- Written by Dr. Kilala Devette-Chee, Universal Basic Education Research Program (UBERP), PNG National Research Institute, and Jeremy Goro, UBERP, PNG National Research Institute Dr. Kilala Devette-Chee, Universal Basic Education Research Program (UBERP), PNG National Research Institute, and Jeremy Goro, UBERP, PNG National Research Institute
There has been a general consensus among governments, international aid agencies, and economists that an educated populace is necessary for a country’s prosperity. Education increases workers’ productivity and thus increases their incomes and standard of living, which in turn improves the gross domestic product of a country. In addition, there are many non-monetary benefits of education, such as improved health status and reduced crime, which has the potential to improve the “ease of doing business” in a country and thus attract more foreign direct investments there. In most developing countries including Papua New Guinea (PNG), governments often highlight the value of improving human capital as an important pathway towards poverty reduction. This often provides the governments with the motivation to invest in skills and human capital of their populations through expanding, and improving the quality of their formal education systems. Quality education has the potential to improve the quality of life of people and promote economic growth of a country.
For the case of PNG, the introduction of the Tuition Fee Free (TFF) Policy in 2012 by the then O’Neill-Dion Government resulted in a drastic improvement in access to education in the country because the aim was to enrol more school-aged children in schools to promote gender parity in acess and equity in education. However, quality education has continued to be a long-time standing issue in PNG. This is because quality education is not given prominence in the TFF Policy, which becomes problematic for schools and teachers to cope with. Discussions have generally focused on challenges relating to the education delivery process in both the basic and the higher levels of education.
While some citizens have expressed opinions emanating from their assessment of the processes and timely disbursement of TFF funds to schools, overcrowding in the classrooms, acute shortage of teaching and learning resources, others include non-conducive learning environments, teachers’and students’ issues that affect the delivery of quality education. The lack of proper implementation of the current reform curriculum and vernacular instruction in elementary and bilingual education at the lower primary, have contributed to the drop in quality of education resulting in children’s poor mastery of speaking, reading, and writing skills in the English language thus resulting in the increasing numbers of students dropping out of schools.
In addition, there is considerable pressure in areas such as infrastructure and teacher numbers, teacher training, materials development and distribution, and the capacity at all levels to provide as well as effectively monitor the quality of education. If the intention of the Government is to make the country to maximise benefits from the TFF Policy, it is necessary to improve quality of education through the following:
- A renewed focus on learning outcomes is needed, augmented by a clear definition of goals and objectives of education, and appropriate relevant assessment systems.
- Teaching and learning processes in the classroom need to be better supported by ensuring the improved skills of teachers through adequate training and professional learning.
- Priority investments should be made towards ensuring quality textbook development and distribution that reaches all children.
- Improve teachers’ work conditions so that they are conducive to effective teaching and learning.
- School management improvements including performance standards and monitoring, improved professional autonomy of teachers and head teachers, better use of information and strengthened school leadership are critically needed.
- An emphasis on empowering teachers to use research, technology and field-based knowledge to improve the quality of education in the classroom and school level.
- The recommended number of students per class should be adhered to by constructing more classes in schools where they are needed.
- Recruit more teachers to match with the increase in enrolment in schools being experienced in the country. This will assist us in improving the ratio of teacher to students/pupils in our schools.
- The current practice of over-age children re-enrolled in basic education need to be stopped as repeaters at primary schools are late teenagers who cause social problems in schools. This will solve problems of overcrowding, bullying and other teenagers/adolescent's’ problems. The overaged children should take up alternate education pathways such as TVET and FODE.
- Retention can be further improved by intervention such as; teachers’ incentives (increase salaries), regular inspections by standard officers, proper schools disciplinary systems and continuous monitoring and evaluation of the TFF policy in practice.
PNG is capable of taking its human resource to the next level as other successful developing countries if quality education is delivered at all levels of education. It is of paramount importance that the current PNG government invests in quality manpower resource development with the aim of empowering Papua New Guineans to be on par with the global community in terms of educational, political, economic and social development in the country. This can be achieved with the presence of strong political will and financial commitment for the provision of quality education and training at all levels of the education system in PNG.