Early childhood education, the way forward for PNG

Normal, Weekender

The importance of early childhood education has to be highlighted and recognised by the Government and development partners. HELEN HARRICKNEN* writes in this two-part series

EARLY childhood education is the way forward for PNG.
In the private sector a number of child care centres and pre schools have been contributing to early childhood learning, unnoticed by the Government and other development partners. 
Many private day care centres have also seen the need for learning of children in reading, writing and numbers, and some of these schools have gone out on their way to come up with their own school curriculums to introduce basic learning programmes and outcomes for children.
The Government’s 2007 Early Childhood Care and Development Policy (ECCDP) and the Elementary Schools are more to do with child welfare and literacy. Early childhood learning is more than that – it is curriculum based and resourced with trained teachers and relevant teaching materials at the very early age from three to eight years old.
If Government and its people want to see serious change for the betterment of our country, early childhood learning holds the potential. The private sector has recognised that and is now in the process of seeking out help from the Government to join hands in a private – public partnership to harness and develop this potential. 
The early childhood operators have realised the need for early childhood schools for our children, especially at the time when there is an increase in the number of working mothers who need to leave their children in places where trusted people can take good care of them.
Just like the Konedobu mother, who wanted to see her five-years-old child get some basic learning by being at the library, many parents do not just want to leave their children in a care centre without basic learning.
As more and more mothers join the work force, there needs to be well regulated early childhood schools that can take on the responsibilities that provide a homely, caring and learning environment for the children.
Early childhood education has not taken any specific focus of its own. The idea is to get all those concerned with early childhood education to network and highlight this area of education.
This area of education has a high potential to contribute to the development of this nation. We can never highlight this if we operate simply as individual businesses. Whilst we may run our private businesses, an important responsibility as educators is to project our vision beyond our businesses.
We have to look “outside the box”. When we look outside the box, we can already see that if early childhood education is supported and developed, it has the real potential to change this country.
The importance of early childhood education in nation building has to be highlighted and recognised by the Government and development partners.
PNG as a nation is plagued with corruption and social disorder at all levels of the society. So much has been written and said about corruption in PNG. It is viewed by some authors and commentators as a complex cultural and modern (introduced) dichotomy which solutions will take time to find (The National Research Institute Special Publication No. 47, Nov. 2007: Corruption in Papua New Guinea: Towards An Understanding of Issues).
Social disorder is also attributed to break down in government service delivery; lack of good governance and the non-enforcement of the rule of law.
Good governance and rule of law are being replaced by a culture of drugs and alcohol; corrupt practices; sexual promiscuity and immorality; marriage and family break downs; litter and graffiti; laziness and unemployment. The people are fast losing sense of responsibility and obligation to oneself, family, community and the country.
The critical question is, ‘How do we get out of this state of corruption and social disorder?’ This is a huge problem. Any plans and strategies to address must be multi-facet. And it will take time, but we must not wait and loose time. We have to act now but first we must know what to do and where to start.
We have tried policing by providing resources and funds under successive government budgets and donor funds to enable the law enforcement agencies (police, correctional services, courts, welfare services, Ombudsman Commission, leadership tribunals, Public Inquiries, etc) to enforce the rule of law. Still we continue to complain about lack of good governance and the proper application of the rule of law.
Today’s generation is doomed. No matter how much resources are poured into law and order, social services and infrastructure, there seem to be no change for the better. The culture of corruption and social disorder is fast becoming entrenched and institutionalised even to the point where the practice appears normal and acceptable. Corruption in PNG context is not black or white, its roots extend deep into a way of life (Joe R. Kanekane: 2007).
Under the scenario, the government and the concerned people should also take a serious look at initiatives which could help overcome this culture of corruption and social disorder. Allan Patience in his paper “Getting Tough on Corruption in Papua New Guinea” (2007) suggested as one of the steps to fight corruption that educational institutions (from elementary to tertiary levels) must introduce effective civics curricula that emphasise the value of good citizenship.
Perhaps this idea should be developed further as a developmental concern but in a more focused way. It should be aimed at formation of a new generation of Papua New Guineans.
And to do that it has to start from early childhood. It is easier to bend and direct a growing shoot than is to do it to an overgrown branch.



Next week: The way forward is to prepare a new breed of people. The writer has been a secondary school teacher in the public system for 15 years and 7 years with the International Education Agency. She has Bachelor of Education at the University of Papua New Guinea and Masters at the University of Southern Queensland, Towoomba, Australia. She is now the owner and principal of Lahara Play School at Boroko, NCD.