Child Poverty in Papua New GuineaChildren in Papua New Guinea (PNG) represent kinship, community and unity. Yet, many of them suffer neglect. Child poverty in Papua New Guinea has left 41% of the country’s children living in difficult conditions. There is an increasing level of concern for the lack of education and health care in the country.


Only 35% of students complete primary school due to factors such as poor teacher training, low enrollment levels as well as the long and dangerous journeys many children have to embark on to get to school. A 2010 report found that the PNG government was failing to educate around 2 million elementary and primary school-aged children. This also carries into adulthood, with an estimated half of the population unable to read or write.

Unfortunately, young girls are more often the ones who miss out on education as they are more at risk on journeys to school and the education system is less accommodating to them. This explains why their primary school attendance is 7% less than boys. Although there are many implications to this, one significant impact is that girls are more vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse and become dependent on marriage. This has resulted in an estimated 27% of the female population going into marriage by their 18th birthday.

Improving Education

The crisis of education in PNG has reached the global community. Australia, in particular, has committed to helping raise education levels in PNG. Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd and Michael Somare are dedicated to raising PNG’s basic education attendance to 70%. Efforts have involved subsidies and investments to remove school fees, the building of more schoolhouses and the provision of better teacher training.

Health Care

The lack of access to basic health care impacts child poverty in PNG. Infant mortality rates and childhood malnutrition have been the highest in that region of Asia. Statistics have revealed that nearly half of children between 6 to 59 months suffer from stunting and 16% of children under the age of 5 are too thin for their height.

Another good indication of health care levels among children is immunization rates, which is again lacking in PNG with the past decades’ immunization rates stagnating at 60%. In fact, COVID-19 was a huge hit to the general vaccination rates in the country. Many new mothers were skeptical about the new pandemic vaccine and this led to new concerns for other standard immunizations. The third dose of the vital DTP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) injection, for example, plummeted in dosage from 64% to 31% between 2009 and 2022.

Improving Health Care

PNG’s neighboring country, Australia, has played an important role in supporting the health care systems. Also, with the help of World Vision International, Australia is helping to address child health care issues in PNG through a variety of routes. One solution the country has implemented is to increase education on nutrition and encourage more healthy eating driven by locally available ingredients. Through investments in health care, around 28,628 people in PNG have been provided with access to essential medical treatments.

Looking Ahead

Despite the challenges that children in PNG face, efforts are underway to improve their education and health care conditions. Initiatives supported by Australia and organizations like World Vision International are helping to raise education levels, remove barriers to school attendance and provide better teacher training. Additionally, investments in health care are addressing child health issues, increasing access to essential medical treatments and promoting nutrition education. These endeavors offer hope for the alleviation of child poverty in Papua New Guinea.

– Daisy How
Photo: Flickr

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

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