PNG teach­ers in for a les­son

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The Kokoda Track Foun­da­tion (KTF) is press­ing ahead with an ur­gent train­ing project to up-skill thou­sands of el­e­men­tary school teach­ers across Pa­pua New Guinea.

Ac­cord­ing to KTF chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer, Dr Genevieve Nel­son, there are 600,000 school-aged chil­dren who do not at­tend school in PNG due to the lack of qual­i­fied teach­ers.

And, at the end of the year, more teach­ers could fall out of the sys­tem be­cause of changes to the min­i­mum qual­i­fi­ca­tions they need.

Nel­son says there are a large num­ber of teach­ers across PNG who trained in the past 20 years, but were never given the op­por­tu­nity to fin­ish their stud­ies.

But the six-week ‘ Teach for To­mor­row’ project now al­lows them to com­plete that train­ing.

The project has al­ready put 1200 par­tially trained teach­ers through the short course, but the aim is to have an­other 2500 grad­u­ate with a Cer­tifi­cate in El­e­men­tary Teach­ing.

The cer­tifi­cate meets the new min­i­mum qual­i­fi­ca­tion needed by De­cem­ber 31 and al­lows the teach­ers to re­main in the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

The project is a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween KTF, the Na­tional Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion and PNG Ed­u­ca­tion In­sti­tute.

Nel­son says it has been fi­nan­cially backed by provin­cial gov­ern­ments, the Aus­tralian aid pro­gram, and cor­po­rate spon­sors.

“But we’re al­ways need­ing more help,” she says. “This is vi­tally im­por­tant to the fu­ture ed­u­ca­tion of Pa­pua New Guineans.”

Nel­son told one group of grad­u­ates from the up-skilling project that be­ing a teacher is an hon­ourable role.

“It is one of the most im­por­tant roles within so­ci­ety. Every week, I en­trust the care of my two young daugh­ters to their pre-school teach­ers. I hope that these teach­ers will nur­ture, teach, de­velop, care for and love my most pre­cious peo­ple in the en­tire world. Never un­der­es­ti­mate the enor­mous im­pact you have on your stu­dents.”

The first ‘ Teach for To­mor­row’ course was in Oro Prov­ince last year, with 330 grad­u­ates. KTF re­ports that 88 per cent of par­tic­i­pants on that course had been work­ing as par­tially trained teach­ers for six years or more. KTF has since ex­panded the project to Gulf, Morobe and Milne Bay prov­inces, and the Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion of Bougainville.

KTF was es­tab­lished in 2003 to re­pay the sup­port given to Aus­tralia by PNG dur­ing World War 2. Over the years, the pres­ence of the aid and de­vel­op­ment agency has spread be­yond the Kokoda re­gion to in­clude the en­tire coun­try.

Hand-in-hand with the teacher-train­ing pro­gram, the Aus­tralian char­ity, So­larBuddy. org, has been hand­ing out so­lar lights to the teach­ers and school chil­dren so they can do school­work at night.

So­lar Buddy in­ven­tor and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer, Si­mon Doble, says 17,000 lights have been do­nated around the globe in less than a year, in what he de­scribes as a bat­tle against ‘en­ergy poverty’. About 1500 have been sent to PNG via KTF.

“Around the world, one in five peo­ple go to bed in to­tal dark­ness,” says Doble.

In PNG, it’s es­ti­mated that only about 13 per cent of Pa­pua New Guineans are on the elec­tric­ity grid and only 3.7 per cent of the ru­ral pop­u­la­tion is con­nected.

Chil­dren in newly so­lar-pow­ered homes re­main awake longer each day and use 38 per cent of their ad­di­tional time for study­ing and read­ing, ac­cord­ing to Doble.

“Our so­lar lights al­low Pa­pua New Guineans to study, pre­pare lessons or do busi­ness at night,” he says. “Apart from the ed­u­ca­tion ben­e­fits, there are also en­vi­ron­men­tal and eco­nomic ben­e­fits be­cause peo­ple do not have to buy ex­pen­sive torch bat­ter­ies or kerosene (for light­ing).”

The small lights run off a so­lar-charged bat­tery that can be re-charged 500 times, pro­vid­ing up to 10 hours of light at a time. Re­place­ment bat­ter­ies are avail­able.

So­lar Buddy works with Aus­tralian school chil­dren, who as­sem­ble the lights, learn about en­ergy poverty and do­nate the lights to chil­dren over­seas.

Apart from PNG, the lights have been dis­trib­uted in Uganda, Ghana, Tan­za­nia, Myanmar, Nepal, Ti­bet and In­dia.

See ktf.ngo, so­larbuddy.org.

Front of class ... Genevieve Nel­son ad­dresses more than 500 teacher grad­u­ates at the Morobe Teach for To­mor­row grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony.

Light­bulb mo­ment ... (left) a fa­ther in Uganda reads to his chil­dren with a So­lar Buddy light. The lights are be­ing dis­trib­uted in PNG, too, hand- in- hand with a teacher train­ing pro­gram by the Kokoda Track Foun­da­tion. Teacher grad­u­ates in Bougainville (above).

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