Papua New Guinea: Reform or deform?:education policy in PNG

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Mon Oct 13 18:57:50 UTC 2008

Reform or deform?:education policy in PNG
by Andrew Moutu ~ October 13th, 2008. Filed under: Education.

AN ANONYMOUS PERSON from the Madang Province in PNG wrote in to The
National  newspaper and made a stinging criticism against the policy
of education reform in PNG. The general thrust of the letter decries
the quality of education given to Papua New Guinean children under the
present system of education reform. The letter reads as follows:

BEFORE the emergence of education reform system, speaking tokples and
tokpisin was a punishable offence in primary and secondary schools.
English was the only language that was allowed to be used for
communication anywhere within the school's boundary. As a result,
students speak and write good English. Today it is different. Students
are communicating in tokpisin and teachers are not strict anymore and,
consequently, many students cannot master their written expression
examinations. How can such a phenomenon boost effective learning? What
is wrong with the old education system? It produced engineers, pilots,
doctors, lawyers, political scientists, etc. Did that mean the old
system had failed PNG? I cannot understand the education reformers
with this confusing system. I urge the Government to immediately
dissolve the new education reforms and bring back the old system.

So if the old system of education was delivering quality education and
producing the kind of skilled manpower that PNG needs, why must it
succumb to the seductions of a reformist philosophy which has
frustrated effective learning and sponsored a policy that encourages
intellectual degeneration? Part of the answer to this dilemma lies in
the seductive abberations of numerical thinking that is bound up with
a moral impulse to democratise universal education to all peoples. If
that was the moral, the economics that came with comes under the
rubric of user-pay policy promulgated by such organisations as the
International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

The major site of concentration of the education reform in PNG has
been at the level of primary education. The numerical logic behind
this concentration stems from the assumption that there are lot of
children at the lower levels of education compared to those in
secondary and tertiary institutions. A kind of pyramid structure
organises the number of educated people in different levels of
education with a bulk of the population being illiterate or less
educated being assigned their spot at the base of the pyramid and a
small number of educated people at the higher levels of education.

Given this pyramidic configuration, it seem morally right to educate
as many children as you can find in lower levels of education because
the higher you climb up the ladder of education, less people become
educated. In PNG this saw a mushroom-like proliferation of top-up and
secondary schools. Communities in many parts of rural and urban PNG
were forced to go out and find their own ways of raising money to
build their schools and at times they found themselves in competition
with each other trying to get money from the same source such as a
Member of Parliament or from a donor agency. While it gives them a
sense of autonomy and ownership over the creation of this educational
infrastructures, the communities had little control over the issues of
curriculum development and critical pedagogy.

Concurrently major changes were made to re-order the grades or level
of primary and secondary schooling in which some of us went through in
the previous system. For instance, in the present reform, and in some
parts of rural PNG only, kids go through some 3-4 four years of
vernacular education before going into an English curriculum in the
latter half of primary education. The teachers of vernacular education
are not qualified teachers but handpicked volunteers who often commit
themselves to teaching without being paid. The grades 7-8 of what used
to be high school years is now relegated to the height of the top-up
schools and teachers who are teach there are not university trained
but from lower teacher colleges.

While top-up and second-schools were mushrooming throughout the
country, there was no corresponding growth at the higher institutes of
learning such as colleges and universities to accomodate the number of
graduates that were coming out of primary and secondary schools. This
leads to a real bottle-neck situation that was not not foreseen and
anticipated by the desire to upturn the pyramidic structure of
education. To cut the long story short, the present education reform
in PNG has severly compromised the quality of education in PNG and
kids who come out of this system will have to work much much harder to
cope up with the demands of learning that their peers have elsewhere
around the Pacific.

It is not just the quality that is being compromised. The moral of
universal education is a virtue we may all subscribe to but it should
not be pursued at the cost of compromising quality education to the
point of submitting our children to a curriculum that is characterised
by intellectual mediocrity and cognitve degeneration. The moral of
user-pay policy also has got its mathematics wrong in some very
critical ways. That is focuses on the number of heads being educated
rather than the output that graduates in various levels of education
bring to the workforce and the economy as a whole. The language and
economics of education reform in PNG conceals an insidious deformity
within its make-up and it is already time for PNG to re-evaluate the
merits of this policy.

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