Education in Papua New GuineaIt’s hard enough to understand each other within one language. Imagine having more than 850 different languages spoken by seven million people in one country, with most of these languages having no written form. Such is the condition of Papua New Guinea, the most linguistically diverse nation in the world.

Papua New Guinea has come a long way in recent years, but for the most part is still a widely underdeveloped and rural country. Only 13 percent of citizens live in cities. Mountains, swamps, jungles and other topographical obstacles have kept some villages completely isolated. Some of its inhabitants have never had any contact with the outside world. This inaccessibility to books, technology, and paper have kept many of these rural areas from developing written languages. It’s no surprise, then, that the nation’s literacy rate is a low 62.4 percent.

Reconciling this rich diversity and lack of literacy is no small task. The Papua New Guinean government wants to give its citizens the opportunity to develop and flourish in their mother tongues. However, it also wants to give the country an edge in terms of advancing careers and the nation’s economy with the official languages of English and Tok Pisin. But supplying millions of people with education in Papua New Guinea, particularly rural areas that have no written form of communication, is an immense task, and the funding and workers are few.

Fortunately, this project isn’t a one-nation effort; many foreign nonprofits have come alongside the government to help grow education in Papua New Guinea. One of them is Wycliffe Bible Translators. This Christian organization seeks to improve vernacular literacy in several nations, including Papua New Guinea. The organization seeks to create written languages for those who have none with the end goal of translating the Bible into these languages.

The road to translation is not a short nor easy one, though. Reading and writing are not everyday pastimes in traditional Papua New Guinean culture. Children who do go to school often leave in the fourth through sixth grade because many jobs don’t require a lengthy education, or because there is a lack of opportunity for paid employment in rural areas, where subsistence farming is the norm. Without cultivation, these children often lose their literacy skills as they grow older. In order for them to be able to read complex literature like the Bible and understand it for themselves, many need to bolster their basic literacy skills

While their efforts are mainly based in churches, Wycliffe volunteers have realized the necessity of strengthening the literacy skills of the surrounding communities. Research shows that children succeed better in school if they begin their education in their mother tongue and then bridge to a second or third language later on in their schooling. So Wycliffe is coming alongside schools and teachers to help improve learning materials and curriculums to better equip school-age kids. The organization also provides workshops for adult community members to polish their reading and writing skills.

Many Papua New Guineans think that since they know how to fluently speak their mother tongue, they should be able to easily read it. But the jump from having no written language to a brand new alphabet to reading out loud is tremendous. Wycliffe started providing fluency reading exercises to these adult learners. The volunteers help Papua New Guineans become more comfortable with reading out loud, stressing that learning how to read takes a lot of work, no matter who you are or what language you speak.

Aside from the more long-term work that Wycliffe does in partnership with schools, Wycliffe’s language surveyors traverse Papua New Guinea’s jungle-like terrain to meet with rural communities, which may lack written languages and some of the necessary materials for education. Some villages require days of backpacking or helicopters to reach. Once there, the Wycliffe volunteers assess the village’s situation: what the culture is like, what languages the people speak, how many languages exist and more.

The volunteers also take note of what educational resources the villages have. Schools that exist in these remote villages may not have electricity, so accessing new curriculums or books is difficult. Teachers may have to hand-draw materials or walk to towns with printers to get the materials they need. Wycliffe is working with the government and other nonprofits to deliver the necessary resources these villages need to strengthen their literacy.

While Wycliffe volunteers have helped significantly in developing written languages and improving education in Papua New Guinea, there’s still an immense amount of work left. As some languages thrive, others seem to falter and disappear. Languages in rural areas that have only a few dozen speakers often blend into other languages as they become more interconnected.

But Wycliffe also believes in empowering Papua New Guineans to do their own translations and teaching. Everything that Wycliffe does as foreigners and staff, it tries as much as possible to train Papua New Guineans to do the same, sharing their skills, expertise and knowledge with them. The vision is that the locals will become qualified to do all of the work on their own, and Papua New Guineans will become experts in linguistic fields. As more languages gain written forms, Wycliffe hopes that vernacular education and bridging programs will become more widespread, leading to improved education in Papua New Guinea.

Sydney Cooney

Photo: Flickr

Papua New Guinea's Poverty RatePapua New Guinea is located just north of Australia. Approximately 39.9 percent of the population lives below the national poverty line. Papua New Guinea is considered to be one of the poorest countries in the Pacific. Rural poverty is especially prevalent, causing agriculture to suffer. The run-down health system exemplifies years of a less-than-successful governmental approach. Papua New Guinea’s poverty rate can be largely attributed to a lack of knowledge of effective farming methods and an uncommitted government.

Most of the citizens in Papua New Guinea rely on small-scale agriculture for their livelihoods. Around 75 percent of natives practice subsistence farming. Coffee production is one of the country’s main sources of revenue, and thus, when this cash crop fails to produce, the regional economy suffers. Productivity has been low because farmers lack sufficient training in techniques, and yields are averaging 30 to 50 percent of their potential. The same thing is happening with the country’s cocoa production.

The health system in Papua New Guinea is deteriorating quickly. Often times medical facilities will not have enough staff or resources to help sick citizens at a successful rate, especially in rural areas. Everything depends on supply, vaccines, surgical instruments, staff, pain management drugs and a suitable treatment area. Studies have found that only 36 percent of facilities have running water year-round, 29 percent did not have clinical supervision and 13 percent were deemed unsanitary.

Papua New Guinea’s poverty rate stems from sick citizens. When there is a health crisis in a country, foreign aid is taken from other necessary means to give towards helping the sick, which means there is no development out of poverty. Sick people prolong poverty because they are unable to contribute to the labor force. For the country of Papua New Guinea to advance successfully, its health care system must develop.

The problems afflicting citizens of Papua New Guinea are reversible. More effective farming methods and a sufficient health system are entirely achievable if the government proceeds with a committed approach.

Lucy Voegeli

Photo: Flickr

Tuberculosis InfectionEvery year, 30,000 individuals in Papua New Guinea are newly infected with tuberculosis. Tuberculosis is an airborne infection that causes the bacteria mycobacterium tuberculosis to develop into a disease that destroys organ tissue most commonly in the lungs. It can be fatal if left untreated. From those 30,000, one out of four are diagnosed; one out of five receive treatment; and less than half get successfully treated. If left untreated, one person can infect 10 to 15 people every year.

Increasing incidences due to minimal health care, poor housing and nutrition have contributed to poverty, overcrowding and people failing to complete their treatment. In fact only 50 percent of individuals have access to adequate healthcare. Children face the greatest risk of contracting disabling forms of tuberculosis. Unfortunately, 10 percent of children die from tuberculosis.

Papua New Guinea’s island of Daru has the highest rate of tuberculosis infection in the world. Out of 150,000 people on the island, 160 get infected with drug-resistant tuberculosis as of January 2016. The rise of two aggressive strains of tuberculosis are a result of recent developments of antibiotic resistance.

This resistance stems from multidrug resistant and extensively drug resistant tuberculosis. To treat tuberculosis infection, a daily regimen of injections, oral medication and supervised medical care of anywhere between six to 24 months is recommended.

With funding from the United States Agency for International Development and the National Department of Health, FHI360 is hosting a series training courses for doctors to introduce Bedaquiline. Janssen Pharmaceuticals developed Bedaquiline, the first new class of antibiotics approved by the United States Food and Drug Association in more than 40 years.

By utilizing pharmacovigilance—the science of early detection and adverse effects—Bedaquiline is slowly being introduced to practitioners and their patients. In fact, 85 courses of Bedaquiline have already been distributed to Daru hospital.

Tiffany Santos
Photo: Flickr

In 2012, Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill introduced the Tuition Fee-Free (TFF) policy aimed at eliminating tuition for elementary to grade 12. The policy which put into action the government’s Universal Basic Education Plan 2010-2019, is PNG’s fourth and longest-lasting attempt to provide free education in Papua New Guinea.

According to 2012 statistics, an estimated two million youths and adults, which accounts for about one-third of the population were out of school and unemployed. According to PNG’s education minister, an estimated 10 percent of school-aged children do not even get a chance to enroll and 50 percent of those who do drop out of school before reaching the sixth grade. The country’s net enrollment rate of 63 percent is the lowest in the Asia-Pacific region.

While PNG’s Universal Primary Education started as a British Colonial policy, access to primary schools was expanded under the Australian administration. However, the policy favored only a select few students and those selected were males. It was not until 1981, six years after independence, that PNG started its TFF policy to attract more attention. The program was met with a lot of resistance from the newly formed provinces who considered it an act of the government taking over their newly granted authority.

After four failed attempts at providing free education in Papua New Guinea, many believe that the policy is a part of the government’s political agenda to get re-elected. The policy is aimed at pleasing parents and persuading the public that the policy is the solution to easing parent’s burden in paying school fees. However, in a country, which ranks 136 out of 165 in corruption, it is not a surprise that huge amounts of funding meant for education went into the wrong hands resulting in ghost schools, ghost teachers and ghost management. Many schools are still forced to charge fees as the government fails to send its checks on time.

Hasty and, in most cases, a complete lack of implementation has been considered some of the reasons for the policy’s failure. Though government funding is mostly focused on fee elimination, it does little to eliminate the problem of classroom sizes. In many schools, students have been sent home due to lack of space. Infrastructure is another issue. Most schools have poor infrastructure with no plans in place for upgrading them to allow for more student intake.

However, all is not lost. UNICEF’s education programs are providing the much-needed support to improve education in Papua New Guinea. In collaboration with the government, UNICEF is building a case for girl’s education by reviving the Accelerating Girl’s Education Steering Committee and working with schools to promote a healthy environment for students. UNICEF is also working with the Department of Education to ensure that Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) is appropriately addressed. UNICEF is partnering with various government departments to develop early childhood development indicators and curricula for pre-schools and Elementary teacher training colleges, a revision of ECCD Policy and ensure engagement with civil society partners.

UNICEF is also working with the Department of Education to ensure that Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) is appropriately addressed. UNICEF is partnering with various government departments to develop early childhood development indicators and curricula for pre-schools and Elementary teacher training colleges, a revision of ECCD Policy and ensure engagement with civil society partners.

With Papua New Guinea currently in the midst of its election season, it is now up to the people to elect a government that will provide access and quality education of which the country is in dire need.

Jagriti Misra

Photo: Flickr

El Nino And The Hunger In Papua New Guinea
Since the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon in mid-2015, Papua New Guinea (PNG) has been struggling through frost, drought and widespread food and water shortages. The ENSO — a period of unpredictable fluctuations in temperatures and currents of the wind and sea — disrupted food production and ruined the livelihoods of the many who live there. Food prices had already sharply increased by the end of 2015. The limited availability of food supplies in the markets makes for an even higher risk of starvation and suffering, in addition to the regular problem of hunger in Papua New Guinea.

As one of the poorest countries in Asia, PNG has 37 percent of its population living below the poverty line. Diseases like malaria are taking an increased toll. People are already weakened by the hunger in PNG, making it difficult to fight off sickness. The weather phenomenon also devastated the crops last year due to frost and drought, leaving farmers with nothing to eat.

According to the World Food Programme, as many as 700,000 people in PNG are in need of food assistance. Hunger in Papua New Guinea has also been overlooked, as the government has not issued any requests for assistance or declarations of emergency, even though staples like sweet potatoes were destroyed by low rainfall throughout 2015. Frosts from July through October continued to damage crops the following year. In October, there were several local villagers who said they walked through red dust– something that is unseen in the area.

Although the government began investigating reports of deaths, especially due to hunger, many badly affected communities have yet to receive aid. The slow response is due to the fact that PNG has a rugged terrain. Many villages and communities are only accessible by a multi-day trek from the next town over, or by aircraft that is flown by a pilot trained to land on small strips in the middle of the jungle.

Several World Food Programme groups have been offering food aid since the ENSO hit in 2015. With the world working together as a whole, charity organizations have raised enough money and helped grow enough food to feed more than one million people in PNG. At this rate, PNG is expected to be out of its ENSO drought by 2020 and back to standard living rates, although those are well under the national poverty lines as well.

PNG’s villagers are starting to witness more green fields, running children, happy families and liveliness being restored into the country. They will soon be back to where they were, fighting the usual hunger in Papua New Guinea, and pushing for better lifestyles.

Rilee Pickle

Photo: Flickr


Papua New Guinea Refugees
The untouched wilderness and island paradise of Papua New Guinea often enchants first-time visitors. However, Australia’s harsh immigration policies and practices have recently come to light. Current news reports reveal a tale of cruelty and endless waiting for those hoping to leave the country. Here are seven facts about Papua New Guinea refugees:

  1. In 2005, a partnership between UNICEF, the Catholic Church, and the government of Papua New Guinea issued some 1700 birth certificates to unregistered refugee children. In a country where only three percent of births are registered, the project offered hope for many children. Although birth certificates are often taken for granted in first world countries, they are very important tools. They can ensure a child’s social, legal and economic rights in the country they live in.
  2. Australia’s strict refugee policy orders all intercepted refugees to be taken to a detention center on Manus Island. After countless scandals dealing with the horrible living and working conditions at the detention facility, the Australian government made the decision to begin winding down operations at Manus Island. As a result, the facility will be closed by 2018.
  3. New Zealand Prime Minister, Bill English, recently reached out to the Prime Minister of Australia and offered to resettle 150 refugees at Manus Island in New Zealand. The offer has been in place since 2013. Regardless, the Australian Prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has hardly acknowledged the possible benefits of the offer.
  4. Papua New Guinea refugees detained at Manus Island have endured horrible living conditions and physical strife. Nonetheless, Matt Siegel of Reuters says that of the terrible things these people must go through, the psychological effects are the most dangerous. “Some of these people have been in these camps for three, four, five years, and that leads to an enormous level of self-harm, suicide attempts.”
  1. Refugees who are resettled in Papua New Guinea are often resettled in cities like Lae, where the crime rate is high and the wages are low. One witness claims that some refugees work low wage jobs like construction but are paid as little as $12 a day.
  2. Refugees detained at Manus Island and Nauru have staged hunger strikes and peaceful protests to demand freedom. One reporter even described instances where some men sewed their mouths shut for a hunger strike.
  3. In 2016, Australia announced a one-time partnership with the U.S. and the U.N. The U.S. pledged to resettle a number of refugees from Manus Island. Priority would be given to women and children, with single men bringing up the rear of the priority list.

While steps are now being taken to close down island prisons like Manus Island and Nauru, there are still millions of refugees around the world looking for a new place to call home. One hopes that Australia and Papua New Guinea will do better to help those who dream of a new life on their shores.

Mary Grace Costa

Photo: Flickr

Education in Papua New Guinea
Endemic problems facing education in Papua New Guinea (PNG) continue nearly unabated despite the passing of the 15-year-long time frame established by the U.N. for securing its ambitious Millennium Development Goals. Included among its eight commitments was dramatic education reform to address systemic gender-based discrimination, a goal that has hardly been realized in the Oceanic nation.

In a 2012 report, the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) tallied total enrollment in primary education to be a meager 29.3 percent of all PNG children. The research found that the male-to-female ratio is nearly equal during those early education years, with 16,821 males and 16,120 females enrolled in some level of schooling in the relatively wealthier Autonomous Region of Bougainville.

That seeming equality morphs as children age, however, especially when comparing different regions of the country. Female enrollment rates decline significantly in poorer regions that are also marked by a horrific record of abuse toward women. That state of affairs is attributed by many to the historic degradation toward women found worldwide, and in particular regions of the country like the Eastern Highlands.

Indeed, the literacy rate between men and women in that region was 51 percent and 36.5 percent, respectively. In 2009, grade 12 enrollees were made up of just 180 females to their 494 male colleagues. Much of the blame has been leveled at a lack of will and ability to actually fund initiatives aimed at attaining universal gender equality in spite of such officially professed goals.

Similar to the reality throughout the world, PNG girls and women face an exorbitantly high likelihood of experiencing rape or assault at some point in their lifetime. Human Rights Watch pegs that figure at a staggering 70 percent for PNG, well above the one in three average for much of the majority world.

The World Health Organization notes that this problem is exacerbated in low-income regions with poor social attitudes toward women, like rural PNG, and often increases the risk for physical and mental health problems. As those problems increase, the amount of professional and personal self-improvement women and girls can achieve diminishes, thus perpetuating the problem of gender inequality for education in PNG and elsewhere.

Some progress toward reforming education in Papua New Guinea has been made. AusAID found that total enrollment rates have increased from 52 to 63 percent between 2007 and 2009 among primary-aged students. At that same time, completion rates for students enrolled up to grade eight rose from 45 to 56 percent.

In 2012 the government rolled out a new round of subsidizations for tuition fees, building on the apparent success of similar policies enacted in the early 1990s. The new policies have positively affected enrollment among female children and have promoted retention rates among children who seek to continue on with their education at various levels.

In fact, a unique problem has arisen over the last several years involving a lack of resources to accommodate so many current and prospective students, with the numbers expected to continue climbing. For example, nearly 14,000 high school-aged students are expected to continue their education in Papua New Guinean colleges and universities despite glaring inadequacies in terms of quality of educational infrastructure and low numbers of qualified educators.

Ravinder Rena, who published research in 2011 which studied the causes and challenges facing primary education in Papua New Guinea, laments that the quality of most things associated with the PNG education system is derelict and in need of reforms on nearly every level.

“But, if the government can maintain its financial commitment to education, then Papua New Guinea’s educational system most likely will continue to progress,” writes Rena.

James Collins
Photo: Flickr

Water Crisis in Papua New Guinea
According to a 2016 report from WaterAid, an international organization that works to improve water quality, sanitation and hygiene to the most vulnerable populations, Papua New Guinea is the worst country in the world in terms of household water access. There are 4.5 million individuals, 60% of the population in Papua New Guinea who lack access to clean water. As a result of the water crisis in Papua New Guinea, 800 children die every year from diarrhea.

In the capital city, Port Moresby, about half of the population live in communities located on precipitous inclines prone to flooding. Many of these areas are outside the perimeter of utility services and far from water mains or sewage pipelines.

WaterAid suggests the vital water source connections will not be constructed for many years. The organization also notes that extreme weather along with rising sea levels contributes to an already precarious water crisis in Papua New Guinea.

Prohibitive costs, The Rakyat Post reports, are a major source of concern with respect to water quality. Poor residents in Port Moresby pay 54% of their daily wages to buy water (about 50 liters) from delivery services. By comparison, an individual living in the U.K. can expect to pay 0.1% of their daily earnings for the same amount of water from an official piped supply.

Henry Northover, head of policy for WaterAid told The Guardian that the global water difficulty was not always an issue of limited supply but in many instances a distributional problem. He added that with “clear and coherent” government policies and international intervention the crisis will be remedied.

Overcoming the crisis of water quality worldwide has been and continues to be challenging. Since 1990 advancements have been achieved, as 2.6 billion people now have access to clean water. With major improvements seen in Cambodia, followed by Mali, Laos and Ethiopia.

According to Northover ending the water crisis in Papua New Guinea and worldwide in general and thus availing all individuals worldwide access to clean water is an achievable goal, but he underscored the importance of a “clear, coherent strategy” by governments and an emphasis on water access to take global precedence.

Heidi Grossman

Photo: Flickr