By LEMACH LAVARI
GOLOPA English Phonics School teaches students to read in less than two months.
The school uses an integration of the Light Education Ministry (LEM) phonics curriculum, based on the Australian, New South Wales standard together with the PNG Standard Based Education curriculum.
According to headmaster Ian Areng, their curriculum has a refined focus to help students read in a shorter span of time.
The school has only two classes; 15 pupils in preparatory and 21 in the first grade. They also have another group made up on four younger pupils whom they call observers.
Golopa English Phonics School is located in the remote Golopa hamlet of Mosa village in Talasea, West New Britain.
The Mosa people are the landowners from whom New Britain Palm Oil Ltd (NBPOL) acquired some land in the 1960s to establish their oil palm plantations.
I met an impressive boy named Joe who is about eight years old.
After learning how to read, Joe was so excited to read and learn more, but his school (Golopa English Phonics School) could only give him one book; “Smile For Auntie”.
Joe read the book so many times that by the time we met in August last year, he had memorised every word in it.
On the day I met Joe, I was a guest in his school and he was one of the grade 1 students who did a reading presentation for me.
When it was Joe’s turn, he opted to present without looking at the book, handing it over to me and saying the words as I flipped through each page.
Joe correctly said each word from the pages, it was entertaining for all of us there.
Joe is a pioneer student of the school which started enrolling children in Golopa and nearby hamlets in February last year.
The shortest route from Kimbe town to Golopa, is a 45-minute drive on a dirt road through the planation. We travelled on a truck.
The road is semi paved with large cobbles hardening the surface and allowing vehicles a less difficult access through an otherwise clay-like and muddy track.
It was a really bumpy and noisy ride as our truck’s engine roared through the plantation.
Getting students to read after a month is quite an impressive record and rightly so for a small school as I believe teacher-student interaction on a one on one level is higher than schools in urban areas where classrooms are crammed with students.
Areng is a local of Golopa and his family owns the land on which the school is built. It was a vision for his family, especially his late mother, to have a school built on their land and to help educate their children. “I saw the need to teach children how to read and also to understand what they were reading,” Areng said.
“I observed that many students from Mosa did not go past the eighth grade after failing their national examinations. So that convinced me to believe that the foundation of basic education, which is reading and understanding, needed more emphasis.”
Areng, 26, graduated as a Primary School Teacher in 2014, from the Bismark Teacher’s College in Rabaul, East New Britain.
He first taught at the Vunapope International School in the same province.
In 2018 he was transferred to teach in Porgera, Enga, but before he could go – his mother passed away.
While he was home in Golopa carrying out customary obligations for the burial of his mother, he met a retired secondary school teacher whom also had a vision to build a school but did not have land.
She is Siwa Matave. The two combined resources and Matave founded the school with the help of her husband Edmund Matave (also a secondary school teacher) and the people of Golopa.
The school building is a ground wooden structure of about 15x4m, made of bamboo walls, a tin roof and the bare soil as a floor. It is divided in half to separate the preparatory class from the first graders.
“We are primary school teachers and we observed that students do not go past the eighth grade. Only a few make it to secondary school but don’t pass the 10th grade examination and if they do, even fewer pass grade 12.
“So it made us think of ways we can help students be successful in their education and that is why we endeavoured to create a school for children in this area.”
The nearest school, St Philomena Primary School, is about an hour’s walk from Golopa.
Since Areng is the only certified teacher in his village, he was assigned the role of headmaster and together with a trainee, they teach students.
The Mataves are the sole funders of the school.
It will be challenging to maintain the school as more students enrol.
Matave said most of the parents are still reluctant to pay the K75 school fee for each semester of school.
“We provide the resources for the school and pay the two teachers K50 each fortnightly,” Matave said.
“These young men are sacrificing the most but we encourage them to realise their service to their people.”
“That is why we were able to complete a full year of schooling. We did not want to get a teacher from outside the community because they will not be able to survive.
“By next year we will have second graders as the first graders here progress and we would like to do that until we have a Primary School.
“This is a school for the traditional landowners of where the now, NBPOL Mosa plantation is.”
On Nov 21, the Golopa English Phonics school closed its first ever school year.
By LEMACH LAVARI