The 5th UNESCO Asia-Pacific Meeting on Education 2030 (5th APMED 2030) in Bangkok, Thailand

The 5th UNESCO Asia-Pacific Meeting on Education 2030 (5th APMED 2030) was convened in Bangkok, Thailand from 1st – 4th October 2019. I was privileged to be part of the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Department of Education’s (DoE) delegation which was approved by the UNESCO office in Port Moresby. I represented both the Government as the program leader of the PNG NRI’s Universal Basic Education Research Program as well as a representative of the PNG Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) under the PNG Education Advocacy Network (PEAN) being the vice-chair, and as the Pacific Islands’ representative on the Executive Council for Asia South Pacific Association for Basic and Adult education (ASPBAE).

The meeting brought together approximately 250 key stakeholders who were invited from relevant organizations within and outside the Asia-Pacific region. Those of us who were invited included government officials, non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations in Asia and the Pacific who are responsible for Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 planning, monitoring and statistics. In particular, technical level officials, including Education Management and Information Systems (EMIS).
 
The Asia-Pacific Meetings on Education 2030 have been convened annually since 2015. These meetings serve as a platform for education officials and development partners throughout the region to learn about the latest global and regional developments on SDG4 and to advance the ambitious Education 2030 Agenda. As part of the SDGs, the standalone goal on education, SDG4, aims to ‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’. SDG4 is transformative, holistic and inspirational and is at the heart of other SDGs whose focus areas are deeply rooted in and tied to education development including: eradicating poverty and hunger, improving health and well-being, tracking climate change, fostering peace and justice and ensuring full and productive employment and decent work for all.

The SDG4-Education 2030 agenda builds upon the achievement of Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 2 and the global goals of Education for All (EFA), the campaign, which ended in 2015. While EFA concentrated on Basic Education, Education 2030 is more holistic focusing on lifelong learning and universally applicable to all countries regardless of their development stages.

The overarching theme of 5th APMED 2030 was ‘delivering inclusive and equitable quality education in the era of lifelong learning and sustainable development’. The aim was to understand how member states are progressing towards implementing the SDG Targets 4.1 and 4.6 and to facilitate cross-national exchanges and sharing. The meeting was structured into two parts. Part One consisted of technical sessions that focused on SDG Targets 4.1 (ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes) and 4.6 (ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy). Participants in the meeting examined and discussed these targets from the perspectives of completion of free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective outcomes (SDG4.1) and youth and adult literacy (SDG4.6).

Sessions were divided into plenary sessions and concurrent breakout sessions for focused discussions and sharing organized around sub-themes identified under each target. Part Two was dedicated to a one-day meeting of SDG4 National Coordinators in Asia and the Pacific where they discussed the plans for (i) the 2nd Asia-Pacific Regional Education Ministers’ Conference in 2020 and (ii) the regional five-year progress review (5PR), among others.

As a member of the PNG DoE delegation, I was privileged to have the opportunity to have my say during one of the Plenary sessions on SDG 4.1 regarding PNG’s compulsory free education policy that is creating a lot of issues in PNG at the moment. During the parallel sessions, I had the opportunity to discuss PNG’s status on SDG 4.6 sharing the dilemma PNG faces with the increasing illiteracy rates among youths and adults.
 
Recommendations of the 5th APMED 2030 are currently being finalized.

The meeting was organized by UNESCO Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education in Bangkok, UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Regional Office and UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia.
 

Government must clear-up barriers that Hinder the sustainability and quality outcome of TFFE policy

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is constantly changing. It needs people who have the required skills and knowledge to tackle economic, social and environmental challenges in the country. Education plays a vital role in shaping, building and producing leaders and intellects that have potential to provide solution to problems faced in the country. Indeed, education is an integral aspect of human development, which is necessary for national development and a prosperous society. Driven with the fact that education is an essential role player in human resource development, PNG’s past and present Governments have contributed much to education. The Tuition Fee-Free Education Policy (TFFE) is one of the Government’s contributions. This was initiated purposely to improve access to quality education for children across the country in all primary and secondary schools.

TFFE Policy is really good, because it provides a platform for each student to have an equal opportunity to access this level of education on the same scale, while on the other it will allow parents not to bother about taking students loans to facilitate their education all the way to the university. This is a relief to the parents and ensures that students remain debt free.

However, much have been written about the failures of the TFFE Policy, especially on its negative impact on the quality of education in the country. Though the TFFE Policy was labelled as an integral aspect of human resource development and a prosperous society, yet its out-turn on the quality of education is poor.

When we say poor Quality of Education (QoE), it is when the students are not fully equipped in following areas:

  • English language proficiency skills (reading, writing, speaking and listening),
  • Mathematics and numeracy proficiency;
  • Scientific knowledge and understanding,

Contributory factors to TFFE Policy’s poor outcome

The factors that contribute to poor outcome of TFFE Policy are varied. It is generally not one particular aspect of the service that results in substandard outcome, but a combination of factors that have a negative effect on its outcome. The factors include the following:

  • Lack of stability in implementing the TFFE Policy due to change of Education Secretary every year from 2012 – 2015.
  • Lack of maintaining regular surveillance over operations, and lack of providing an account on TFFE Subsidy to the respective divisions. It often contributes to the mismanagement of TFFE funds.
  • Ineffectiveness in the operations of the TFFE Policy Governance and Management Structure. Though the TFFE governance and management order was fittingly outlined or stated, there is no proper functional structure. Therefore, capacity to manage the TFFE funds and report on it was lacking in the department of education.
  • Lack of consistency in funding from the previous government. See brief about the history of ‘free education’ here.

 What government could do to improve TFFE outcome

 Many citizens, scholars and researchers have put across their views and published research papers generated from their analysis of the cons of TFFE Policy.

Besides, there is considerable constraint in effective monitoring on TFFE Policy governance and management of the quality of education. Recent studies have revealed that the capacity to manage the TFFE funds and report on it was lacking in the Department of Education. The reason of the government’s initiative to implement the TFFE Policy was a token of upholding the education as the key area to develop human resource and a prosperous society. As a concerned citizen, it really saddens me when noticing this good initiative (TFFE Policy) divert its core nature to money earning channel by those whom control the stream. If the Government really wants to see positive outcome of the TFFE Policy, the following actions should be taken at the respective level:

  • Government should consider creating a website where all the departments and offices that are in the chain of TFFE Policy governance and management structure should submit quarterly report about any necessary information and data associated with TFFE Subsidy via online. The task should be made compulsory so it is a MUST for them to adhere to.
  • TFFE Policy should not be an intent of political strategy, but it should be seen as integral to human development. With that, when any new government is elected, it should support the policy by maintaining the funding.
  • The Education Department should conduct a bi-annual assessment of the function reports of the Governance and Management structure, and should be aware of the exact school census and the data from the school administrations.
  • Education Department (secretary & TFFE secretariat) should establish a regular and effective link and communication with the District Administrators and School Inspectors to keep a continuous record or report on the School Learning and Implementing Plan (SLIP).

Conclusion

Upon knowing the fact that better education is an integral part of human resource development and a better nation, the government had at least or in much bestowed interest in supporting education by funding the TFFE Subsidy. However, there’s no proper TFFE Policy Governance and Management Structure, and there is inadequate reporting and accountability, and these appear to be the main barriers to the effective implementation of the policy. Apparently, the loopholes associated with the implementation of the policy is visible, the government and the key stakeholders must be prompted to consider the aforementioned recommendations made in the article. In all, the hope of a better education through the TFFE policy, and the expectation of its sustainability, is upon suitable approach and decision the government takes. Otherwise, it will always be a dare hope in the midst of poor quality education and unsafe society. It is a silent complaint and sought from the vast population that truly if this TFFE policy is good for PNG’s school-aged citizens, why are we neglecting the right governance and administrative path when the quality of the country’s education is suffering!

Plight of urban women street vendors in Port Moresby

Over 80 percent of Papua New Guinea’s population rely on informal economy for sustaining their livelihood. It is apparent that women are active participants and have been dominating much of the informal economy. Their engagement in informal economic activities varies from selling subsistence farm produce, establishing small market stalls to street vending. They are regarded as major players in the informal economy. However, their time and effort vested in doing business in this area has been neglected. A recent notice by chief secretary to National Capital District Commission (NCDC) to remove vendors is unfortunate for many women street vendors who rely solely on doing such business to survive and support their family.

Women would be greatly affected with the recent call to remove vendors from the street

It is imperative that understanding the circumstances of women street vending is essential. Women in Papua New Guinea (PNG) are more disadvantaged than their male counterparts both in terms of access to education and access to formal employment. This is one of the main reasons for female dominance in the informal market sector. Their engagement in informal market sales activities includes selling home cooked food near office buildings and road side, setting up small market stalls within or near residents, selling farm produce along road side and near bus stop areas. These small market activities are prevalent in urban places like Port Moresby.

The recent call to remove vendors is discouraging for many of the vendors particularly the women who dominate the informal economy in sustaining their livelihood. Engaging in such small business activities, enables women to be financially independent. They contribute to and support their family; taking care of households needs, paying school fees for their children and supplementing wage income earned by their husbands.

Concerns have been raised on health risks and clean environmental cleanliness issues posed by street vendors near office buildings, road sides and even near residential areas. Better policing approaches are essential to protect and allow street vendors to do business as considering the risks involved rather than living them helpless to fend for themselves which can add to other pressing social issues. It is often distressing to see street vendors particularly women been beaten, chased and their goods looted by some police and city rangers near office building or road sides. Protecting the rights of individuals and their means to survival through engaging in such income generating activities is important for everyone especially women.

 Making Informal Economy Policy Work Well

A significant efforts has been made by the government in introducing the National Informal Economy Policy in 2011, aimed at enhancing financial inclusion and empowering women and men economically. It stresses the need to acknowledge and utilize PNG’s unique context to promote development and more importantly enable women to progress economic activities within their support network of families and communities. The policy also sets the vision and framework to achieve key objectives outlining key relevant stakeholders and agencies responsible for implementing the policy. More effort is needed to be done in the areas of protecting the rights of the informal economy participants including women street vendors and provide enabling environment for them to operate. It is necessary to create more awareness on the Informal Economy Policy at all levels of government and among key stakeholders for effective implementation.

A concerted effort is required by all stakeholders to implement initiatives that can benefit everyone engaging in various informal economic activities to do business. It is also important to provide enabling environment for more women to engage freely. This in turn will continue to encourage the informal economy to flourish in sustaining most of PNG’s population.

While, writing this piece, I was contemplating on this question. What can the government and concerned authorities do to help many women who are actively involved in the informal economy particularly street vending? Any Suggestions?