Teacher shares challenges amid Covid-19 with United Nations PNG


EARLY education teacher Bonita Amepou shares with United Nations PNG how the Covid-19 affected her and her mother’s phonics programme, as well as how Madang’s community supports local students.
Geographic challenges, financial limitations and a lack of facilities have kept access to early childhood education from many communities in Papua New Guinea.
Now, as we enter the “niupela pasin”, early childhood educator and teacher trainer Bonita Amepou shared how the coronavirus had affected her students and how early childhood education could be made accessible to more children across PNG.
Early childhood education prepares children for a lifetime of learning.
“It allows for children to develop their personal, social and emotional behaviour among other children,” Amepou explains.
“It also prepares early learners to enter into the main school system with the knowledge and understanding of school routines and basic literacy and numeracy.”
Access to early learning is one of many inequalities exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
School systems around the world turned to remote learning to control the spread of the virus, a solution that assumed students had access to a reliable internet connection and a computer.
This assumption, while fair for most students in the developed world, was not for disadvantaged students in regions with unreliable or expensive internet and who don’t have access to computers at home.
For early childhood educators, remote learning is practically impossible as they rely on interaction.
“The Covid-19 has affected my family’s small school operations,” Amepou said.
“We had to close for indefinite periods and had most of our students withdraw from school for precautionary measures.
“Even the Jolly Phonics trainings that I do around the country, had to be put on hold.
“I did not have funds and travelling was restricted which made my visits to teachers and the Jolly reading centres that we were engaged with very difficult.”
At the university level, delaying study for a semester is frustrating, and, logistically, very difficult.
For an infant, delaying phonics trainings for six months can amount to a significant difference in linguistic and cognitive development compared to those with access to these trainings.
Similarly, delaying basic numeracy and literacy for six months can impact a child’s first school years.
During the 50s and 60s, missionary groups introduced the concept of early education.
Amepou said her parents and their peers benefitted from these programmes.
However, as missionary activity fell away, early childhood education programmes were only offered in private institutions.
As we adapt to the “niupela pasin”, many children in PNG do not have access to early childhood education.
Amepou offered several reasons for this.
The first, geography, was a challenge shared with health professionals and other teachers.
In Madang, children could walk up to two hours to get to Nugu Early Learning Jolly Phonics Centre.
“There are no straight roads,” Amepou said.
“There are a lot of mountains and rivers to cross before getting here.
“Most children start walking to school between 5am and 6am to arrive at school at 8am.”
Finance was also a challenge.
Nugu Early Learning Jolly Phonics Centre relied on community fundraisings to buy classroom materials.
The community support for the centre demonstrates how the community values this programme.
In addition to providing facilities, training new and current teachers to deliver early childhood and phonics education can help to make this early learning more accessible to remote areas.
Amepou’s solution to making early childhood education accessible was “to engage, train and support community volunteers to establish and centres in each community”.
She said “all communities should have early childhood centres that are safe and nearby”.
As a teacher trainer, working alongside her mother to make early education accessible for her community, Amepou was passionate about making sure no child was left behind.
“The part I love best about my job is providing Jolly Phonics training as a fundamental programme for early literacy in the early childhood development education programme,” she said.
“The most satisfying experiences were when volunteers, teachers, parents and children shared and demonstrated how the programme had helped their oral, reading and written English.
“True joy is experiencing children who relate to English as a third language when they speak and understand English and start reading.”
One of the targets of sustainable development goal four is to ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and preprimary education so that they are ready for primary education.
The UN aims to hold governments achieve this by 2030. – UNPNG