A teacher’s territory

Normal, Weekender

The National, Friday, April 29, 2011

Given the appropriate teaching material, teachers will treat the classroom as their castle and estate, writes RUSSELL SOABA


A teacher’s territory is his castle and estate, so to speak.
Like an eagle in the light of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s literary metaphor, he keeps territorial watch over that classroom. It must be clean and tidy at all times. And it must be inhabited by children eager to learn.
The teacher goes missing and the classroom along with everyone in it gets thrown asunder. When that happens, all the policies, reform bills and related directives imposed upon such a little place from those higher up the bureaucracy may not work.
For one thing, the teacher’s absence will be the cause of such reforms not being properly implemented. Then we will have the obvious: questions surrounding the OBE and what it proposes to do or how it really could work if our teacher did not go walkabout. Then again, we hear the teacher himself complaining that he does not have the material which could enable him to stay back and keep his classroom in order.
The moral of this little story? Give that teacher a good book and he will certainly remain in his classroom and share some of the excitement he sees in that book with his pupils. He will not, if he is based at Kwikila, for example, go to town in search of his fortnight pay.
So what appropriate material can we offer to make that teacher’s job a little more exciting?
Dr Nicholas Garnier of the Visual Anthropology section of the Anthropology and Sociology Division of the University of Papua New Guinea believes he has the answer. His oft-mentioned publication, Twisting Knowledge and Emotion: modern bilums of Papua New Guinea can do wonders in keeping both teacher and pupil in the classroom the best part of each school week. And the only way this can be done is to supply the Education Department with copies of this book to be distributed free of charge to all the lower secondary and primary schools throughout the country.
Last Thursday a special ceremony was held at the University’s Council Room to observe this presentation. 3,000 copies in all were presented to the Education minister James Marape, under whose directives the books will find their destination at possibly all the schools in Papua New Guinea.
Also present at this occasion were His Excellency, Alain Waquet, the Ambassador of France and the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Papua New Guinea, Professor Ross Hynes.
Speeches made by these dignitaries touched on the need there was for reading material to be made readily available to schools, to make things easier for teachers and pupils to grasp the significance of new reform programs such as OBE.
Such gestures in free distribution of material to schools, pointed out by Mr Marape, enable UPNG to stand out as the leader in new reform initiatives.
At the launching of this same book by Dame Carol Kidu at the Parliament House on March 31 last year, Dr Garnier on behalf of the stakeholders, the publication sponsors and printers, along with the contributors and a women’s bilum organisation from Morata, made the promise that 3,000 copies would be donated to the education department for distribution.
That promise was fulfilled last Thursday. The remainder will be sold in the hope of regenerating enough to cover print costs of similar publications in the near future, this time on the theme of vernacular architecture.
This is a lovely publication. Its glossy pictorial content coupled with poetries of relevance to the bilum as a separate art form, and a supporting treatise on this popular art by Dr Garnier himself makes the book all more exciting. What rural school teacher would dare take a trip to town on a payday with such a publication around? And with a few more yet to come sponsor and stakeholder alike will feel the gist of this raison d’Ítre in book production for our schools at all levels. The teacher too will be reluctant to leave his work station.
None of these success stories come to our reach without the enormous amount of work put into them by various individuals involved in them. Dr. Garnier’s bilum project has been ongoing for many years, with everyone from virtually all walks of life participating.
He finds a willing collaborator in storyboard who considers a privilege to work with him. And that instance of team work proves exciting, all the more so because neither one (due to linguistic hang-ups) can easily understand the other. And yet the work that they produce appears monumental.
Here a few amusing instances. Now we all know that for a clock-conscious culture where Nicholas Garnier comes from Papua New Guinea is the worst place to be in. But for true-to-reputation modes of ceremonial protocol, Papua New Guinea remains the most glorious and memorable. Both men are perfectly aware of this. Thus, upon the hour that the presentation of books to the education minister will take place, the venue changes from Ulli Beier cultural centre to the University’s council room; His Excellency the ambassador calls that he will be some 15 minutes late; and the minister also calls that he will be 30 minutes late.
To top it all, the icing comes during the ceremony itself. Storyboard opens the proceedings by being a keynote speaker and not an MC which is what his collaborator probably meant by saying, “You will be first speaker.” The vice-chancellor, noticing that slight misgiving, perhaps, offers to take up the task of being the MC for the occasion. Alleluia. And all this is happening on a pleasant maundy Thursday afternoon too! And the rest of the guests are probably thinking, “What a stupid old man you are, storyboard!”
But it was a lovely day. We would like to use occasions such as this to speak in praise of those wonderful people who work as teachers within the rural areas of our country. Where they are life is hard, but they keep on hacking away, in both experimenting and implementing the new reform policies that come upon them more as challenging surprises than as duties there for them to perform. Given the appropriate teaching material they shall treat the classroom as their castle and estate.