THE Tufi community in the large ATS settlement in the Moresby North East electorate now has a small Christian school that trains phonics teachers.
The first graduation of phonics teachers was held last Saturday at the school/church grounds.
From 2021, Leha Christian School will not only teachAmerican phonics but integrateschild-minding, early childhood learning and adult literacy.
Founder and principal Michael Martin was commended by church pastors and community leaders for his foresight in starting the school which they said would contribute to improving lives in the long run.
The phonics training is seen as setting a pathway for Grade 12 school leavers who want to apply to teachers colleges.
This was why Joseph Gaiwari enrolled at Leha Christian School and learnt American phonics.
Joseph and five others graduated from the little known school on Saturday.
The 20-year-old Grade 12 graduate of Martyrs Memorial Secondary School in Northern has a burning desire to one day stand in front of a class of eager learners. He says he just loves teaching.
His application for teacher training after Grade 12 was unsuccessful and he turned down the offer to study a business course at a training institute in Lae because there were no boarding facilities.
Joseph had to leave his family in the Central Kaiva area of Sohe and travel to the capital in search of opportunity. While living with the family of a school friend, he got to know about the small phonics training school tucked away in a corner of the ATS settlement.
He was the first to enroll for the pioneering class of the Americal Phonics Teaching Training course which ran for three months.
The graduation on Saturday was a joyous occasion for the group of six young people who now have a little more confidence added to their stature and a certificate to their CVs.
The phonics training conducted by the Leha Christian School is based on the Abeka Books curriculum that dates back to the 18th Century America, that was used in early childhood Christian learning mostly in homeschooling environments.
What is taught at Leha Chrisitan School consists of 261 phonetic sounds and 28 systematic phonics rules and 156 phonograms (symbols representing vocal sounds).
School principal Martin says the teaching of American phonics is an important foundation of early education in PNG.
The American phonics curriculum taught here also takes from other phonics systems of the world and is perhaps the best for PNG children, he says.
“There are at problems with our public education system and some of these are: Poor and wrong English pronunciation; lack of confidence in conversing in English; the lack of phonics teaching in public schools; and the phonics taught are not meeting international standards.”
From next year, the school will take enrolments for early childhood learning, phonics teacher training and adult literacy classes.
The school is a welcome initiative in this village, says community chair Margaret Jarigi.
She also encouraged the operators of the school to “keep up the good work” adding that when they have more educated people in their community, they will do many good things that have not been done before.
“God has given this place to us. Let us do the right thing to support such community services,” she said.
Her husband and former chairman of the community, Lionel Jarigi said the school was bringing education to their doorsteps where underprivileged children could get a start to education.
“So many of our children not in school. We need this school as it is very important.”
A few others who spoke at the graduation commended the school as the pathway for school leavers and illiterate adults.
Early childhood learning now part of education structure
Early childhood education is now part of the public education system and learning phonics is a necessary part of this foundation of a child’s academic life.
The Department of Education has phased out elementary schools and revised the education structure so there are now one year of early childhood learning, six years of primary education and six of secondary education.
That requires better trained primary school teachers and besides there is also a need for phonics teaching in early childhood education as well. Phonics is regarded as a necessary stepping stone for children to learn to read, write and speak the English language correctly.
A number of phonics systems have been in use around the world, one of which is the American curriculum.
In Papua New Guinea as in many other countries, teachers are turning to phonics to help their students learn to read and write English. But teaching phonics in Papua New Guineans and other people for whom English is not a native language can be tricky.
Language expert, Prof Craig Volker wrote in his weekly column Language Toktok on Oct 4, 2019: “Most languages written with alphabets, including Tok Pisin, have a regular correspondence between the sounds of the language and the symbols used to write them. In those languages children just have to learn the system and then they can write or read out any word in their language, even if they have never heard or seen it before. ”
“English is different. Some sounds can be spelt in different ways: think of the “f” sound that can be spelt with “f” (“finger”), “ph” (“elephant”), or “gh” (“enough”),” Volker pointed out.
Teachers at Leha Christian School, are mindful of that.
Martin is confident that the kind of instruction that they give to their students is a great way to start their education and gives them a level of confidence that is missing among pupils who have not had phonics training.
He named the school after his Leha clan in the Ialibu-Pangia electorate of Southern Highlands.
The community has welcomed the school as an important agent of change that will make a difference for them, especially for the many out-of-school children.
One of the adult literacy students, Lucy Lopasi said at the graduation that the school would succeed when those running it have their hearts in the right place.
“If the school was established only to make money, it might fall but if it is genuinely serving the community it will succeed,” she said.
From a group of 500 people of Tufi origin in 2001, by 2015 the community had grown to over 1,000 including those from other parts of the country who have relations either through marriage or simple acquaintance.
The Oro spirit and mentality has kept the community in harmony over the past years. But that can be tested over time as more people from other ethnic groups settle among the Tufis.
Good Christian education is a proven foundation for children to grow up to be good citizens or professionals later in life.
For this reason the community is keen to see Leha Christian School succeed in its mission to educate the young and old alike.