By GYNNIE KERO
YANGORU, one of the six administrative centres in East Sepik is on the path to becoming a district town.
It has been four years since my last visit to Yangoru station.
The two days visit took us longer to reach Boram airport in Wewak than expected.
The PX Fokker 100 flight passed through Nadzab for a short stopover and refilling, continued onto Madang and finally reached Boram around 12pm that scorching Thursday midday.
After loading into the back of a white 10-seater vehicle with three other vehicles and our driver, called Lau for short, we hit the road to a village in the Numbo LLG.
The local MP was going to open a K100,000 classroom for an elementary school at Numindogum village.
Under the reign of MP Richard Maru, a lot has happened in Yangoru-Saussia district. People’s lives have changed ‘overnight’.
They can now access very basic services like banking, courts, etc, at the Yangoru station and not waste K30 (both ways fares) to travel down to the provincial capital.
Young kids do not have to walk an hour to the main highway to places like Warasawa to be properly enrolled at an elementary school.
The top Grade 10 students now have the opportunity to study science (and social sciences soon) at the Yangoru-Saussia School of Excellence.
The district is poised for a major economic boom in its agriculture sector.
Funding has been made available for roads and bridges to enable especially cocoa farmers from West and East Yangoru to reach the station. The district itself generates K17 million from cocoa annually.
Activities have started at the much talked about Sepik Plains Special Economic Zone at Haripmo.
Sheds for layers (chickens) are already up. Out-grower opportunities will be left to locals. Raising meat birds means revenue going into the pockets of local farmers.
Not long, major firms will be invited to put up supermarkets at the Yangoru station.
What can go wrong when a leader or district has an educated and healthy population and whose little people are economically empowered?
Work on the second phase of the Yangoru-Saussia District School of Excellence has now commenced. This will be the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, complementing the School of Science that had its first Grade 11 intake of 60 students this year.
The district development authority board has resolved to transform the Yangoru Secondary School into a boarding school to complement the Australian Government-funded school of excellence and pioneer the trial of the district school of excellence concept.
The second phase of the school of excellence will cater for the top 5 per cent of Grade 10 students who wish to study courses like economics, business, law, etc. The DDA board has approved K1million for the project that will see the construction of girls’ and boys’ dormitories and other boarding facilities. The school of humanities will enroll 80 students from the current Grade 10s in 2021.
The total number of students who will be enrolled per year is 140 – 80 for humanities and 60 for science. This represents the top 10 per cent of 1,000 students who will complete Grade 10 in Wingei, Pomalmal, Numbo and Kusambuk High Schools and Kubalia, Nagam and Yangoru Secondary Schools.
“The district school of excellent concept is my brainchild. When I was the planning minister, I promoted the concept, and the Australian Government, seeing the merit in it, invested K18 million to pioneer the concept, aimed at improving the quality of education and getting more students into STEM (Science, Technology, and Engineering and Mathematics) education,” Maru says.
The concept is in the Medium Term Development Plan III (MTDP III).
“Let us go back to the traditional national high schools (Aiyura, Passam, Sogeri and Kerevat) which can be likened to schools of excellence for each region. The top students make it to NHS. Due to the increase in student numbers, we had additional NHS like Port Moresby and Wawin in Morobe,” Maru adds.
“When you look at Education Department statistics, PomNaths has always been the top school since its establishment. That is because PomNaths is like NCD’s school of excellence, enrolling the top students from NCD high and secondary schools. Likewise, Wawin in Lae will always be one of top 10 schools and it can be likened to Morobe’s school of excellence.
“The district concept is adopting the NHS concept but for the district level to improve the quality of education, especially in the rural areas where students are not privileged like those in urban centres, we have gone further to create schools and mini-campuses for different streams, creating conducive learning environments for students.
“It is not easy pioneering a concept with scarce resources. But I believe 100 per cent that if we get it right, this will transform the quality of education in rural PNG.”
Students who don’t make it to the school of excellence will still do Grades 11 and 12 at one of the district’s three secondary schools.
“I’m challenging parents and students to dream about entering the school of excellence and work hard because they are in a competition with over a thousand Grade 10 students in the district to secure a space. It will be very competitive and the only thing that will determine a student’s enrolment is their marks.
“We have built two high schools each in every LLG, reducing hardships faced by students travelling long distances. The challenge is now upon the parents, students, communities, teachers and school boards to work hard and send many students to YSDSoE.”
Why this alternate innovate approach?
“The country is big; we cannot expect the Education Department to help us all the time as they have limits,” Maru points out.
“We cannot sit back murmuring and complaining that the education system is failing us. Therefore, we as a district must take ownership, set standards and initiate reforms to achieve the national desired goal of equitable and accessible quality education for all.
“Our future is to have the most educated, knowledgeable and smartest people in the district, province and country. Education is the ladder to our future prosperity. It’s a big dream, a shared dream that takes shared responsibility. It may be too ambitious, but we are committed and taking the first small steps of this thousand-mile journey,” the MP says.
Maru recently visited Pomalmal High School in Koboibus Census Division in West Yangoru LLG to launch the construction of the Bubuamu bridge.
The bridge is critical for education because when the river floods, students are cut off. Koboibus Census Division also produces a lot of cocoa. The bridge is critical for continuity of day-to-activities even during the rainy season.
The YSDDA is also funding three more new staff houses for Pomalmal High School this year, in addition to the completed one, and two that are currently under construction. By end of this year, there will be six new staff houses.
“Our long-term goal is to replace all haus morota in the district’s educational and other institutions, as well as villages.
“I also announced that the YSDDA Board has already approved a new police station and a healthcare facility for Pomalmal which will be constructed next year (2021). I’ve tasked the people to identify land and advise us.
“I thank former DDA chief executive officer Fanston Yaninen and his successor Jacob Yafai and the district staff for their tireless efforts to ensure we have an effective district administration as they both accompanied me on the visits.”
Early childhood education
The district’s focus on delivering quality education is set to change with a long-term focus to provide high quality education starting in the foundation years in early childhood in village and ward-based schools.
“Right now, the district does not know what quality of education is being offered by our elementary and early childhood schools in our communities.
“We need a total stock-take and understanding of where we are today collectively as a district and also individually as schools involved in the early childhood sector.
“We must start by setting a standard of learning outcomes we want delivered in all our early childhood schools and then formulate a holistic plan to achieve the desired outcomes.”
At the opening of a two-in-one classroom at the Numindogum Elementary School in Numbo LLG last month, Maru advised the people that the DDA would commence a complete external audit of early childhood schools in the district with recommendations from the audit to help the DDA in its decision-making.
“Our aim is to develop a five-year plan to improve the academic performance of all our elementary schools based on the recommendations from our external experts.
“Quality education starts from the womb. Parents, communities and teachers in the district are responsible for the five stages of education; womb, early childhood, primary, high school and secondary school.
“We cannot be investing over K3million in education infrastructure each year and not get good returns on our investment. We want to get more and more of our district students going into universities and other institutions of higher learning after Grade 12 each year.
“We are starting now and in time we can, if we focus on quality not quantity. That is why we are investing in building modern elementary schools in every village so the little kids don’t walk kilometers to attend school.
“Parents must provide nutritional food as well as educate their kids. We must have good quality teachers who are committed to their duties and every school must have adequate teaching and learning materials, and an appropriate syllabus.
“Every child must dream to finish a university education or become someone one day. The pathway starts right from the womb to early childhood learning in the community.”