Papua New Guinea: A back-to-school campaign gathers momentum

Even before the pandemic, Papua New Guinea’s education sector faced many challenges. Here’s how development partners such as UNICEF are working with the government to address the impact of the pandemic on education.

February 15, 2021 by Judith Reen, and Meggie Kua Dingi, UNICEF Papua New Guinea
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4 minutes read
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Samples of Papua New Guinea's back-to-school campaign posts on Facebook. Credit: UNICEF PNG/2020
Samples of Papua New Guinea's back-to-school campaign posts on Facebook
Credit: UNICEF PNG/2020

2020 was a challenging year for both educators and students in Papua New Guinea. Even before the pandemic, Papua New Guinea’s education sector faced many challenges. Development partners such as UNICEF have worked over the years with the government to overcome these challenges, which will require greater investments to improve education outcomes.

Papua New Guinea’s geography, its socio-economic fabric and weak capacities add to the complexity. Approximately 80% of the population live in rural and remote areas and many rely on subsistence agriculture. Social protection mechanisms are few and most assistance is delivered through family and community networks.

Rates of gender, family and sexual violence are amongst the highest in the world, while the health system has been assessed by WHO as among 10 worst in the world.

In just two days, the first back-to-school post reached 11,393 viewers on Facebook. Credit: UNICEF PNG/2020
In just two days, the first back-to-school post reached 11,393 viewers on Facebook. Posts were also popular on Twitter and Instagram.
Credit: UNICEF PNG/2020
Back-to-school advertisement in The National newspaper, one PNG’s two daily national papers with country wide circulation. Credit: UNICEF PNG/2020
Back-to-school advertisement in The National newspaper, one PNG’s two daily national papers with country-wide circulation
Credit: UNICEF PNG/2020

Addressing the impact of the pandemic on education

Attendance and student retention rates have been low for the past years across the country, due to range of intersecting factors, including the stresses caused by poverty, illness, tribal fighting, child labor, natural disasters and family, domestic and sexual violence. The impact of COVID-19 has further disrupted school attendance.

As part of Papua New Guinea’s national COVID-19 response efforts under the Niupela Pasin (the ‘new normal’) and in an effort to build forward better, the National Department of Education is leading an initiative to encourage students back into the classroom with development partners, including UNICEF, Child Fund, World Vision and Save the Children, and funding from the Global Partnership for Education.

Key to these initiatives is raising public awareness on COVID-safety measures. These include efforts to improve hygiene, adhering to physical distancing protocols and regularly checking student welfare.

This initiative also targets teachers, parents and caregivers, and community leaders, all of whom are critical to ensuring its success.

Momfort Primary School in Kiunga displays materials on health and hygiene to raise awareness.
Momfort Primary School in Kiunga displays materials on health and hygiene to raise awareness
Credit: UNICEF PNG/2020

Sending messages to communities on prevention and returning to school

The challenging contexts within which this initiative is being delivered have required a focus on social messaging that is culturally appropriate and accessible to a wide variety of people. Despite being a culturally heterogenous country, communities across Papua New Guinea uniformly share oral tradition.

In an effort to maximize impact, communication has drawn on traditional media such as radio, television and print media in addition to social media, while development partners focus on distributing education materials through community networks, grassroots institutions and faith-based organizations.

Key messages for teachers, students and parents include:

  • Education is a foundation for people to better contribute to their families, communities and country.
  • PNG schools are back to ‘learning under the new normal’ following a disrupted 2020.
  • All children deserve the opportunity to access education and fulfill their potential.
  • Regular attendance is key to every student’s ability to learn.
Livina Julius, 20
Livina, 20, was born with a physical impairment. Through intensive rehabilitation and her own incredible tenacity, she is now able to walk.
Credit: UNICEF PNG/DINGI/2020

Livina: A resilient spirit and a second chance at education

“I want to be a flight attendant,” 20-year-old, Livina Julius declares as she poses for the camera.

Livina was born with a physical impairment and has been unable to walk since birth. For 20 years, she has been receiving support from the Kiunga Callan Services Inclusive Education Resource Centre (IERC).

Through intensive rehabilitation and her own incredible tenacity, she is now able to walk. Livina is completing Grade 7 and her teacher Mrs. Ainiau explained that Livina’s parents have been key to her progress:

“They have been very supportive in ensuring Livina’s learning continued. I am very proud to see individuals overcome their disability and achieve their dreams.”

Mrs. Ainiau has been a role model for her students as a dedicated teacher and community member who also lives with a disability.

Livina is from Kiunga in Papua New Guinea’s Western Province. She and approximately 2,000 children with disabilities are learning with the support of the IERC.

These students will benefit from improvements in water and sanitation facilities through funds provided by the Global Partnership for Education.

Livina Julius, her father Paul and Mrs. Ainiau, Livina’s teacher.
Livina Julius, her father Paul and Mrs. Ainiau, Livina’s teacher.
Credit: UNICEF PNG/DINGI/2020
Livina Julius, her father Paul and Mrs. Ainiau, Livina’s teacher. Going through Livina’s homework and assignments.
Livina Julius, her father Paul and Mrs. Ainiau, Livina’s teacher. Going through Livina’s homework and assignments.
Credit: UNICEF PNG/DINGI/2020
Doris Aboman (CSNU manager) with young people at the Kiunga IERC.
Doris Amboman manages the center. There are a lot of things the center needs, and she looks forward to working in partnership with the National Department of Education, UNICEF, and NGOs through funding from GPE.
Credit: UNICEF PNG/2020

Find more information on GPE’s support to Papua New Guinea.

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East Asia and Pacific: Papua New Guinea

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