Within weeks the school year for 2014 will commence. All over the country families are beginning to face up to the challenges of getting an education for their children. For many families, the challenges and difficulties of getting their children into school are very great, and they will fail to get their children accepted for further education.
Education in Papua New Guinea is discriminatory and elitist. It is for the few – the very, very few.
During the recent ‘exam season’, while children were sitting for their Grade 8, Grade 10 and Grade 12 examinations, our national newspapers published various facts and figures concerning the numbers of young people in education in PNG. Going by these figures it seems that in 2013 there were about 1,100,000 in education at all levels. Of these 106,000 sat for their Grade 8 exams. A further 47,000 sat for Grade 10 exams. And only 17,000 sat for Grade 12. There are about 4,000 places available each year for Tertiary level students. I have rounded out these numbers.
The figures suggest to me that between Grade 8 and Grade 10 some 60,000 children have had their education terminated. Between Grade 10 and Grade 12 a further 30,000 children have been terminated. That is 90,000 children altogether, in round figures.
And so, in order to produce our 17,000 Grade 12 graduates we have terminated 90,000 children from their education. In order to get some 4,000 into University we have had to terminate 103,000. If that is not discriminatory and elitist, then what is?
Some of those 90,000 will get into vocational training, and will do well for themselves, but many who yearn for a full education will be disappointed. The 60,000 terminated from Grade 8 are particularly vulnerable, as they are too young and too ignorant to be employable.
We are blessed that some Governors, some MPs and some Charitable Organisations are providing scholarships and paying school fees to help many terminated young people to continue with their education, or to receive vocational training, but it is nowhere near enough. The facts are inescapable – we do not have enough schools, or classrooms, or teachers, to provide a decent level of education to any more than a tiny fraction of our children. Even our Minister for Education himself admitted just a couple of weeks ago that we need 10,000 teachers more than we have now.
One of the consequences of this system for terminating more kids than we educate is that it creates and encourages cheating, bribery, and corruption. Most parents will do just about anything to get their child another couple of years of formal education, and so they will pay exorbitant ‘project fees’ to a Primary School, or bribe an Education Officer to add a child’s name to an acceptance list for Grade 9 or 11 place. And when exam time comes around stolen exam papers are worth a lot of money on the street.
Another thing – what is the population of Papua New Guinea? Conventionally we say it is 7,000,000, but a wide consensus is that the population is more like 10,000,000. And what is the rate of population increase each year? Does anybody know? And we are able to produce only some 20,000 Grade 12 leavers! – and by what percentage does that figure grow each year?
And here’s another thing – how people complain about the numbers of Asians who come to work in PNG! It seems that 90% of passengers on flights arriving from Singapore and Hong Kong are Asian men. I strongly suspect that the flood of Asians coming to work here have two qualifications that are in very short supply here. First, they are educated, and second they have good workplace discipline. Their lack of English is less importance than their intelligence and educational standard. And their workplace discipline means that they can be depended on to come to work every day and apply themselves to their jobs with diligence and commitment.
We need to institute a real debate on education in PNG. It should not be acceptable to parents that unless they are prepared to pay private school fees to educate their child then their son or daughter who is in Grade 8 now has only a one in five chance of making it all the way to Grade 12.
Let’s leave it there for the moment and see what anyone else thinks about all this.