Education in Papua New Guinea

Prior to European colonization, education in practical skills, social behavior and spiritual beliefs was the responsibility of adults in each society. After 1884 missionaries in both the German colony in the north, and the British, and later Australian, colony in the south, established primary schools to teach Western concepts of morality, German or English language and simple arithmetic, as well as Christian doctrine. When Australia took over the German colony in 1914, English became the language of instruction. The colonial Administrations were reluctant to establish schools when they could leave the responsibility with the missionaries.

From 1945 to 1960 the Administration funded primary education at the expense of secondary, technical and higher education. In the 1960s, in response to international pressure, a policy of promoting post-primary education to prepare the country for self-government was introduced. Between 1960 and 1970 there was a tenfold increase in secondary school enrolments. Under the unified education system introduced in 1970 the government paid the salaries of teachers and controlled staff employment and curriculum. In 1966 the University of Papua New Guinea, the Institute of Higher Technical Education (later the Papua New Guinea University of Technology) and a number of other higher education institutions were established.

Between 1975 and 1990 successive national governments, and provincial governments, to which some educational responsibilities were devolved in 1977, aimed to meet the goal of universal primary education and also expand the secondary and higher education sectors. Although education was the largest item in each national budget (approximately 20 percent) there were not sufficient funds to fulfill both these aims. In 1989, 73 percent of children in the seven to 13 year age group were enrolled in primary schools, and 13 percent of children in the 13 to 18 year age group were enrolled in secondary schools. Approximately 2 percent of the population received some form of higher education. Adult literacy has not been regarded as a priority. Estimates of adult literacy rates vary greatly. In 1993 probably about half the adult population was literate, with the literacy rate for men being about twice that for women. However, many provinces have Adult Education Officers who organize non-formal programs in Tok Pisin or the vernacular languages. Some education projects have been supported by international agencies and donor countries, especially Australia which provided approximately 2,000 scholarships to Australian institutions between 1980 and 1990. In the 1992 budget the K251.9 million allocated to education represented 18.2 percent of total budget expenditure. In 1993 the national government abolished school fees for students up to year eight.

Primary School Education

Until 1946 primary schools were almost entirely the responsibility of the Christian missions, subsidized to a very limited extent by the colonial Administrations. The first school was established by the London Missionary Society in Port Moresby in 1873. The main aim of the missionaries was to teach the scriptures and literacy was regarded as a means to this end. Until after World War II attempts by Administrations to persuade missions to provide general and vocational education were mainly unsuccessful. Teaching was sometimes in English (German in German New Guinea), sometimes in local vernacular languages, sometimes in regional lingua francas which missions took up and spread more widely. Basic general education was based on the Australian primary school curriculum. Missions provided village schools and boarding schools, usually for boys, at main mission stations.

Schooling was almost completely disrupted during World War II. After the war the Administration appointed a Director of Education and took control of the education system. From 1946 to 1956 an average of ten Administration schools were opened each year. While the missions continued to run the majority of the schools they were sufficiently funded to make it possible for them to meet Education Department standards for a broadly-based education. The Administration goal was universal primary education with English as the language of instruction. In the 1950s the majority of teachers were Australians or other whites whose first language was English. However, there was a rapid move to localize the teaching service in the 1960s and by 1970 most primary school teachers were PNGans. The National Education System, established in 1970, integrated many church and government school activities.

After Independence in 1975 the number of primary schools, usually known as community schools, increased. The Curriculum Branch of the Department of Education took steps to make the curriculum more suited to local needs. In 1989 there were 2,692 primary schools, 417,818 pupils, 13,171 teachers and an average of one teacher to 32 children. An estimated 70 percent of children between the age of seven and 12 were enrolled in primary schools; however, less than two-thirds of those enrolled in first grade reached grade 6. Expansion of primary schooling has not kept up with the growth in the number of school-age children. Educational opportunities are unequally distributed. More boys than girls attend school. East New Britain, West New Britain, Milne Bay, New Ireland, National Capital District, Manus and, until 1989, North Solomons, had the highest proportion of children between the age of seven and 12 at school. Morobe, Madang and the five Highland Provinces had the least. In the 1980s a few provinces established schools in which children were taught in the vernacular and encouraged to become literate in the local language before acquiring English as a second language.

Secondary School Education

Until after World War II the colonial Administrations did not believe that it was either necessary or desirable to establish post-primary schools except to provide very basic technical and vocational training. In 1944 the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU) (q.v.) established a post-primary school at Sogeri near Port Moresby (q.v.) and after the war several other schools were set up to train PNG teachers. Some particularly successful primary school graduates were given scholarships to study in Australian secondary schools.

The colonial policy changed in the 1960s when pressure within the Territory, in Australia and from the United Nations, led to a rapid expansion of the secondary school system to provide an educated elite to prepare the country for Independence. From 1962 the new policy was implemented by L.W. Johnson, Director of Education, supported after 1963 by the Australian Minister for Territories, C.E. Barnes. Provincial high schools were established to provide four-year programs for years 7 to 10. In practice, few offered courses beyond year 8. There were high schools in all provinces by 1972. In addition there were four national high schools which accepted students from throughout the country for years 11 and 12. Two “international” schools catered mainly for expatriate children.

The secondary school system, which included state subsidized mission schools and Administration schools, was further extended in the decade after Independence. Between 1975 and 1985, 32 schools covering years 7 to 10, and three schools covering years 11 and 12, were built. This expansion doubled the number of high schools and increased enrolments by 70 percent. Even so, less than a third of the pupils who completed primary school were offered a place in a secondary school.

In 1989 there were an estimated 67,000 pupils and 3,000 teachers in secondary schools. In 1992 about 12 percent of children were receiving secondary education. The gender ratio was two males to each female. A significant deficiency in the post-primary system has been the neglect of technical education. High schools have trained students for the public service at the expense of technical schools which have produced too few skilled tradesmen.

The first attempt to include practical skills in formal education programs was made by the London Missionary Society in the late 19th century. In spite of the encouragement of the Administrator, Sir Hubert Murray, in Papua, who offered special subsidies to missions prepared to teach practical subjects, most missions were reluctant to undertake the task. An exception was Rev. Charles Abel, who established the Kwato Extension Association, on Kwato Island, in 1917.

The first serious Administration attempt to establish technical education did not come until after World War II when the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme established classes in Port Moresby and Rabaul. A technical education system was established in the late 1950s. Pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship training schemes, modeled on Australian systems, were set up; engineering, building construction, and commerce courses were introduced; and technical schools were built. By 1975 there were 2,000 full-time students and 1,000 part-time students enrolled in technical schools and colleges run by the Department of Education. The technical education system did not expand significantly between 1975 and 1990. The most important development of the post-Independence period was the training conducted by statutory bodies such as the Electricity Commission and large private sector companies such as Bougainville Copper Ltd.. In spite of the increase in private-sector training PNG still suffers from a shortage of skilled labor.

Higher Education

Until 1963 the Australian colonial Administration neglected higher education. In 1962 a visiting United Nations mission criticized this policy and urged the establishment of higher education institutions to produce graduates to take over the running of the country at Independence. In 1964 a commission of enquiry recommended the establishment of a university by 1966, with a preliminary year and an external studies department to help students overcome the disadvantages of inadequate secondary education and geographical isolation. The commission also recommended the establishment of an institute of technology. In 1964 an Administrative College was established to train PNGans for administrative and clerical positions in the Public Service. The University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG), established in Port Moresby in 1966, produced its first graduates in 1970. An Institute of Higher Technical Education, established in Port Moresby in 1966, was moved to Lae following objections to both institutions being in Port Moresby. The Institute of Higher Technical Education became the Institute of Technology and in 1967 the Papua New Guinea University of Technology (UNITECH). It awarded its first diplomas in 1971, and its first degrees in 1975.

Both Administration and missions established education centers in the 1950s. By 1970 a dozen small teachers’ colleges were scattered around the country. Of these the most important were the government primary teachers’ colleges in Port Moresby and Madang, and the secondary teachers’ college in Goroka. A number of specialist colleges, catering mainly for the needs of the public service, were established in the 1960s. There was a considerable expansion of post-secondary training institutions in the decade after Independence.

In 1990, 10 percent of students who completed secondary schooling entered higher education institutions. Of these, 35 percent attended university (including the secondary teachers’ college at Goroka which is attached to UPNG), 25 percent attended secretarial colleges and 10 percent attended primary teachers’ colleges. The remaining 30 percent were distributed among over 50 specialist, mainly vocational, colleges. Six percent of higher education students studied abroad and increasing numbers went to overseas universities, mostly in English-speaking countries, to acquire post-graduate degrees. Providing higher education is very costly. Between 1990 and 1992 higher education received an 11 percent increase in funding. From time to time university students have demonstrated, usually peacefully but sometimes violently, on political issues. Rioting on campus led to the closure of both UPNG and UNITECH for the second semester of 1991.

Technical Education

The first attempt to include practical skills in formal education programs was made by the London Missionary Society in the late 19th century. In spite of the encouragement of the Administrator, Sir Hubert Murray, in Papua, who offered special subsidies to missions prepared to teach practical subjects, most missions were reluctant to undertake the task. An exception was Rev. Charles Abel, who established the Kwato Extension Association, on Kwato Island, in 1917.

The first serious Administration attempt to establish technical education did not come until after World War II when the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme established classes in Port Moresby and Rabaul. A technical education system was established in the late 1950s. Pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship training schemes, modeled on Australian systems, were set up; engineering, building construction, and commerce courses were introduced; and technical schools were built. By 1975 there were 2,000 full-time students and 1,000 part-time students enrolled in technical schools and colleges run by the Department of Education. The technical education system did not expand significantly between 1975 and 1990. The most important development of the post-Independence period was the training conducted by statutory bodies such as the Electricity Commission and large private sector companies such as Bougainville Copper Ltd. In spite of the increase in private-sector training PNG still suffers from a shortage of skilled labor.

 

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