The National Education Plan “Achieving a better future” between the years 2005 and 2014 makes fascinating reading.
More than halfway to the target date, it is uncertain whether PNG can achieve its targets.
The overall objectives of the plan are consistent with:
* Papua New Guinea National Goals and Directive Principles;
* International obligations, in particular the Millennium Development Goals and Education For All goals; and
* Government objectives in the education sector, as outlined in the Medium Term Development Strategy and community demands.
Six “Education for all” goals were agreed to by all nations at Jomtien, Thailand, in 1990 and reaffirmed in Dakar, Senegal.
* Expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children;
* Ensuring that by 2015, all children have access to free and compulsory primary education of good quality;
* The learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life skills programmes;
* Achieving a 50 % improvement in adult literacy by 2015;
* Eliminating gender disparities in education by 2005; and
* Improving all aspects of the quality and excellence of education with measurable learning outcomes.
PNG has made tremendous progress in education in some areas but it still lags far behind in other areas.
In 1973, the PNG education system had about 1,050 institutions, 9,060 teachers and 254,000 students.
By 2003, the education system was employing some 33,000 teachers, and almost one million students in 4,000 elementary schools, 3,300 primary schools, 170 secondary schools and 140 vocational schools.
Six prominent church agencies, apart from the Government, operate schools, which are governed by 20 provincial education boards and managed by 20 provincial education divisions.
There is also a number of privately-run autonomous schools throughout the country.
While these figures are impressive, more – much more – needs to be done. It is doubtful whether “eliminating gender disparities” has been achieved by the target date of 2005.
It is now almost certain that achievement of universal primary education cannot be achieved by the target date of 2015 as stipulated in the Millennium Development Goal.
The Education Department itself has remarked that “in the current economic climate it is difficult to see how the second of these Education For All goals can be realised within the time frame”. In the end, it is going to depend on how the Government intends to fund education.
Education Minister James Marape has said it would take K12 billion to achieve universal primary education. That is a lot more than the annual budget of PNG but the price tag the minister is giving would require funding over a number of years rather than a single year’s effort.
So, yes, if that is the price then it is the price PNG must be prepared to pay. Educating its citizens is a primary obligation of the Government. And it is not only for moral considerations.
An educated population outweighs all the natural resources of the country put together. One needs only look at city states like Singapore and Hong Kong to know what education can do.
So how do we finance education? As we have mentioned in this space not too long ago, health and education must not be left to donor countries. It is the primary obligation of any self-respecting nation to fund these basic obligations.
We cannot wait for budget surpluses to happen before we can start funding universal education such as the Prime Minister mentioned in Tambul, Western Highlands province, last week.
We cannot wait for some major resource project, such as the LNG project, to take off before attending to education. We must fund education and do it now.
We turn once again to the idea proposed by Sumkar MP Ken Fairweather to increase the value added tax (VAT) by 5% to 15%. The extra 5% would be for the sole purpose of funding free education.
If the nation collects K2 billion in VAT annually today, then you are looking for an extra K100 million each year from the 5% tax increase.
To know before you dig into the plate of rice in front of you that the rice packet might have cost an extra 50 toea but that is 50 toea for the education of the children would be most satisfying indeed.
It is money worth spending.