BY JEFFREY ELAPA
A VISION a village councillor had for his people is now becoming a reality, although it has not reached its full potential.
Sir Peter Ipatas, the Governor of Enga, who is referred to as the ‘Father of Education of Modern Enga’ dreamt that he would one day export the brains of his people and make it as an economy for his province.
Sir Peter, does not only want to create a cash economy for his province but he also wants to one day made Enga a model province in PNG and become a leader in Education.
One day he also wants to see an Engan occupying one of the teaching positions at some of the leading universities in the world like Oxford and Harvard or become a famous person holding on to one of the leading jobs in the world.
Isn’t that possible? Yes it is possible, Investing in the human resource is a cash economy of itself and that is proven to be a sustainable economy. The Philippines, for instance is one country that depends more on its human resource. All its citizens are spread across the world and continue to send money back home, contributing to the GDP of the country.
India is another country that export its best brains as scientist and top mathematicians, accountants, doctors and rocket scientist of course.
So can’t Sir Peter’s dream become a reality, he wants Enga to be like India and the Philippines and other countries that prioritises education as the as an agent of change for his province and his people.
So before entering national politics he dreamt that he would one day make Enga a model province where he would market his top brains and export them as an export commodity.
Prior to being elected as a Governor in August 1997, Sir Peter was a ward councillor, a president of the Wabag Local Level Government and deputy governor of the Enga.
All in all, he had served as a politician for 42 years, at the ward, LLG, provincial and national levels.
However, Sir Peter saw that his people and his province had no future as Enga. Like its brothers, Southern Highlands and Hela, Enga was at the tail end of the service line, where there was not much economic activity happening to lure more people. He saw that the economy of the province was really unsustainable.
The visionary leaderwanted to make a difference. He knew that Porgera gold mine would one day close. He believed that without creating any avenues for his people, Enga would never be competitive in any way so he prioritised education.
He committed all the limited resource of his government on education, knowing well that one day he would sustain the economy based on his human resources. He introduced free education and subsidised education for all Engan studying in all tertiary institutions throughout the country.
“ I had a vision that I should invest in education for my people and I declared free education for schools in my province 22 years ago.
This programme was then copied by the People’s National Congress Party of Peter O’Neill in 2012 when it introduced free education throughout the country, which has increased the total intake by more than one million students.
Twenty-two years on, Sir Peter’s dream is gradually becoming a reality because of continuity and consistency in the free education programme.
He proudly announced that during the recent signing of the memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the University of Goroka (UOG) and his government in Wabag recently when he declared that his vision is paying off as its human resources is now a cash economy of itself in the province.
“I had a vision that I should invest in Education for my people and I declared free education for schools in my province 22 years ago. I initiated the Enga Children’s Fund that has been supporting the children of Enga. I prioritised education as the way forward for greater empowerment and progress for my people.
“In fact it was a political suicide to invest in a sector that would not produce result immediately. The result of investment in the education sector can be realised after many years. Investing in Education is not like building roads that can be delivered and people can see it and believe it. Investing in Education is a long term goal and I had to consistently prioritised Education over the last 22 years.
“It is now a reality as the people of Enga have continued to give me undivided support by electing me back to Parliament for the past four consecutive years since 1997, so I can be able to continue to invest in education and fulfil my dream for my people to make education as a cash economy of itself,” he said.
Not quite there yet
Sir Peter said he has achieved a lot of positive results but they are not yet where they expect to be.
Not only are his people employed and contributing to the provincial economy of the province, there are others who have ventured into the small to medium enterprise sector and are contributing which is also a bonus.
He said so far he has invested K380 million in education alone for his people of Enga, and this equates to an investment of the same amount in the brains (human resources) of his province since 1997.
He said while there was no specific statistics of how much each Engan was sending money back home, it was a reality that huge sums of cash were being transferred into the province. Those working outside the province are transferring big sums of money back to their parents and relatives and contribute to other communal community responsibilities like deaths, compensation, moka and marriages.
Sir Peter said he would continue to invest in education so long as he was alive but this time he wants to invest in improving quality by establishing specialist learning institutions, not for Enga alone but for the nation as a whole.
He wants to use that as an opportunity to create an environment that would encourage the avenue for the rest of PNG to come to Enga to study and work there so it continues to sustain its economy.
He not only wants to create a venue for people to being money into Enga but he also wants to make Enga the centre of quality teaching and learning and the centre of excellence.
So far he has invested in establishing the Enga College of Nursing with over 70 students from all over PNG enrolled. He has also established the Enga Teachers College and the Hela-Opene Polytech College.
He has also initiated the K600 million Provincial Hospital that is also targeted at bring people from outside to come and access the services at the hospital. His dream is to provide the best quality health service by encouraging highly qualified professionals to live and work in Enga to encourage more Papua New Guineans to access high quality services in the health and education sectors.
The signing of the MOA with the UOG is the recent initiative of Sir Peter with the aim of improving the quality of education for the province and country.
Under the MOA, a four-year secondary teacher training degree program will be offered at the Enga campus.
About 150 spaces have been offered for the Enga UOG campus and around 120 of them have been awarded scholarships by the Department of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology for the 2020 academic year. This means that 120 of the 150 students will be offered government scholarship while the remainder will be self-sponsored corporate-sponsored and will use the facilities at the Enga Teachers College.
Sir Peter said it has been a national concern that the quality of education has dropped. He said grade 12 students from secondary schools high schools around the country were not performing well because of lack of specialist subject teachers.
The father of Education in Enga said he mooted the idea of partnering the UOG to address the disparities that exist in the quality of education in the country. He said through the programme, the university would deliver specialist programme in chemistry, Biology, physics, mathematics and English so about 150 specialist teachers would coming out of the university each year.
Chancellor of the University of Goroka Dr Joseph Sukwianomb said the signing of the MOA was a new beginning for Enga and the university and they were proud to partner action leaders like Sir Peter Ipatas to bring quality of higher education and the University programs closer to the people.
He said the arrangement was for the university and the Enga government to deliver a four-year secondary school teacher degree programme in the province,
Dr Sukwianomb thanked the Enga government and provincial administration for the initiative to partner the university that not only trains secondary school teachers but also offers a wider range of programmes including science, mathematics, health and agriculture.
He said they were also planning a medical school at the university and a school of agriculture and that would start with the Maprik Agriculture College in partnership with East Sepik Provincial Government.
The Enga government under Ipatas would also want to partner the university to establish a medical school in Enga, which will be in line with the university proposal to establish a medical school in Goroka.
Sir Peter has a dream is to one day have a medical school and a secondary school teacher training university in Enga that will continue to sustain the economy of his province after Porgera.
He wants to leave a legacy as the father of modern Enga and education when he bows out of politics.