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Papua New Guinea

Educational System—overview

Before the European colonization, the adults in each tribal society in Papua New Guinea educated their children on practical skills, social behavior, and spiritual beliefs. In 1873, the London Missionary Society established the first school to teach islanders to read scripture. After 1884, German and English missionaries established primary schools to teach Western concepts of morality, the German and English languages, arithmetic, and Christian doctrine. During the early 1900s, the British government encouraged missionaries to develop vocational education programs in Papua New Guinea to produce better farmers, crafts people, and skilled laborers. In 1914, Australia took control of the German colony in northeastern New Guinea. With Papua and New Guinea under its reign, Australia established English as the official language of instruction and laid the foundation for modern education in Papua New Guinea.


The Modern System: Papua New Guinea's education system has three levels: primary, secondary, and tertiary. The academic year runs from January to December.

The primary schools, or community schools, provide six years of instruction for children 7-12, although attendance is not compulsory. Most instruction still occurs in English. However, in 1989, the National Department of Education adopted a language and literacy policy designed to encourage communities to start local language literacy preschools, convert first grade into a local language year or a bridging year from local language literacy to English literacy, or have noncore subjects (subjects other than language, math, science, and social studies) taught in the local languages. The 1989 Language and Literacy Policy also supported local language and cultural instruction at secondary and tertiary schools and local language literacy programs for adults.

Since 1993, many provinces have established village schools that focus on local language literacy. The village schools provide a preprimary level for children as young as five years of age that teaches the children in their native language. The schools also encourage the children to become literate in their local language before learning English.

About 70 percent of Papua New Guinea's school-age children receive some formal education, but only two-thirds of those who enter the first grade complete the sixth.

Students who reach the sixth grade must pass a national exam to continue their education. Papua New Guinea maintains two types of secondary schools: the four-year provincial high schools, for grades 7-10, and the two-year national high schools, for grades 11 and 12. Large towns generally have their own secondary schools, but students from rural areas often attend provincial boarding schools. English is the language of instruction at the secondary level.

About 35 percent of pupils who reach sixth grade ultimately transition to the seventh grade. The low transition rate does not reflect the number of students who achieve the level necessary to move to the provincial high schools; but rather, it reflects the limited number of places available to incoming seventh graders (Department of Education 1991). The provincial high schools base their acceptance on exam scores and provincial quotas and accept an equal number of sixth graders from each primary school. Students who do not attend secondary school can enter two-year vocational schools or continue their education by mail through the government-operated College of Distance Education.

Of those who continue to seventh grade, about 67 percent complete the tenth grade. In the tenth grade students must pass a second national exam to receive a Secondary School Leaving Certificate. Most end their education after tenth grade, but about 20 percent enter one of the four national high schools. The retention rate for the national high schools is about 95 percent. Students who complete twelfth grade face a third national exam that determines which higher educational opportunities go to which students. Regardless, most grade twelve graduates pursue some form of higher education. Students also can enter a two-year vocational or technical school after tenth grade. Those who complete the upper secondary level earn a Sixth Form Certificate or a High School Certificate, depending on the school they attend. A few of the best tenth graders enter a one-year university preparation program at the University of Papua New Guinea, but most students gain university acceptance by passing the National High School Examination at the end of twelfth grade.

As of 1996, a total of 500,000 children were enrolled in primary and secondary schools. About 70 percent of primary school-aged children attended school, but only 12 percent of secondary school-aged children were enrolled. Enrollment ratios vary widely between provinces and regions. In large cities and towns virtually all children attend school; but, in some remote highland areas, fewer than 7 percent of children receive any formal education. According to the 1990 census, 23 percent of the rural population completed sixth grade, 4 percent of the rural population completed tenth grade, and 24 percent of the rural population could read English. By contrast, the census showed that 56 percent of the urban population completed the sixth grade, 22 percent completed the tenth grade, and 58 percent could read English.

Many children, especially in poor, rural areas, never enroll because their families cannot afford the school fees, which can equal more than 50 percent of some families' earnings. Some primary and most provincial high schools charge fees, while the national high schools and most postsecondary institutions are free or subsidized with government scholarships. In 1993, the national government abolished some of the school fees traditionally paid by parents.


Female Education: Although schooling is open to all citizens, female enrollment lags behind male enrollment at most levels. In 1995, about 80 percent of children between seven and twelve years were enrolled in primary education. But 87 percent of boys in that age group were enrolled compared to 74 percent of girls. That same year, 14 percent of 13-18 year-olds enrolled in some form of secondary education. Enrollment included 17 percent of the boys and 11 percent of the girls in that age bracket. Girls account for about 38 percent of all high school students, but only 29 percent of the national high school students. In 1995, girls represented 32 percent of the students enrolled in all higher education institutions, but only 25 percent of the students in one of the nation's four universities. That same year, women made up 66 percent of the preprimary teaching staff and 36 percent of the primary-level teaching staff. Figures for the secondary and tertiary levels were not available. Literacy rates for women also fall short. About 62 percent of women age 15 and older could read and write in 1995, compared to 81 percent of men.


Private & Religious Schools: The International Education Agency is the largest independent education provider in Papua New Guinea. It was created in 1977 to manage the schools operated by the Australian and United Nations administrations before Papua New Guinea's independence.

The agency operates 24 independent schools and serves more than 5,000 students in preschool through the twelfth grade. All schools, except for one, offer preschool through grade six and most continue to grade eight. Only three schools, though, in Lae, Port Moresby, and Mount Hagen, offer ninth through twelfth grades. The schools do not have a religious affiliation, although, at the community's request, some offer nondenominational scripture classes on a voluntary basis.

More than 300 teachers from Papua New Guinea and other parts of the world work for the international schools. The International Education Agency also provides consultant services on school development and review, curriculum development, and professional development.

Tuition ranges from K 3,000 to K 20,000 per year. The amount depends on the training of the teachers at each school, and the general quality of resources. Between 75 and 80 percent of agency students are Papua New Guinea citizens, although percentages range from 50 to 100 percent within individual schools. The remaining students come primarily from Australia, New Zealand, and the Philippines.

Churches also play a significant role in Papua New Guinea's educational system. In 1995, churches operated 20 training schools for nurses and other community health workers. The Catholic Church was the leading provider of educational services, running one-quarter of the community schools and one-sixth of the provincial high schools. The Evangelical Alliance, the United Church, the Lutheran Church, the Seventh-Day Adventists, and the Anglicans also provide educational services.

The National Department of Education estimates that the government provides about 68 percent of lower secondary education services, churches provide 29 percent, and the international schools provide about 3 percent.


Educational Resources & Materials: The National Department of Education has provided textbooks to students since the 1990s. Before then, teachers relied on syllabi and teaching guides from the Department of Education's curriculum unit, which outlined what teachers should teach and how they should teach it. The production of education materials improved, though, during the last quarter of the twentieth century, as a result of two loans from the World Bank. The loans helped pay for primary textbooks in English, math, health, and community life; and secondary textbooks in English, math, science, and social studies. Most textbooks still are published in English; however, the Department of Education has explored producing resource materials that can be translated and adapted to the local languages. In addition, the curriculum unit provides curriculum statements, teachers' guides, in-service packages, radio broadcasts, videos, posters, science kits, practical skills and home economics kits, sports equipment, agricultural tools, and expressive arts equipment. As of the early 1990s, computers were not available to schools.


Additional topics

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferencePapua New Guinea - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education