In most cases under-resourced Elementary Coordinators and Inspectors in the provinces had to step in and provide whatever training they could notwithstanding the fact that teacher education is a national function.

Again, the urban middle classes, most of whom would have successfully completed their primary education thanks to the efforts of ‘A Course’ teachers who had completed grade 6 and one year of teacher training, ‘B course’ teachers who had completed Form 2 (grade 8) and 2 years of teacher training or ‘C course teachers who had completed Form 4 (grade 10) and two years of teacher training, complained bitterly about the enrolment of grade 10 leavers in elementary teacher training as opposed to the upgraded requirement for grade 12 for enrolment in primary teacher training. Very many communities in rural areas did not have grade 12 leavers but were happy to have new employment opportunities open up for their school leavers and to have their children start school at age six.

As has been the situation at all levels of the education system for decades, the availability of appropriate teaching and learning materials at the elementary level has been dire.

It took some years for the Teaching Service Commission and the Department of Education to have all elementary teachers efficiently included on the government payroll. Treasury had been very much opposed to the introduction of three years of elementary education, failing to understand that because of the lower salary for elementary teachers the cost of paying a teacher for three years at the elementary level would be no greater that paying a teacher for the two years of primary schooling which would be withdrawn from community/primary schools.


The addition of grades 7 and 8 to primary (formerly community) schools presented most communities and their Boards of Management with numerous challenges. Apart from the initial six Primary Schools (4 in Madang Province and 2 in West New Britain Province) which received K35,000 each and, subsequently, relatively speaking, a small number around the country that benefited from AusAID and European Union (EU) support, the communities, Boards and teachers had to fend for themselves. Little inservice, if any, was provided for the primary-trained teachers to teach grades 7 and 8, or their inspectors; teaching and learning materials were in little, if not nil, supply; and sanitation facilities to provide for the needs of adolescent girls were low on the list of infrastructure requirements.

The failure of centralised supply of adequate teaching and learning materials, a national function, saw school Boards and teachers buying and photocopying the necessary materials. The burden on rural and remote schools that had only difficult and expensive access to stationary shops and photocopying facilities was great.

A study of the education budgets of five representative provinces over a five year period showed nil provision for any infrastructure renovation or development at primary schools. The situation was no better in most other provinces.


A lot of thought was put into the selection of the first two ‘pilot’ secondary school which were chosen because the Department was certain that they would be successful. And successful they were, with one of them topping the national examination in their first year with grade 12.

These two schools had been selected by the Department, teaching and learning materials were provided, teachers were provided with inservice training and over K1m each was provided for infrastructure development, eg chemistry lab, etc.

Subsequently, two interventions upset this happy state: 1) a new government introduced, overnight, ‘free education’ leaving almost no money in the Department’s budget for anything else; and, politics generally. Why was one of the early secondary schools located in a place in SHP which few people had ever heard of? Because the Governor General at the time came from there. Why was the first secondary school in NI province in Namatanai and not Kavieng? Because the Prime Minister at that time was the local member.

And so it went, with virtually all decisions being political rather than based on any professional or economic considerations. Initially, the plan had provided for staged introduction of the new system with one secondary school in each province. However, with the success of the first two, every Member wanted one for his electorate.

In a small number of cases, international aid donors, principally Australian Aid and the European Union, provided support for new secondary schools but many, on the Members insistence, started off with no additional support.


There was an obvious need for some modifications to the curriculum to support these developments and assistance was offered by Australia in the form of a Curriculum Development project. This, as is not generally accepted, turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. It was, in affect, an attempt to introduce a whole new curriculum, Outcomes Based Education (OBE), which many states in the US and one or two in Australia were already dumping. No provision had been made in the original project design for the massive inservice training challenge which it presented, or for supporting textbooks and materials.

So, the issues may, at least in part, help to answer Phil’s question.

Jordan Dean

Sometimes I think our country is united because of the poor education system. A population that is unaware, ignorant and internally focused is ripe for the picking. Feed the masses lamb flaps and you maintain power.

Sadly, the more conscious voting population is small. However, times are definitely changing. Information is now widely available.

Yes, a lot of misinformation too but at least it gets conversations started in the communities about the direction where we are heading.

Philip Fitzpatrick

O'Neill would be silly if he didn't play both sides of the fence plus a few more to boot, like gullible Australia, Andrew.

He also does it within PNG, playing off provinces and politicians.

This all might be okay if he was doing it to better PNG.

But he's not, is he?

The states where the majority of voters backed Trump seem to be exactly where all the poorly educated and fundamentalists live, Chips.

I've got an English aunt who has lived in Indiana since the 1950s and she voted for Trump and still supports him. I wouldn't call her dumb or a religious zealot but she left school very young.

Progressive states like California didn't vote for Trump and they are now the only hope the USA has got to survive and prosper.

A good way to see where Trump hasn't got support is to watch those that don't support his policies and are actively opposing them i.e. on climate change etc.

Paul Oates

Andrew, the nexus between what in PNG politics was stated as being planned to happen and what actually happens is easier to decipher if you understand the background of PNG culture.

In some countries, people actually try to hold political leaders accountable for what they claim they will do if elected but most voters seem to be content with hearing yet another ‘new’ plan to replace the old one that didn’t work, for some reason.

PNG’s cultural norms are often geared to saying what people want to hear rather than achievable and practical ideas and programs.

This tendency is based on the essential cultural aspect of not offending those being spoken to. Western hyperbole is much the same however most western educated individuals usually dismiss such statements as wishful thinking knowing full well its really only smoke and mirrors.

PNG politics has developed into an art form of saying what the listeners want to hear but in fact, continuing to do what the leaders always wanted to do. Enrich themselves and maybe enhance their egos at the same time.

The result is as Chris has previously said, so much ‘maus wara’. The ‘mandarins’ in places like Canberra and other countries listen to the BS, suck it up and are conveniently placated. The people in the PNG villages have heard it all before and dismiss it for what it is. They know their own culture and their own leaders.

The really sad fact is that those PNG people with an education and a will to improve their nation are currently caught up in a continual but losing battle by try and overturn those elite who have power and intend to hold on to it for as long as they can.

Such a situation is a recipe for more future disasters.

Chips Mackellar

With due respect, Phil, I think you might have underestimated the support Trump has in the United States.

He did not win the popular vote, but he came close enough with 59,791,135 votes to Clinton's 60,071,781. And he won the Electoral College votes of 290 to Clinton's 228.

Also, across the nation, of the 50 States, the majority of voters in the following States voted for Trump: From North to South they are Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa,Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah, Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia, Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Lousiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

In general, all the Confederate States except Virginia, and all the South-East States, and all the Mid-West States except Colarado and New Mexico.

So you could say that apart from the poorly educated and the Christian fundamentalists you mentioned, Trump has quite a following in the United States.

The most recent US 'poll of polls' from 30 April shows Trump's approval rating is 41.1% and disapproval rating 53.3% - KJ

Andrew Brown

I'm sorry I'm confused. Last week both you blokes, Phil and Chris, were accusing the PM of being in with the Chinese belt road carpetbag. Now you're saying it's the US. Which is it fellows? Or is the PM playing both sides of the fence?

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