Stem education from the ground up

Secondary school teach delivers practical science lessons in a remote community

I AM one of the recipients of the first ever graduate certificate in Stem (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education through the Australia Awards at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in 2020-2021.
Prior to this short course, I was a secondary school science teacher but decided to quit and establish an early learning center back in 2016 and teaching children through Stem education concept.
My specific goal is to transform teaching and learning of theory-based science education into a real-world Stem education after realising that the kind of education we provide to the children has to connect to the real world and industry.
Seeing secondary school students’ incompetence in science practical lessons, I conduct more science practical lessons. However, doing this in an established public school with a set timetable, school programmes and weekly activities with limited time was very challenging. The school bureaucratic processes, exam-focused teaching and learning, monotonous rote learning in the classroom were real challenges.
The stringent school assessment policy and bureaucratic processes were the limiting factors for this 21st century Stem learning concept. I realised that the more I remain teaching in public schools, the less chances I will get in fully implementing the Stem education concept which schools in other countries are already implementing.
The next journey out from the comfort zone to the challenging unknown zone was another test ahead and I had to plan strategically to face it head on.
My dedication and work showed that children exhibit natural curiosity in science practical lessons and the learning has accelerated. The empirical results affirmed that Stem education content and pedagogy is the way forward but a missing link in our national education system. The evidence of my preliminary work paved way for the Government to advocate for Stem education.
A major challenge I faced was financial constraints as no external donor agencies and local governments were willing to support me because the idea was very new even though I wrote and explained to the local governing authorities. Parents also at times faced financial constraints to support the learning of their children in this school. I noticed that children needed this type of education.

Constructing a road to the new school site.

Cocoa revolution
This challenge gave me a next-level thinking which resulted in the ‘cocoa revolution’.
I realised that parents had the land and labour. All I needed to do was to introduce cocoa seedlings and they could do cocoa farming to earn money and support their children’s Stem learning. The idea was a success and parents and community members took ownership of it. We raised and sold more than 4,000 seedlings and the income was used to build a permanent four-in-one classroom.
My passion is to help people learn new ideas and skills and generate incomes to sustain their livelihood. Whilst I teach, I also learn from them. More than being a classroom teacher, I find fulfilment and joy amongst ordinary people of all ages in remote communities in Papua New Guinea.
Being a university graduate doesn’t make me brilliant. To the world I am one but I would rather want to be the world to the many who needed me. That passion propelled me out of the classroom teaching and earning a formal income to starting my own school and teaching children real life skills that will help them in a lifetime.

Demarcation of land for the Sten school and its cocoa project.

These pursuits landed me on delivering Stem education for kids and adults.
The training at QUT is just the right fuel setting ablaze the flame already in me with more get-up-and-go energy.
One impact project I am currently embarking on is cocoa in Western where the crop has never been grown before. I came from East Sepik where cocoa has been around for more than 45 years now. I conducted a survey in the local communities only to find that cocoa trees have been growing well as fruit and ornamental trees.
Adamantly, I had to engage school children, parents and local communities to initiate cocoa projects in the local community.
My training at QUT especially on the 21st century skills of creative thinking, critical thinking, communication and collaboration has just put me on the right spot to organise the people. Besides, the training helped me further the skills of leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship.
People have so far attested to the initiative as a foolproof workable solution for sustainability through the cocoa revolution and are now carrying out field expansion on cocoa hectares.
Since then, I realised that some people are illiterate or semi-literate so I had to engage local literate persons to translate information to the masses. That was not a barrier at all as the natural interest of the people was already captured as to what cocoa will do to them.
As I write, they are willingly taking initiative to plant their cocoa hectares while more and more people asked for new seedlings to plant.
The next challenge in line is the training on fermentation and quality control measures. I have mapped out the ways to train the people and finally look for an export market overseas.
The best benefit in the near future is income earning and enabling children to access quality Stem education which they may not have without the cocoa revolution. And that is the primary reason for sustainability.

Conducting a meeting on Covid-19 measures and the cocoa project.

Capitalising on the pandemic
The Covid-19 pandemic has placed a demand on many aspects of life as we were not prepared for such a calamity. Government restrictions on travel within the local township and sub-urban centers have caused a stagnant cash flow in the community. During the lockdown periods, my studies at QUT campus were also disrupted and I had to travel back to PNG.
However, the course was delivered remotely. This has enabled me to do my course and also attend to the people in the community.
I capitalised on the pandemic lockdowns to organise people to work on the cocoa plots. Based on my training, my level of thinking was shifted to teaching people on pandemic prevention measure and resilience.
The training at QUT also has given confidence to the wider community members, the donor agencies and the local government and politicians to supporting this idea of Stem education and the 21st century skills for adult populations.
Based on this training, it further solidifies the Stem education and the cocoa projects amongst many other self-help supplementary school projects for learning and earning.

Going forward

I am now formulating a policy document for the local government to support Stem education as well as the cocoa revolution.
The tailored training has further helped me to customise training and leadership to the children, parents and the people in my community.