The National – Friday, December 10, 2010
In the final part of his five-part series on the controversial outcomes-based education, AARON HAYES sheds some light on the involvement of Australian consultants and Papua New Guinean education officers in the introduction of the system to PNG. He also suggests the way forward to ensure a curriculum that will work for PNG.
QUESTION: Was outcomes-based education (OBE) introduced by our own curriculum experts?
The home truth: No.
OBE was a concept brought to PNG by Australian consultants working for the AusAID-funded curriculum reform implementation project (Crip).
To my knowledge, none of these consultants had ever taught in a PNG school before.
Most of them had never even been to PNG before.
Many of them were from Queensland where OBE was introduced in the 1990s and they brought this curriculum model with them.
Also, most of our PNG curriculum officers had not even heard of OBE before, so they did not feel confident to question it or challenge it at the planning meetings in the late 1990s. They just nodded their heads and went along with it because they did not want to look stupid by opening their mouths, as we say here in PNG, and they assumed that the Crip consultants were experts who knew what they were doing.
It is important to understand that, in the late 1990s, most PNG curriculum officers were only senior teachers seconded to the curriculum unit.
In those days, the main qualification you needed to work in the curriculum unit was having your own accommodation in Port Moresby because there was an acute shortage of housing for standards wing officers.
Most primary curriculum officers only held a teachers college diploma and did not have specialist qualifications in curriculum development.
When the Australian consultants came in with their PhDs and masters degrees and earning a K200,000 salary, the local curriculum officers were quite overwhelmed and did not feel confident to question or challenge them.
Crip consultants took advantage of this situation to push the project through quickly and, soon, started producing policy documents like the national curriculum statement and assessment policy which they claimed were written “by Papua New Guineans for Papua New Guineans”.
But, it did not ring true.
From what I saw, the new OBE curriculum documents seemed to be largely drafted by the Australian consultants with token input from subject advisory committees, then rubber stamped by the curriculum unit and printed with everybody’s names inside to make it look like they were written by Papua New Guineans. But, they were not. I know because I was there.
If you think this sounds outrageous – I agree!
Q: Were research studies and pilot programmes carried out to prove that OBE would work in PNG before AusAID spent millions of kina to set it up?
The home truth: No.
There were no research studies done to prove what was wrong with the old objectives-based curriculum model and prove that OBE would be more effective.
There was no literature review or comparative survey of different curriculum models used in other countries to search for the best new approach for PNG.
There was no piloting, or trialling, of different curriculum models in different provinces to see what would actually work best in PNG.
The consultants just arrived with OBE and railroaded it through, then tried to make it look like it was our idea.
I know because I was there.
If you think this all sounds quite unprofessional – you are right!
Q: Is current education secretary Dr Joseph Pagelio responsible for allowing OBE into PNG schools?
The home truth: No.
Pagelio was on study leave doing his PhD overseas at the time the reforms were introduced.
He has inherited this situation through no fault of his own and is trying his best to make things work.
The curriculum reform was introduced under the previous education secretary, Peter Baki, who once told me in a private meeting that he was “no expert” in curriculum matters and that he relied on his curriculum officers to advise him what was best.
If you think this sounds like a case of “the blind leading the blind” – again, you might be right!
Q: Was the Education Department warned that OBE was unsustainable in PNG?
The home truth: Yes.
In 2000, the Education Department received strong advice from two of its own expatriate contract officers that OBE was unsuitable for introduction into PNG schools.
These officers were the principal guidance officer (myself) and Dr Ann Ryan, the senior curriculum officer (science) who is now a lecturer in education at Monash University.
Both of us wrote minutes to the department advising that OBE was unsustainable for PNG, and we even attended a meeting with the education secretary on the matter, but our technical advice was later ignored.
If you think this sounds unbelievable that the department did not listen to its own experts – you would definitely be right!
Q: Is it too late to reverse OBE now that so much money has been spent on the new curriculum?
The home truth: No.
OBE is just a way of implementing the curriculum.
We can easily revert to other ways of teaching the new curriculum without changing the content of the curriculum.
The books and resources that have been distributed by Crip and other projects can still be used as resources for a teacher-centred learning approach.
The in-service training on student-centred learning will not go to waste, as teachers can still apply the concepts to student group work, research assignments and so on, but under firmer teacher control.
All we need to do is allow classrooms to revert to teacher-centred learning that will give all students everywhere in PNG the opportunity to gain a basic quality education.
The curriculum unit can design a new set of standard lesson plans for each subject that even untrained or inexperienced teachers can follow and deliver to their classes, using the textbooks and other resources that have been provided to schools so far, thus ensuring that all students will receive the same basic quality of lessons regardless of which teacher they have.
Providing teachers with a standard set of lesson plans to base their classes on will also cut down on the amount of work that teachers have to do every night “re-inventing the wheel”.
Schools with more qualified teachers and additional resources can build on this foundation providing extension activities and other enhancements.
The main thing is to ensure the type of education we ask our schools to provide for our students is realistic, achievable and sustainable in the long term.
*Aaron Hayes is an experienced high school science teacher and a qualified school psychologist. He served in the standards wing of the PNG Department of Education from 1997-2002, first as visiting guidance officer for southern region schools and later as principal guidance officer. He was also involved with the curriculum division as a HSC chemistry examiner and a member of the subject advisory committee for personal development. Hayes holds a masters degree in educational psychology from the University of Queensland and can be reached at [email protected]