The National, Monday February 1st, 2016
TODAY marks the start of the 2016 school year for government and church-run public schools throughout Papua New Guinea.
As thousands of elementary, primary and secondary/high school students begin classes, it is encouraging to note that among the Education Department’s five key priorities for this year are its focus on improving quality education and improving the terms and conditions of teachers.
The other key priority areas are: Tuition Fee Free (TFF) policy; Standard Based Education (SBE) system; Technical Vocational Education Training (TVET) and Flexible and Open Distance Education (FODE).
While the onus is on the Education Department to achieve these objectives, it seems that acting Education Secretary Dr Uke Kombra has set himself a huge challenge, especially in improving the quality of education in government schools.
It is a well-known fact that the standard and quality of education in PNG government schools have dropped significantly in the past 40 years.
As the implementing agency, the Education Department has failed miserably in improving primary and high school education to globally acceptable standards.
One of the common criticisms is that our high school students continue to be ill prepared for the universities or colleges.
The drastic drop in the standard of key curriculum subjects – English, math and science – has resulted in a high rate of failure and low pass marks in both primary and high schools in the past decades.
There are various socio-economic factors that have contributed to the drastic drop in the quality of education provided by government schools since independence.
A key factor is the quality of teachers. As it is aptly said, the quality of students is as good as the quality of their teachers.
We agree with one of our commentators, Aso Amoyavi, that if the National Government is serious about improving the quality of education in PNG it should start making the teaching profession lucrative to attract interest from the top bracket of students.
He says this includes providing full sponsorships toward their training and providing attractive employment packages. “The nation is at the juncture where the current Government is driving a major policy on the Standard Based Education (SBE) and it is imperative the integral aspects of implementation of the policy are highlighted so the teaching profession is not continually given a raw deal.
“Successive governments have been blindly making lopsided decisions to change systems of education one after another but quality of education in PNG remains a lot to be desired.
“It is adding salt to the wound when the Government is forcing upon the ever discontent and ailing teaching force to swiftly implement different government education policies while there is no resolve for long outstanding issues, including the annual nagging leave fare debacles, housing, salaries and other pertinent issues for teachers in Papua New Guinea.
“As long as the long-overdue teacher issues remain unresolved, quality education will remain a mediocrity, hence the Standard Based Education (SBE) will not be anything better than the disposed Outcomes Based Education (OBE) or the Objective Based Education,” Amoyavi says.
While we do not think our education system is doomed, at least not while the O’Neill Government is in office, the Education Department must walk the talk on improving the quality of both student and teacher education in this country.
The current political leadership has provided the policy incentive and funding requirements for the department to step up to a higher level and deliver the desired outcomes.
Secretary Kombra is in an enviable position, unlike his predecessors, to deliver the department’s key objectives, especially in lifting the standard and quality of education in our government schools.
It is a major task that cannot be achieved overnight, not even this year, but persistence will pay and Kombra needs to ensure that his department stays focused on its key objectives.
The day that our education system starts producing greater numbers of high school graduates with distinction and credit pass marks in English, math and science, will be a time of great achievement for PNG.
Indeed, education should be everyone’s business from today onwards because an educated population is better placed to realise our country’s vision.