Teachers are our foundation

Editorial, Normal

The National- Thursday, January 20, 2011

 THE minister for education, secretary for education and, even the prime minister, are today where they are because of some lowly paid teacher who took the time to instruct them day-in and day-out in their dim past.

Reflect on this awhile and you will realise that we are all where we are because of teachers.

And, teachers continue this most noble of tasks today –  packing in impressionable young minds rudimentary arithmetic, proper language usage, knowledge about the world around us, knowledge about the world we do not know and proper behaviour and etiquette.

They come in all forms whether they are the village mother steadying the toddler’s walk, or elder brother teaching the younger to shoot an arrow straight or a professor expounding on quantum physics.

Like the air we breathe and water, we take teachers for granted. So long as we have children and there is a desire for learning, the teacher will always be there – or so we think.

And, so, over time, the teacher has become like the rug in the house, unnoticed but always there and providing a vital service to society.

When we apply this neglect on the national level and refer to the teachers of the formal education system, it becomes criminal. 

And this is what has been happening to the teaching service over decades. The government has singularly forsaken the teachers of the land, forgotten to review their terms and conditions of service, forgotten to pay their leave fares on time and forgotten to arrange for special hardship allowances for those serving in remote schools.

Finally, the rug – to continue with the analogy given above – is getting up from under us and walking out – literally.

Last year, a staggering 1,700 teachers resigned from the service. That is far more than the 1,200 young teachers graduating from teachers colleges who will be joining the service this year.

What is more, these 1,700 walk out with all the accumulated years of teaching experience with them – something that the new graduates will be unable to replace for several years yet.

It is a grave loss that will have present its dire consequences in the not too distant future. We have no knowledge yet of how many teachers have left in previous years but we have it on good authority that there are no less than 11,000 vacancies for teachers.

Where ever is Papua New Guinea going to find this number of teachers for just this year alone with school due to start in 11 days?

The PNG Teachers Association this week revealed that the exodus of teachers from the service is directly related to the neglect that the teaching profession has received from the government.

They leave for simple, manageable issues like difficulties in transportation to and from schools, poor infrastructure, poor or no accommodation, long delays in processing of pay and allowances and security of teachers.

The figures given are frightening to warrant emergency procedures. The flight of teachers will increase as well paying jobs open up in new mining and hydrocarbon projects open up.

Most tragically, it is the already under-privileged rural population that will bear the full brunt of this exodus.

We can safely predict that many schools will be closed this year.

In the year of implementation, it appears as if the government’s prized policy product, the universal primary education initiative, might be a still-birth.

Already we carry in our newspaper today a report that one school in a remote part of Western has closed as a direct result of teacher shortage.

Remote Gulgubib Primary School, serving the four villages of Duwinim, Imigivip, Wagi and Tanget, last year had only one teacher to take Grade 3 to Grade 8 classes.

Materials officer with the Education Department based in Kiunga, John Turana, told us that teachers refuse to go there because Gulgubib is near Ok Tedi mine. 

On a base salary of less than K400, no family can survive on this over an inflated mining community.

Costs of goods are unbelievable. A 1kg rice costs K8, big tinned fish K9, a bar of yellow Klina soap is K3.50, and so forth.

This tragic situation will be repeated all over the country when the school year opens. And, it is all because some fat cats in Waigani will not get up and do what they are paid to do.