Papua New Guinea has undergone two lockdown periods and one State of Emergency (SoE) as a result of the escalating number of positive Covid-19 cases in the country. While the government is dealing with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the country’s economy, children throughout the country are suffering the consequences of losing huge amounts of learning hours.

Total number of learning hours lost during the State of Emergency

Due to the two lockdowns and the SoE to contain the spread of Covid-19, eight weeks of effective teaching and learning in the classrooms were lost. This included six weeks of lessons lost in the first lockdown which began on the 23 March to 4 May 2020, and two weeks in the second lockdown from 28 July to 11 August 2020. In terms of hours, out of 400 learning hours (10 weeks) in a normal school term, primary and secondary school students lost a total of 320 hours (40 days x 8 hours) while elementary school children lost 240 hours (40 days x 6 hours). It is nearly a schooling term lost. So this year, some students will only learn in a number of hours equivalent to three terms. The examining groups like grades 8, 10 and 12, would have learned less than three terms because term 4 is their examination term. These lost hours will never be fully recovered but will only exacerbate the already existing gap between children from better-off families and those from less well-off households.

The Government must focus on keeping students engaged in school to avoid learning loss (hysteresis in education)

During the school closures, the Department of Education (DoE) embarked on distance-learning solutions such as online classrooms on smart phones, TV and radio broadcasts, which were implemented to bridge the gap between schools and learners. But the overall impact on learning remains uncertain thus the danger of ‘learning loss’- “hysteresis” which refers to long-term effect of unemployment on a workers’ ability to find a job by the time the students graduate. Research shows that the absence of traditional schooling with effective contact learning hours does not equate e-education in which students take time to adapt and switch to. International reports have already highlighted the difficulties schools faced to integrate the technologies of information and communication into the classroom. PNG, like most developing countries, is in a desperate situation to roll out an e- learning platform throughout the country.

The impact of Covid-19 on access to education and learning of marginalised, vulnerable and disadvantaged sectors

Parenting education is needed to raise more awareness on how parents can support their children to learn while on lockdown. Unfortunately, given the difficult situation of some parents, especially, the marginalised and those in remote areas (some of them do not have formal education), they could not sufficiently provide a learning environment to ensure continuity of education and learning at home. Many people with disabilities in PNG can hardly access education in normal times. The disruption of learning during the pandemic have severely impacted their access to alternative forms of education. Deaf and blind students cannot use the DoE TV and radio programs. Therefore, special or tailor-made programs need to be developed for them. Multiple burden is also placed on women and girls during this time of pandemic which severely restrict their access to alternative forms of education. The marginalised youths in PNG, who are already facing serious challenges in their education and access to employment opportunities, need substantive support from the government in order to guide them through this crisis and ensure they still have opportunities for development and employment as the country recovers from this Covid-19 pandemic.

This article was first published in the Post-Courier’s 3 September 2020 edition and on its website’s commentaries and features page.