The campaign debate on education rages on despite sensible advice from the National Research Institute that education “should not be used only as a political gimmick by intending candidates to win votes”.
Whilst acknowledging the importance of achieving universal access, this must be universal quality access – it seems somewhat self-defeating if services cannot be delivered. What point is free hospital access if you can’t see a doctor or get medicine? Similar concerns apply to education services. The right to education is not only about access but the right to a quality education.
The O’Neill Government has never been one to let facts get in the way of its sordid fantasies so let’s examine what the Government said in its 2017 National Budget about quality education as well as statements by two other respected independent statutory agencies.
2017 National Budget
This is what was said in Volume 1 of the 2017 National Budget papers tabled in National Parliament by the O’Neill Government:
“The TFF funds are no longer warranted to Department of Education, but through the Department of Finance before being dispersed to schools. This process requires a further review as funds do not reach schools on time.”
“While the TFFP has been favourable in terms of improving access to education, quality of education has become a concern. Many provinces still have schools without enough suitable classrooms or clean water and sanitation facilities, to provide students with a suitable learning environment. Furthermore, there is need for extra housing for the increased number of teachers. A large share of sub-national education infrastructure must be addressed through the National Service Delivery Framework. The growing student population with increase access to learning, requires enough quality teachers, trained in the relevant sector pedagogy, wherever required to meet student needs.” (page 43)
Government of Papua New Guinea (2016) 2017 National Budget Documents – Volume 1 [Pdf version]. Retrieved from http://www.treasury.gov.pg/html/national_budget/2017.html
National Economic & Fiscal Commission
NEFC also had this to say in its report on how education funding should be spatially distributed:
“Over the past two years the government has focused on improving access to education through reducing the barriers to entry, primarily through increasing tuition fee subsidies. This strategy, at least in theory, should give parents (particularly in poor areas) the incentive to send their children to school. Discussions with school principals in rural areas agree that this is the case with enrolments increasing rapidly over the last two years. However, they also made mention that the quality of education provided has fallen due to a lack of infrastructure and insufficient increase in teacher numbers, leading some classes to have student : teacher ratios up to 65:1.” (page 9)
National Economic and Fiscal Commission (2014) Go Long Ples. Reducing inequality in education Funding [Pdf version]. Retrieved from http://www.nefc.gov.pg/publications.html
National Research Institute
Finally, this is part of what two experts at NRI had to say about quality education for all:
“Keeping in view the minimal educational facilities available in schools, the goal of access was far too ambitious. The result is that while access improved, the quality of education in basic education continued to deteriorate.”
“While the TFF policy is being rolled out to all schools nationwide, funds have only been enough for minor improvements in resource facilities. There is an increasing acute shortage of textbooks and teaching aids due to increased student enrolment. This has progressively worsened since 2012. Limited funds and in some instances zero funds were invested to improve the quality of education in schools. All efforts have been focused only on the provision of school access. It was only after the near realisation of the goal of access that other components of education, such as quality of learning, started receiving the attention of researchers, educationists, education planners and policy makers. At present, the declining Quality of Learning, in particular in basic education, is a major concern”,
“A sample of Grade 8 Certificate of Basic Education results analysed in 2013 (see Figure 3) showed low literacy, numeracy and combined subjects’ skills in the three examined subjects. Further, the results show 17 of the 22 provinces scoring below the all-PNG cut off mark of 80 in 2013. Even in those provinces that have attained high access rates, the quality of education is very poor.”
Devette-Chee, Kilala and Peter Michael Magury (2017) The Current State of Education in Papua New Guinea: Some Facts and Figures on Access and Quality of Education [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://pngnri.org/the-current-state-of-education-in-papua-new-guinea-some-facts-and-figures-on-access-and-quality-of-education/