It is quite easy to understate the work that’s being done in Papua New Guinea by VSO within education. The Language Support Programme (LSP), is ambitious and forward thinking in its approach. In collaboration with Papua New Guinean lecturers the volunteer team are working to create the new curriculum for teaching reading, writing, speaking, and listening in primary schools. As well as this team approach to re-designing the way that language is taught, my role here creating audio and video to accompany the printed curriculum, show real examples of good practice, filmed and recorded in context, is groundbreaking.
Primary school student achievement in reading in PNG did not show any improvement between 2003 and 2008, students showed limited understanding of how to write narrative, access to reading books is poor, and observations of language lessons showed a number of critical problems. Poor reading and writing skills limit the opportunities for young people to progress through the education system and enter the formal employment sector. It also hampers their development as active citizens, reduces their access to services, and ultimately strangles the development of PNG. Something had to change…
The increase in access to mobile phones has boomed in PNG since October 2007 when competition arrived in the marketplace. When there was only one mobile phone operator, only four per cent of the population had access to a mobile phone. Six years on, the majority of nationals have access and like anywhere else in the world you see young people listening to music through their handset or taking photos with their mobiles. It is revolutionary in so many ways but of major significance in that it means that even the remotest villages are now connected to one another. With the whole country embracing mobile technology, LSP is re-enforcing the strategies being taught in the new curriculum by providing videos and audio banks that can be uploaded to a phone and watched by trainee teachers. This may well be the first time that they have seen a language lesson and what better way to learn than watching it first hand, filmed in a real PNG school with real PNG teachers.
Admittedly there is a long way to go as Internet connectivity is hard to come by and when you do get connected it is exceedingly slow, but in time this will change. For now the video resources and audio bank will be available on all college computers, used as teaching resources by lecturers and will be given to all trainee teachers as low resolution files to upload onto their mobile phones to refer to. Nothing like this currently exists so it is a very exciting time in the development of the way that training is delivered!
Richard Jones, VSO Education Project Manager is passionate about the work being done and there are already positive changes in the way that language is being taught: “Early years teachers are extremely important in the effort to help every child in PNG schools to learn to read and write. Every word of the new courses are written by the PNG lecturers with support and training from their volunteers: every college is included and every lecturer is involved. The Department of Education is focused on raising literacy levels and VSO is proud to be a part of that effort through the Language Support Program.”
I will be continuing to add resources to our YouTube channel during the year: www.youtube.com/pngteachingvideos so feel free to subscribe to get a sense for what it is like teaching and working in PNG.