Papua New Guinea
Preprimary & Primary Education
Early primary education was based on the Australian primary school curriculum. Missions operated village schools and boarding schools, usually for boys. After World War II, the Australian administration appointed a director of education and took control of the educational system. From 1946 to 1956 an average of 10 administration schools opened each year. All instruction was in English and, during the 1950s, most teachers were Australians or of other Caucasian ethnicities. During the 1960s Papua New Guinea pushed to localize its teaching service, and by 1970 most primary school teachers were Papua New Guineans. The number of primary schools increased after the country's independence in 1975, and the curriculum branch of the Department of Education took steps to make the school curriculum suit local needs.
Modern primary education, which includes grades one to six, focuses on basic skills in reading, writing, and arithmetic. Seven is the official entrance age, but older children enroll. Some provinces also offer preprimary programs to children as young as five years of age. Primary instruction occurs in English; however, the preprimary programs, and some first grade classes, provide lessons in the students' native languages.
Instructors also teach science, community life, agriculture, health, expressive arts, pastoral care, and physical education. Meanwhile, some education officials want more social, spiritual, ethical, moral, and vocational lessons in primary education. Attempts to integrate practical skills have been hampered by the strict certification and exam process students must complete. Students must pass the sixth grade exam to proceed to secondary school. As a result, teachers rate the importance of any subject taught based on the extent to which it appears on the exam. Consequently, practical skills, which do not appear on the highly academic exam, receive little instructional time.
Since the early 1990s, primary schools have received free textbooks at a rate of one textbook for every two students. However, many teachers do not incorporate them into their teaching styles or cannot access them because of distribution problems. Community schools also lack sufficient reading materials.
In 1995, Papua New Guinea had 2,790 public primary schools and 13,457 teachers serving 516,797 students. That same year, the nation had 29 preprimary schools with 53 teachers and 2,528 children. About 80 percent of primary school-aged children were enrolled.
Universal primary education remains a national goal, but the Department of Education has encountered several problems trying to achieve it. The primary school system suffers from a lack of teachers and funds (Department of Education 1991.) Moreover, not all provinces support the national goal or see the need to provide basic education to all citizens. Consequently, many provinces have focused on expanding their secondary schools and not their primary ones.
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