Papua New Guinea: Reinventing learning in the time of coronavirus
June 29, 2020 by Muhammad Tariq Khan, Global Partnership for Education, and Simon Molendijk, UNICEF Papua New Guinea |
5 minutes read

GPE is supporting the government of Papua New Guinea to ensure all students continue learning during the coronavirus pandemic. By funding sustainable initiatives, GPE will help build the education system’s capacity to resist future crises and provide a prosperous and secure future for children.

In Papua New Guinea (PNG), the education of nearly 2.4 million students was disrupted by school closures following the government’s COVID-19 mitigation measures. Schools have since reopened, but social distancing guidelines remain in effect and prevent students from attending class every day.

The COVID-19 crisis threatens to compromise earlier gains in access to quality education in PNG. Additionally, the loss of protection that schools provide, including school-based health, is likely to affect children’s well-being.

Steps already taken to ensure learning continuity

To mitigate the impact of COVID-19 in the education sector, GPE allocated US$70,000 to UNICEF in March 2020. This funding supported the launch of radio and TV programs to broadcast English, math and science lessons, and provided educational resources for teachers and students on the ministry’s website - accessed by more than 300,000 students, including 168,000 girls - throughout the country.

Under the leadership of the National Department of Education, a rapid needs assessment of the COVID-19 impact on the education system was conducted in more than 400 schools to inform medium- and long-term strategies. The assessment revealed that the majority of schools face significant barriers to deliver remote learning, including students’ limited access to basic learning materials and technology at home. For example, 72% of schools reported that more than 50% of their students do not have access to electricity at home.

Providing distance learning support

A US$9.44 million GPE grant to PNG will ensure elementary, primary and lower secondary school children can access distance learning and return safely to school when appropriate, while making the education system more resilient to future threats.

“I am very pleased that the Government of Papua New Guinea through the National Department of Education is among the first ten countries in the world to secure funds from GPE to address the impact of COVID-19 on our basic education system. It is imperative that our students return to classes now that our schools have reopened and that schools be a safe place for teaching and learning for all children and their teachers”
Hon. Joseph Yopyyopy, Minister for Education, Papua New Guinea

The grant will also help out-of-school children enrolled in flexible open and distance education to continue learning. In addition, teachers, students and parents will receive timely information on health and hygiene measures, through the dissemination of key messages on TV and radio and via SMS.

Children demonstrate how to wash their hands for Karin Hulshof, UNICEF regional director for east Asia and the Pacific, on a school visit to Topa, Mendi, Papua New Guinea Thursday, March 14, 2019. The regional director of UNICEF is on a three day visit to Papua New Guinea. Credit: kateholtphoto
Children demonstrate how to wash their hands for Karin Hulshof, UNICEF regional director for east Asia and the Pacific, on a school visit to Topa, Mendi, Papua New Guinea Thursday, March 14, 2019.
"The long-term impacts of the epidemy is threatening children’s wellbeing including their right to learn, hence the grant received assists students and teachers in Papua New Guinea to continue remote learning and return to classes. The support received from GPE will also go a long way towards ensuring that schools are able to better mitigate the prevention and control of COVID-19 and that schools will be more resilient in managing any future disruptions”
David Mcloughlin, UNICEF Representative

To ensure that children who don’t have access to technology continue learning, learning kits from preschool to primary school will be distributed to students living in the most remote areas of the country.

The learning kits will be adapted to meet the needs of out-of-school children, children with low levels of literacy, students attending second chance education centers, and children with disabilities. Visually impaired students will obtain braille and large print materials; children with hearing impairment will be supported by sign language interpretation.

Teachers are vital to the implementation of education response to COVID-19 and need to be equipped with the knowledge, skills and resources to support remote learning. Therefore, teachers will be trained on delivering remote lessons and conducting psychosocial well-being assessments with students. Special training on how to effectively teach children with disabilities through remote learning will also be provided.

Parents and caregivers play a key role in supporting learning continuity by creating a home environment conducive to learning, encouraging children to engage in learning activities from home, and facilitating a daily learning schedule. With this in mind, parents and caregivers will receive a parenting kit with recommendations on how to employ positive discipline at home to support home-based learning.

Going back to school

The GPE grant will support a national back-to-school campaign to promote students’ return to school while announcing the safety measures that have been established. Key messages will be disseminated through TV, radio, newspaper, SMS and online in English and Tok Pisin – an official language in PNG.

Students living in targeted areas affected by COVID-19 will receive incentive kits, including learning materials, solar lamps and stationery to motivate them to go back to school. Teachers, inspectors and education officers will also receive incentive kits including stationary materials and attendance registers along with guidance to reopen schools safely.

The rapid assessment concluded that 89% of schools do not have sufficient soap and water, and therefore can’t provide a safe environment to welcome returning students. In selected areas, GPE will support a rapid audit at schools of water, sanitation and hygiene, and install handwashing stations where needed, along with the distribution of hygiene kits.

Despite the availability of remote learning during school closures, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted learning to different degrees at all levels of the education system. Additionally, regular activities, including the distribution of teaching and learning materials, school census and national assessments, have been hampered.

To overcome these challenges, the GPE funding will help develop a student assessment tool to enable teachers to understand the learning gaps and provide booster classes to students. Furthermore, education officers and inspectors will be trained to support teachers and students to mitigate stress and gender-based violence, while ensuring students are better prepared for national examinations.

A resilient education system

The response to the COVID-19 pandemic provides opportunities to introduce school-based disaster risk management planning to make the education system more resilient to future crises.

The new learning materials will expand the availability of resources while strengthening the capacity of mainstream schools to deliver inclusive education. These learning packages will provide the additional benefit of creating a new mechanism for out-of-school children to engage with the education system.

Additionally, to capture successful approaches and lessons learned during the pandemic, schools will be supported to develop a disaster risk management plan, which they can use to implement risk mitigation and preparedness activities as well as quickly respond to and recover from future emergencies.

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