Shift focus back on land/self-reliance

Editorial

THE need for Papua New Guinea’s education system particularly at the secondary level to focus on practical subjects related to agriculture is real.
One of the biggest problems the country faces is the number of jobs available for school-leavers.
With the numbers increasing relative to the population growth, there are only so many jobs in the so-called formal sector and PNG’s two main cities (Port Moresby and Lae) can only absorb a finite number of new skilled workers before reaching saturation point.
Economic growth may be forecasted to slow down over the next two to three years, however, the need for people, especially the youth to be gainfully employed in some endeavour is a constant challenge for the State.
One of the ways people can be made more self-reliant is through the introduction of practical skills courses and vocational-style training in main stream secondary/high schools.
While some in the education department may say that the introduction of these courses is burdensome to the schools, the long term effects may be worthwhile.
Consider the student who has attended a high school that has provided him with a conventional education in language, the sciences and mathematics as well as some practical training in agriculture and even basic business management.
When that student graduates, there is no guarantee he or she will be able to find employment in the workforce with the competition for jobs intense.
The person could conceivably then be self-employed or at least be able to support themselves in some way – this is particularly true for school-leavers in the provinces where an estimated three-quarters of the population reside.
Secondary schools in the larger urban areas can also do their part in equipping students with the skills and knowledge to work the land in some way to earn a living.
While technical schools like Don Bosco and Caritas, as well as vocational schools, are there for that purpose, one will find that these institutions provide technical training to equip students in an urban setting.
Skills such as carpentry, welding, machine fitting, automotive, electrical and to a lesser extent information technology are provided by these schools to the great benefit to the students.
But skills on how to plant and harvest coffee, one of the country’s major cash crops with over half a billion kina in earnings annually are not part of the broader educational focus.
The same can be said for the country’s other major agricultural products such as cocoa, tea, copra and palm oil.
Even the fisheries sector should have some of its content added to the school syllabus.
Recently, De La Salle Secondary, on the outskirts of Port Moresby, opened an aquaculture training centre with the help of the National Fisheries Authority.
The centre is under the school’s business studies programme – a sub-unit called Know About Business (KAB), a programme conducted by the Small and Medium Enterrpises Corporation (SMEC), that aims to teach students on how to run a fish farm.
That kind of practical, hands on experience can only benefit young minds who will have something to fall back to if they chose to use the knowledge gained from the programme.
School principal James Ume summed the project’s underlying objective when he said it would not only be a great source of information for his students but equip them with some practical skills to have once they leave school. “I saw that the objective of the aquaculture was in line with assisting students who will drop out of school, so we took it on as a project,” Uma said.
NFA managing director John Kasu said the training was one of their objectives to upskill Papua New Guineans.
“You are the people who are going to be trained to look into the sectors to be able to facilitate various developments we have for our beautiful country,” Kasu said.
Perhaps investing in the education of our future generations on how to maximise the resources on the land and in the seas would prove more beneficial to society rather then producing a stream of graduates who have degrees and other skills needed in an urban setting and for big industry but are clueless in how to get back to basics.

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