Dreams and visions

Normal, Weekender

We need to go back to what education is all about, says SCARLETT TRUDE EPSTEIN

MARTIN Luther King had a dream that captivated America, and President Barack Obama is also seen as a beacon for much longed-for change. Such leaders are few and far between.
Our own Governor-General, Sir Paulius Matane, is also a visionary: he longs to see PNG stride into a successful future informed by traditional PNG values, but also by knowledge, skills and attitudes from a worldwide tradition of humanitarian progress. But the so-called Reform Curriculum that’s meant to be based on his vision is proving to be both unpopular and unsuccessful. This does not, surely, indicate a failing in his vision, but the vital changes in public attitudes to education that must be made before his philosophy can be appreciated.
But there is a way to jump puddles. It is not just that Sir Paulias is right. It is not just that the Reform is unpopular. We need to go back to what education is all about: helping people think how to meet their most pressing needs. Imagine a three-pronged approach like this:
Find out what our needs really are, and what resources, human and natural, we have to meet those needs. Where there’s a gap between our needs and our ability to meet them, we know that we need education and other resources to bridge the gap.
Find out what is going wrong at present. For example, why is the Reform Curriculum in such trouble? What works in other countries may not work here. What is happening, that teachers of good will are failing to implement the new syllabus?
Plan the initiatives which will help bridge the gap between our needs and the resources we have to meet them. Avoid the mistakes we’ve made so far, and build up our skills and knowledge and attitudes to solve our problems. Foreign ideas and the expertise of expats are not enough. PNG nationals need to cooperate to create our own answers.
Sounds idealistic? But really, we’ve done a lot of this already! Compare the following projects with the stages listed above:
A survey in Simbu province into community attitudes to and expectations of education. This was done by Business Studies students at Kerowagi Secondary School, as a practical market research exercise, led by VSO Demeter Kraaij, in 2006 and 2007. Not only was this an example of real education – the students didn’t just talk about market research; they learned how to do it. But also, the survey looked at the needs of people in Kerowagi district, and the shortfall in the resources presently available to meet those needs.  Demeter is now working with PEGS.
A major survey in Madang province into the problems encountered in implementing the Reform Curriculum in Primary Schools. This survey was carried out by a team led by Professor Scarlett Epstein, under the auspices of Voluntary Service Overseas and the Madang Education Division, in early 2007. It found out that most teachers have little understanding of the Reform Curriculum, and fail to recognise the opportunities for innovative education which it does contain. So, the survey clarified what is going wrong at present.
The establishment of the Simbu English Teachers’ Association, which wrote and published the first textbook designed to meet the real learning needs of students in PNG, and the longer term needs of their communities. This work was facilitated by VSO Ian Cameron, in 2007. Ian now works with PEGS. The text has been approved by the NDOE for use across the country. Note the key point: the text was written and published by Simbu teachers. Once they were encouraged to work on the problem of poor English results, they came up with their own, better, learning materials. They looked at the problem, what was going wrong, and planned how to teach the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed. No expatriate could have provided the real expertise here, that had to come from nationals.
So, these are the ingredients for what we hope will prove to be an innovative, community-centred approach to education for development. We’ve done the groundwork; now it’s time to move forward.
So, what do we mean by ‘Community-Centred’? We mean that we need to recognise that although all human beings face similar problems, only those within a particular community can create answers which will truly help them. I can come to you and help you understand your situation; I can never know what is best for you. You are always the expert. I am just the facilitator.
So, in our innovative community-centred education projects, we shall start by using community mapping techniques to help communities become more aware of their needs and the gaps in the resources they have to meet them. Education and training will then be planned to help bridge the gap between needs and resources. Some of the education and training can be set in place within existing schools, some can be implemented in informal settings within the community. The reform curriculum, within formal schools, can help, so we plan to train teachers and community members to recognise and use the opportunities it offers. Community radio will be used to raise awareness and understanding of the progress that can and is being made.
Research and experience such as our Madang Survey have proved that imposing education schemes from abroad does not meet the real needs of students or communities. Our Kerowagi Attitude Survey shows that communities still regard education as ‘cargo’ which may in some magic way bring them riches. And, since at present community needs aren’t being met – with only one in ten students finding paid work – frustration and civil unrest soon make their presence felt. Finally, as the SETA textbook project has shown, local expertise can be utilised to make real progress, creating employment opportunities and alternatives to employment. The secret is to recognise the value of community involvement which in turn hinges on a community-centred approach.
What we propose for our Innovative Community-Centred Education Project
PEGS-PNG proposes that this project will be managed by a core team in Madang. Two teams ‘on the ground’, one in Madang province, and one in Simbu, will be trained in Community-Mapping and In Service Training for Primary Schools who opt into the project.
The project will be piloted over an initial two-year period. Since only a small number of core staff positions will be filled by highly skilled and experienced specialists whose job it’ll be to train nationals to fill the other posts, the major outcome will be the production of staff able to take the project into its next stage.
Thus the teachers recruited into local teams will go on to train other teachers. A text book for the ‘Making a Living’subject area of the Reform Curriculum will have been made available for use nationally and the local communities involved in the pilot will have a far greater sense of educational ownership, formal and otherwise. They’ll be able to make much greater use of the skills of the school leavers. Community radio will also play two key roles, as a training resource and as a ‘community-building’ facility, that’ll continue after the Pilot Project. Our belief is that such a community-centred approach can begin to bring to reality the vision of Sir Paulius Matane for PNG.


* For more information please contact Paul Hukahu, director of PEGS-PNG (mobile No 7120 8244; e-mail: [email protected])