The Government of Papua New Guinea, together with development partners in the education sector, is launching “Boosting Education Standards Together in PNG (BEST PNG)”, a new program to address the country’s low student learning outcomes, especially in math and science.
The country strives to improve students’ learning outcomes and deserves credit for its remarkable achievements in recent years. Since the government introduced the Tuition Fee Free (TFF) policy in 2012, the net enrollment rate for basic education (grades 1 to 8) has been on a steady increase (71% in 2012 to 76% in 2016). Government spending on education has also grown from 21% in 2012 to 24% in 2017, resulting in an increase in the number of teachers, which led to lower pupil/teacher ratio (35 students per teacher in 2016, compared to 37 students per teacher in 2012).
These improvements, however, have not yet translated into better learning outcomes for students. A recent early grade learning assessment (EGRA) in the National Capital District shows that one in every two Grade 3 students is not able to read fluently in English.
Another learning assessment, the Pacific Islands Literacy and Numeracy (PILNA), conducted in 2015, reported that about 50% of Grade 5 students who took part in the assessment failed to reach the numeracy proficiency expected for that grade.
To address these challenges, the government, through its National Department of Education (NDoE), together with education development partners, reactivated in 2017 the Education Sector Improvement Program (ESIP) Committee as the primary coordination mechanism. The ESIP Committee has since engaged in extensive consultations to facilitate policy and programmatic discussions, which laid the foundation for the development of BEST PNG.
In the next three years, the program will reach 7,000 teachers for pre-service training and 2,000 teachers for in-service training. It will also reach 106,000 primary students in 965 schools, and benefit 870,000 students across the country through the provision of new math and science textbooks developed with technical support from Japan.
BEST PNG intends to achieve these objectives through an innovative way of mobilizing funding: the program will mobilize US$21 million to improve students’ learning outcomes in math and science. Out of the total, US$7 million is in the form of a conventional GPE implementation grant. The remaining US$14 million was made available through GPE’s innovative financing window known as the GPE Multiplier: a US$3.5 million Multiplier grant leveraged US$10.5 million in grant contribution from Japan.
For Japan, utilizing innovative financing mechanisms such as Multiplier grants made sense as it literally multiplies resources for improving math and science education, for which Japan has long been a staunch supporter in PNG (for example, JICA is supporting the National Department of Education to develop primary math and science textbooks and teachers guides under the QUIS-ME project) and beyond.
BEST PNG will also benefit from resources and expertise provided by other partners, including Save the Children as grant agent, UNICEF as coordinating agency and Australia/DFAT, the European Union, the World Bank and other national/international civil society organizations, who are all members of the local education group.
Having brought about innovative ways to engage partners, mobilize resources and consolidate the partnership even further, BEST PNG exemplifies the collective efforts of the partnership to deliver as one, with the goal to improve learning outcome for students in PNG.