By Rev SEIK PITOI
TO MANY people around the country, the name “Mr Bala” is synonymous with Badihagwa High School.
This is understandable for a person who has faithfully served in that particular school as principal since 1995. At the end of this year, Bala will chalk up 24 years as principal at Badihagwa, 27 years as principal in general, and will have rendered a total of 39 years of service in his teaching career.
November 2019 will also mark his first year of serving without his ‘helpmeet’, fellow teacher for many years, best friend and wife – Clarissa Bala. This is his story.
Maru Bala’s illustrious career began with his own education at his humble Galomarubu Village in the Rigo district of Central. He commenced at his village LMS School, then to the nearby Bina Primary school, and eventually to Port Moresby at the Hohola Demonstration School where he completed his sixth grade in 1973.
He continued with high school education to Grade 10 at Kwikila High in 1977, then spent the next HREE years at Goroka Teachers College before graduating with a Diploma in Secondary Teaching in 1980. Armed with his diploma, he began his teaching career in 1981 at Palmalmal High School in Pomio, East New Britain.
For Maru the year 1981 is outstanding for two reasons: He commenced his teaching career at Palmalmal, and secondly, he met a special teacher at the school, a lovely young lady from Oro called Clarissa. The two became friends, then married soon after. They began serving together as teachers while raising a family.
Maru’s teaching career continued in East New Britain with the next two years at Kokopo High School (1982-83), and another six years as senior teacher at George Brown High School (1984-89). Being a Christian, he devoted the next three years teaching at the United Church-run Wesley High School in Milne Bay as deputy headmaster, eventually taking up the headmaster’s post in 1992.
The Bala family moved back to New Britain from 1993 to 1994, this time to the western half as Maru took up his post as headmaster of Kimbe High. Since his graduation, he had spent all his time outside of his own province. Now, it was time to come home. That happened when he was appointed headmaster of Badihagwa High School in 1995. He has served in that capacity until today, broken only by a two-year study leave from 2008-09 at the University of Goroka for his Bachelor’s degree in Education Planning and Administration.
Maru and his late wife were science teachers. Apart from that, she also took on counselling, while he added commerce. However, due to his training, he was more of a planner and strategist and that became evident when, as principal, he began to spend less time in the classroom and more time in plotting the paths of the schools under his care. Maru also values the overseas training he received from principals’ conferences he attended in Japan, Thailand and Australia. These programmes broadened his outlook and helped him appreciate the ways schools are run in other countries.
On the spiritual side, he is the chairman of the Papua Ekalesia fellowship at Ela United Church. He and his late wife’s tour to Israel in 2013 added another dimension to their lives and strengthened their faith in the Lord. Maru considers both entities – faith in the Lord and commitment to the job of teaching, as important pillars in his life.
Principal Bala is also the chairman of the NCD high school principals committee, He is passionate about the treatment of teachers. He has been very vocal about the ‘free education policy’ which is “an excellent concept but needs to see all stakeholders cooperate” to ensure its success.
“There is no magic solution,” he said. “We can talk about raising education standards but if the state continues to balk at paying its component to the schools on time every year; if leave tickets are not paid for teachers, housing issues are not addressed, classrooms are overcrowded, and if materials cannot be purchased on time, we will still fail to rise to the required standard. When teachers’ personal needs are not addressed and when the infrastructure is falling apart, there is a decline in staff morale which affects the students as well,” he added.
“For parents, their cooperation is vital. This all about ‘shared responsibility’ and parents must appreciate the difficulties the schools face and assist with the little that is apportioned to them to pay. We take in transferees from private schools and Christian academies where they used to pay K4,000 to K7,000 per year for their children’s education. When they cannot afford it any longer, they come to us in the government schools where they are asked to pay very little in comparison. We are happy to receive all who come to us but parents must be prepared to make sacrifices for their children too.”
Badihagwa High was established in 1957 on land belonging to Hanuabada villagers and was primarily a high school for Motu-Koita students. The first enrolment was in 1967 with 160 students. Today, it is a large school with over 2,000 students. With the motto of Progress through Effort, the school has opened up to cater for students from every province in PNG.
However, Maru has always had a concern for the local people, desiring to see their children excel in their studies. Thankfully, he has had the joy of seeing many from Hanuabada and other Motu-Koita villagers pass through Badihagwa High, now called Badihagwa Technical Secondary School (BTSS), become important citizens of our nation.
Sadly, as with all high schools in the country, cultic practices like “generation or system” and drug and alcohol abuse exist at Badihagwa. But with a strict disciplinarian in Principal Bala, there is “zero-tolerance” for students who prefer to engage in such practices. He has always points out that there are many students out there who cannot come to school. These current students are the fortunate ones. However, if they wish to engage in illegal activities instead of concentrating on their studies, they have no space at the school.
Apart from these students, who are a minority, the school also has a strong Christian student body with Scripture Union and religious instruction classes being well attended.
The Bala children have also done their parents proud. With two teachers in the house, it is not surprising to see them obtain their degrees after passing through Badihagwa. Eldest girl, Nancy, is in New Zealand, about to graduate with a Master’s degree in pharmaceutical studies. The second girl, Moira, is an IT specialist and third born Ruth has a degree in Social Work. Baby of the family, Emmanuel, is a third year Journalism student at UPNG. “The kids have done well, thanks largely to the encouragement of their late mother,” said Maru.
“With the hard work they have put in, they rightfully deserve their awards!”
With 27 years under his principal’s belt, Maru would be one of the oldest serving headmasters in PNG. From his vast experience, he urges teachers to demonstrate Christian principles, commitment to work, and a genuine love and concern for students. This will always set the better teacher apart from the mediocre.
To young headmasters, he says: “Get to know the Education Act, the In-Service Act, and PNGTA Code of Ethics. Be familiar with the parameters of your work so you will stay safe within the guidelines. Also, ensure to apply for annual inspection for appraisal in order to prove yourselves. Regular appraisal is important so one does not become stagnant!”
On a personal note, the effect of losing his beloved wife nearly a year ago can still be felt. “Even with my loving children and family members around me, I still miss her presence in our home,” he laments. “With mum in the home, there is order, things are neat and tidy, and there is that special warmth that only mum can give,” he said.
His final advice was to married teachers: “Husbands, love your wives and honour them. Wives and husbands must show that love for each other so if one is called home by the Lord, there are no regrets.
“As teachers, we need stable homes that practice godly principles of love and respect to provide a safe place to bring up our own children. At the same time, this positive attitude will spill over into the classrooms to positively affect our students,” he advised.
Indeed, for someone who has served with distinction in a position of leadership in schools for many years, his advice on work and life should be closely noted.
- Rev Seik Pitoi is a freelance writer.