|Subject: Response to Hawthorne's Posting in Kumul Forum
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Date Posted: 10:45:08 11/27/99 Sat
Hawthorne treatise that, "the root of PNG's current troubles is the chronic lack of education throughout the country" is a well-trodden argument in any literature involving human capital formation in PNG and other developing countries. Moreover, Hawthorne aptly points out the situation as the swivel for the future of the country. Indeed literacy and numeracy is critical for PNG's overall development at all levels prior to and beyond primary school level. A number of discussion points and aberrations in this discourse need some comments.
First, although formal education plays a pivotal role in knowledge disposition and articulation with the wherewithal of development, other forms of consciousness received outside the traditional schools have played a major role in the development. By this we mean that the non-formal and informal modalities are as important as the formal path.
Secondly, the assertion that the state lacks the capacity to sufficiently finance education is weak and flawed. An examination of the expenditures on education after 1975 would show the state has always appropriated more resources to education then other sectors. Still the resources required to provide and sustain a worldly competitive education is beyond the current fiscal capacity of the state. It would be foolish to expend K.5 billion (1994 estimated cost of the K-12 education reform) to education, when the state recurrent expenditure is K.6 billion, to finance broad based education, less still universal Primary education PNG at the expense of other agencies of development like transport, capital asset and equipment, health, rural economy and Police.
Thirdly, the suggestion of sub-contracting the whole of the education sectors out to an organization that can provide world-class education is wieldly and suspect. What is a world class education and how is this measured? How do we explain the many PNGians who are successfully competing at overseas secondary schools and universities? This is a moot point when education is designed to the needs of its constituent communities.
Fourthly, the conception about tying the Australian Government annual aid package to education is woefully inadequate and has only prolonged the reliance on Australian benevolence. I concur with you only on one point, to use your words, "that the potential long term benefits of the aid package, of an educated populace would outweigh the relatively short term squeeze in these other areas."
However, the idea of transplantation of Australian school curriculum into the PNG curriculum is a cut and phase approach. It ignores the philosophical and ideological underpinnings of political independence and education as tool for maintaining social values and articulating national development. PNG's education system is an embodiment of a multiplicity of philosophical and ideological values of a society with 800 plus languages and dialects. Lest history has not pointed out the influence of the Pax Australiana in PNG, the pre independent system was coined from the detached New South Wales and the Queensland systems. The historical biases are obvious but we need not dispense with them. It is better to retain the vestiges of the European bias and contrast PNG history as the Melanesians see their traditions. Remember PNG's history existed before Europeans first visited Melanesia. Moreover, in any learning environments we must allow the student to draw his/her own perspective on developmental concepts, even mathematics, physics, chemistry, and geographic science. Canberra would be wise to ignore any suggestion to transplant Aussie education in PNG, lest it is branded a neo-colonialist. In the same vein the economics of that system is set at a different level then PNG's.
The problem is not about resources and the appropriateness of the curriculum, but of a kind. I see these in the quality of pedagogy, the distribution of institutions, manpower, management, per capita income, overemphasis on the formal system and centralist control of all forms of qualitative improvements, management and experience in running a complex system. The Australian Aid has perpetuated the over reliance on overseas aid, so much so that nothing goes without state funding or external 'gift". PNG has become a breadbasket because of the paternalistic attitude of those who advise Australian politicians.
Formal education is a new concept of learning and knowledge formation. In the post World War II period Europeans provided education without regard to the students level of comprehension of new concepts. It was assumed that Melanesians basically require the same amount of conditioning between each level of education as European children before advancing to the next rung in the education ladder. For me questions abound about this approach. In the beginning, knowledge discourse of the European culture, been different, was forced on to indigenous people a lot who were not headed for formal employment and some did not have the motivation for school work. Many failed to meet traditional standards, few survivors and stayed on complete the full length of the education system. Typically, the European pedagogical approach has not worked to our satisfaction.
The new consciousness in PNG sees many failures and dropouts as inappropriate for education and an appalling waste of human resources. It thus dawned on education planners that the borrowed system did not adapt the curriculum to our peculiar needs.
The reforms of 1995 have come about in response to the numbers of youths seeking educational opportunities in a fast globalizing PNG and the United Nations declaration for universal primary education in Jomtien, Thailand. Being for it is the Jomtien and state policy overlooked the problems of accommodating phenomenal increases in student numbers. The 1996 Organic laws on Provincial and Local Level Governments and the attendant Education Acts designed to approximated this policy inherently precipitated major expansions. The reforms of the K-12 pressured students to spend more time in primary school to compensate for time school leavers would have spent as school dropouts after grade 6. Provinces took advantage of the promise of Australian aid to launch ambitious and often unsustainable reform programs. Other donors under the current structural adjustment encouraged the reforms to promote social mobility. But beyond the complexities of the Australian annual aid package which was project based lay questions of 21st century economic life and systems as globalization, readjustment of capitalism from technological improvements as automation demanded social attitudes and engineering skills of higher order and Australia's geopolitical and economic interests. Australia's current involvement in the East Timor peace keeping must force a revaluation of its current aid program in PNG. Any suggestion of extended Australian aid to PNG is most unlikely.
As PNGians know the aid is conceived to last till the turn of the century. Pre-eminent is the direct transfer function - to pass some government agencies involved in the provincial development to provincial education offices or schools. Macro planning became piece meal as the Aussies placed their own people to decide and manage the disbursement of aid to sporadic programs in the reform. This strategy would not accommodate what has been inferred in Hawthorne's article. This financing strategy become substantial part of the system, which purported to be self-sustaining through user, pays but which continuos to encourage a hand out mentality. It was set against the assumption that a major component of the Australian aid package would be used to finance the reform, whilst higher education was thought to be unimportant. A distinction was drawn on K-12 education for terminal curriculum at grade 12, with a character expounded by the World Bank on a restructured form based on a human capital theory that claims returns from investments in higher education are lower then K-12.
Hawthorne's proposition for massive external aid and the transplantation of the Australian curriculum would work in a small school district type setting, as an experimental project but not in a system with 4 million stakeholders and in environments of extreme and extenuating topographical and political circumstances. Moreover, Australia would not want to be seen to be interfering in the internal affairs of another country. Hence, while they continue to provide assistance through mostly British personnel, they have maintained their distance. Such a strategy, although unclear at times would have credence to a system of education which given the initial direction, must eventually find its own meaning and build the resource to sustain its development. Finally, the PNG system has begun a major restructuring and must be allowed to conclude the reforms as planned.
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