Papua New Guinea is making great strides in improving how students are being taught to read. This is good success considering that in 2011 literacy rates among primary and secondary students in five of Papua New Guinea’s 22 provinces were below 20% (ASPBAE Australia).
The Pacific Island nation of 7.3 million people joined the GPE in 2010, with an ambitious Universal Basic Education Plan designed to ensure that “all children of school age must enroll in school, complete nine years of basic education and should have learnt skills, knowledge, and values covered in the basic education curriculum”. The plan aims to improve access and the quality of education as well as enhance management of basic education, retention, and equity. The Global Partnership for Education supported Papua New Guinea with a $19.2 million grant to implement this plan.
Reading is a fundamental skill to promote learning
The 2011 PNG Read program, funded by the GPE grant and implemented by the Papua New Guinea Department of Education with the support of the World Bank, is an innovative program founded on the principle that reading is the fundamental skill all children must acquire to promote learning. The program promotes better teaching and learning of reading skills in elementary and primary education. In Papa New Guinea, elementary level means preschool and the first two years of primary school, and elementary level includes grades 3 to 8.
The program consists of three basic interventions:
- Classroom libraries and related support for grades 3 to 8;
- Learning kits and materials for elementary grades, also to teach reading;
- Introducing a reading assessment tool to enable teachers to measure student progress
Many challenges to address….
As a result classroom libraries of 60 books are being established all grade 3 to 8 classes across the country. Considering that PNG is as large as the United Kingdom with much of it not accessible by road, delivering books to every school in the country represents a major logistical challenge that is still underway. Selecting and procuring more than one million books was another challenge, as well as preparing teacher’s manuals and training DVDs to promote the use of these books via activities such as silent reading, paired reading, story time, and improved methods to teach reading.
Preparing, selecting and distributing the learning materials for younger children, much of it in vernacular languages as more than 800 languages are spoken in PNG, was yet another challenge we are addressing.
And finally, adapting and testing the reading assessment tools known as Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) in four of Papa New Guinea’s 22 provinces is underway and is meant to give teachers and education departments officials practical tools to measure progress of the reading-related initiatives, including the ability to identify and address problems quickly.
…and successes to report
During a recent visit to Papua New Guinea I was able to see the progress of the PNG Read program. Reading scores in Madang province for both boys and girls have improved, interventions in the Western Highlands province are on track, and books for the classroom libraries are being distributed. In addition, teachers are being trained to use the materials to promote reading and improve reading scores.
In the capital Port Moresby I visited two local schools and observed that teacher training to promote reading has been quite effective. Teachers are integrating the classroom libraries and reading sessions into their classroom schedules. Techniques such as having a reading buddy are being used to pair stronger readers with less-proficient readers to help those struggling to become more confident and willing to participate in the reading activities.
The PNG Read team is also working on the development of a new “Standards Based Curriculum”, which highlights the importance of data collection to inform curriculum planning. This will strengthen evidence-based decision making going forward and the establishment of a strong and sustainable system.
Jeff Ramin is the GPE Country Lead for Papua New Guinea, Bhutan, Haiti, Maldives, Mongolia, Philippines, Timor-Leste, and Yemen.