Flexible, free and accessible

Fode students in Port Moresby during registration at the beginning of this year. – Filepic

TO address the high number of dropouts last year, the Marape government has come up with a free education policy for flexible open and distance education (Fode). Education Minister Jimmy Uguro says Covid-19 has affected students’ learning last year which resulted in 17,000 of them missing out.To address this issue, the Government is embarking on funding and establishing Fode centers in the country so no student is left behind.Fode is free and the Government is subsidising the programme. “Fode is free because we are accommodating school leavers, we are opening up opportunities for those who have been left out, we are taking them on board.” Uguro said the education department has been directed to attach Fode centers to high schools and nominated primary schools throughout the districts. The fee-free option for school dropouts this year is good news for Fode students.National principal Anthony Rayappan says Fode is there to give second chances to dropouts. “That’s good news for our Fode students and parents as well, these are students that have been pushed out from the main system because of space issues in secondary schools,” he says.“Fode is playing a big role for those marginalised students who are dropouts. But not only for them, even there are many public servants, adults who did Gr 8 and 10 a long time ago, and want to upgrade. They want to continue their education but cannot go to schools. Fode is the avenue for them. So it is a very important second chance pathway for those students.”Port Moresby has two centers; the National Capital District (NCD) and Central provincial centers. NDC alone has about 3,500 registered students since last year while the Central centre has registered around 2,800 students. Central students come all the way from Kupiano in Rigo and along the Hiritano highway and other faraway places in the province. Rayappan says those students who live far from the city don’t have to come all the way now because schools will be offering Fode courses so they can stay back and continue their learning. “We will monitor their progress and also we are improving on certain things like conducting exams and giving results on time.” Fode centers have been told not to collect fees from students and parents. In the beginning of this year some parents from Morobe and Western Highlands raised concerns that their centers were collecting fees but the issue was addressed.“We did receive some complaints and we addressed them immediately; we sent the centers the information not to charge any fees, especially the subject fees.“We have given the direction that they are not supposed to charge subject fees and we also advised schools not to deny any student when they come for enrolment just because the fees have not been paid. They must enroll students. That’s what we advise all our Fode officers. And we told them to refund the subject fees if they had already collected any.”Starting next year Fode will be introducing online courses. “Students can enroll online, take up exams online and get their results online,” Rayappan says.“We are going to pilot this project starting with NCD and Central and if it is successful we will roll it to the entire nation.”Students can stay at home and access all the Fode materials at their homes.“We do not have to spend money on printing resource materials, everything will be in soft copy.”About 90 per cent of Fode’s money is spent on printing and distributing resources materials.

Principal of the national Fode office, Anthony Rayappan with a Fode student in wheel chair and a staff of Fode. – Pic Supplied.

In the past two years they have introduced tablet sto Fode students for learning purposes.“The tablet has all the soft copies and resource materials, everything is loaded here. It also has internet and Wifi where students can Google search everything, but there is no simcard so students can’t use it as phone; it’s for their learning purposes only.” The centre sells these tablets to students at an affordable price and many have already brought them and are using them. “The Government has given K500, 000 for this project so we have ordered 300 tablets and with that money we are going to distribute to other provinces,” Rayappan said. Recently curriculum writers in Port Moresby have started a workshop on online content development training. Fode is now embarking on rolling out online course delivery which will commence this year. “We are training our curriculum writers (teachers) how to develop and design content for online courses lining. The three-day conference that we are hosting. This will be facilitated by the Commonwealth of Learning experts from other countries. We also have development partners in New Zealand, South Africaand Canada who are expert educationists in open learning environment s. They are helping Fode to come online,” Rayappan says. “We are rolling out this for Grade 11 and 12 students now, they have the opportunity to study online without attending classes or tutorials.”This initiative is one aspect of the partnership between Commonwealth of Learning and Fode.“This is the first of its kind for the department and Fode is now moving one step ahead, rolling out online courses. The department and the schools never had an opportunity or an avenue throught which students can study at home using online course,” Rayappan says.He says Fode is embarking on this massive initiative and they hope that thousands of students can benefit.
Connection to remote areas
“Students in remote areas cannot travel to faraway Fode centers. So this online learning will really help them to enroll inFode programmes to study what they need“As long as they have any device like a laptop, mobile phone or tablet they can log into our website, a user name will be created and they will take courses online. Once they complete modules they will upload their assignments and sends them and they will get the results quickly, and continue modules till their final examinations.”Curriculum writer Elizabeth Jacob said training has helped the teachers on how to put their lessons online for students to use. Twenty-two curriculum writers were trained recently. “Now we are trying to go online and students can have access, so long as they have a palmtop or their mobile phones, or any other device with which they can be able to go online.They can be able to read our materials online,” Jacob said. “When we are done we will get everything onto the platform with the organisation that is helping us (Commonwealth of Learning). As soon as we get everything there and are satisfied at our end then it goes out. We are starting with the Grade 11 now. As soon as we get the Grade 11 one out we will move onto the Grade 12 modules and course book.”The training was facilitated by the Commonwealth of Learning experts from other countries. “Grade 11 and 12 students now have the opportunity to study online, without attending classes. That is the opportunity that we are providing this year,” Rayappan said.“This is the first of its kind and Fode is now moving one step ahead, rolling out online courses. The department and the schools never had an opportunity or an avenue that students can study at home using online courses,” Rayappan said.

Change of guards. Former education minister Joseph Yopyopy handing over the office to his successor Jimmy Uguro. Under Uguro learning through Fode is now free.

Thousands to benefit
Fode is embarking on this massive initiative and they hope that thousands of students can benefit. Fode is also encouraging elementary school teachers with Grade 10 certificates to take up Fode courses to upgrade their marks to Grade 12 level which is mandatory for them to then proceed to further training in teachers colleges. Last year National Capital District and some non governmental organisations sponsored elementary school teachers to enrol for Fode courses and they will contine their studies this year.All in all Fode is moving forward to make sure no one is left behind.