PAPUA New Guinea is a nation we all fondly call home. For the majority of us it’s “our” only home. There’s no other home offshore or a real estate or permissive residential status in a second, third or fourth country. Yes, we are diehards true and true. We live here; travel the world a bit for education, business or pleasure and come straight back home. At least I can say that for myself without fear or favour. The important consideration, though, is that we must all work at getting the place we call home attractive, comfortable and free from unwanted lawlessness and disharmony. We must improve our health and education system so that there is no need for privileged individuals like politicians and business people to go looking for better health services and education for their children offshore. The best services can be created here for all of us to share. Our leaders, decision-makers and planners have to get the nation’s priorities right. We have to work at adding value to our lives b y providing world class basic life support services for every man, woman and child of PNG. We must live a full, healthy and prosperous life and in peace and harmony. We must change our traditional mindsets of “mob rule and domination” and we must learn to respect other Papua New Guineans’ right to ownership of land, property etcetera and we must respect everyone else’s rights and freedoms as enshrined in our National Constitution. In truly making PNG a place we all can proudly call home, it is crucial for the majority of loyal and patriotic Papua New Guineans to understand the diversity of the society we live in and work at getting the body politics of this country right. We have a lucky country. We have a rich land. But sadly enough, we are also a land of the luckless majority. Only a handful of powerful and influential politicians and business people dominate the economic life of our country. They are the ones with the fat bank accounts, the glass houses on the hill or a second or third home offshore. There is opportunity galore for wealth creation for all of us but a lot of the time our own naivety and ignorance of the intricacies of conducting and participating competitively in modern business, commerce and trade defeats us or the windows of opportunity close as fast as they open to let in the unscrupulous already well to do minority. Not fair at all even if it is a case of the “early bird gets the worm”. Many economic, political and social commentators describe PNG as the last natural resources frontier and the land of milk and honey. But milk and honey for who? The vast majority of Papua New Guineans remains passive by-standers and completely denied of partaking in the consumption of the so-called milk and honey. The laws are made in such a way that it favours the finders of the treasure or finders become keepers and owners. In oil and gas projects the State optionally gets to acquire up to 22.5% equity on behalf of people and nation – no more. In mining the State optionally acquires up 25 percent equity – nothing more. Is that fair split of the milk and honey? A great many things in this country have to be put right. Oil, gas and mining resources laws have to be radically looked at to ensure a fair and equitable regime of benefits accrues to the people of PNG. That is one area that requires critical appraisal. Health is another and education -- where that “simmering volcano of denial” continues to rise higher and higher each year as more and more young people are spewed out of the formal education system to join the tens of thousands before them at the bottom of the unemployment pyramid. As I write this article I am mindful of the fact that another school year has come to pass. Education Department statistics show the total number of schools nationwide to be near 10,000, the number of children attending school to be around 1.5 million annually out of a youth population of around 3.5 million with National Government annual financing at around K500 million. The statistics speak volumes. Education is not a priority in reality. Why not? Read on. With the ending of the 2008 school year, an educational chapter has ended forever for tens of thousands of young people at Grades 6, 8, 10 and 12 and a new one may open for a minority of “lucky” ones to continue on to Grades 9, 11 and to universities and other tertiary colleges of higher learning and skills training. Is it a fair system of education that spews out tender aged young people year after year at Grades 6, 8, 10 and 12 with zero worldly skills to fend for themselves in a harsh, employment opportunity-starved, fast-paced, modern and complex monetary economy? Right now in Papua New Guinea, the number of available decent paying jobs for persons with Grade 6, 8, 10 and 12 education levels is negligible. Even college and university educated young Papua New Guineans cannot get decent jobs. The threateningly increasing groundswell of young people without trade skills and qualifications to give them a fighting chance in the employment market is a serious national problem. Be wary Government. Do not plead ignorance when one fine day – if not soon – the youth of this nation will vent their anger and loss of opportunity, time and space by resorting to anti-social activities. Their reality is not about economic or political stability. Their reality is not about multi-billion dollar liquefied natural gas project developments or the government “cash-flushed” bank account. Their reality and that of their parents is about how to solve or break the suffocating cycle of their abject poverty and their “hand to mouth” existence in the face of numerous adversities that include unemployment, overcrowded housing, high-priced basic food and consumables at supermarkets, trade stores and local fresh food markets, high cost of transportation, unreliable electricity and water supplies, law and order problems in their respective communities and – in the case of those that are long term urban residents -- domination and dispossession of “their space” by the never ending flight of humanity from poor, trouble-proned or opportunity-starved rural provinces to urban centres. There is a huge simmering, restless, bored and ungainfully engaged build-up of tens of thousands of productive and reproductive youth generation waiting to be gainfully drafted into national development service. No one in authority – it seems -- is serious enough or is truly committed to take up the plight of the unemployed youth population constrictively and decisively. A nation’s wealth is not measured only by money in the bank and the abundance of renewable and non-renewable natural resources in the ground, in the sea and on the land. A nation’s wealth and its perpetual sustainability is guaranteed big time by the health, wealth and level of education and sophistication of its people. The higher the level of health, wealth education, sophistication, literacy and numeracy, the higher shall be the productive input of people to the overall gainful development, prosperity creation and progressive outcomes for the nation. There is a serious lack of commitment by relevant agencies and ministries of government to human resource development, health and education of Papua New Guineans as the basis upon which this nation shall be developed and shall prosper in the long run. Right now, the nation’s most productive and reproductive generation is being rendered unproductive by a system of education that claims to be “outcome based” rather than being “objective driven”. Change of mindset and the way we deliver education is necessary and urgently needed – now, not later. The reality of today is that we in Papua New Guinea becoming a dysfunctional nation of functional illiterates. What does that statement mean? Simple. Majority of Papua New Guineans claiming to be educated can speak English, Tok Pisin and Motu but they do not know how to read, understand and write what they speak. We have young people between the ages of six year-olds up to say 30 year-olds receiving various categories and levels of education from elementary level right through to university but are not receiving skills in reading, comprehension and writing. They are not receiving higher quality education than the generation of Papua New Guineans who went through the education system up to around 1980. Let’s be realistic and be self-critical. Standards of education – teaching and schooling – have fallen dramatically. Anyone who wants to defend the present system of outcome based education is merely supporting a system that is not user-friendly or objective-driven. Listen to young and not so young people in conversation groups, on radio or television and hear how they pronounce the English language. The pronunciation is atrocious and you begin to wonder what sort of English teachers are teaching our young people at schools and universities these days. Okay, English is not our first language but at least we can learn to speak and write it with some degree of perfection. It is a major international language for trade, finance, law, diplomacy, commerce and industry. Our National Constitution and our laws are all written in English and us as a people must learn, read and understand English in order to proficiently comprehend what the Constitution and the laws are about and what they mean to each of us as citizens. Take this example for instance: A young man who called himself Peter Doe gave the United States education system a bad case of the shakes. In 1974 he sued the San FranciscoUnifiedSchool District for half a million dollars (US$500,000) because it awarded him a high school Diploma/Certificate even though he was barely literate. Tested both before and after graduation allegedly indicated that he could hardly read and write when he received his school certificate. He contended that, in the outside world of work, he quickly found himself handicapped by deficiency in writing and reading skills. He wanted to work as a clothing salesman but, in applying for jobs, he found that he could not cope with application forms. Peter Doe was white, middle class student who attended his classes regularly and was not considered a disciplinary problem. What should worry parents, employers and educators today in Papua New Guinea is how many Peter Doe’s does our education system produce every year? There are probably thousands and thousands of high school graduates, like Peter Doe who can barely read and write. Peter Doe’s case illustrates a broad worrisome trend for us in PNG. It is a matter of reality that there is general low state of literacy and the ability to read and write clearly among our young people graduating from high schools. And this state of affairs prevails at this time when the complexity of our institutions calls for ever higher literacy just to function effectively. We must cope with employment and insurance application forms, application for visas and medical coverage forms, application for credit cards, auto licensing forms and so on. If we cannot then we become what are known as functional illiterates. This scribe cannot stress enough the point that Papua New Guinea is at risk. Our once unchallenged pre-eminence among fellow developing PacificIsland nations in commerce, industry and science is being overtaken by competitors throughout this region. While we can take justifiable pride in what our education system has historically accomplished and contributed to PNG and the wellbeing of its people, the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by the rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and people. What was unimaginable a decade ago has begun to occur - our neighbours are matching and surpassing our educational attainments. If unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on PNG the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands we have allowed this to happen to ourselves. We have even squandered the gains in students achievements made in the wake of sputnick challenge. Moreover, we have dismantled essential systems which helped make those gains possible -- the removal of grammar from English language course. We have since independence, in effect been committing an act of unthinkingly, unilateral educational disarmament. The Department of Education and its entire educational system seem to have lost sight of the basic principles of schooling and of the high expectations and disciplined effort needed to attain them. We must reform our educational system in fundamental ways and review our nation’s commitment to our schools and colleges throughout the length and breadth of our land. Writing with easy clarity is crucial to our capacity to formulate our thoughts or communicate on the job. How many of our graduates can easily do that today? Yet ineptness at writing is found at all levels of our educational system. Just take a look around you and what do you see on the streets of our main urban centres, at urban PMV stops, in shopping centres, city informal markets and designated markets or sprawled out and fast asleep under leafy shady trees in public parks? These are unemployed Papua New Guineans “pushed out” by the education system without basic life-support skills to do anything worthwhile except eat and sleep, buggerize around or plot and execute illegal and anti-social pursuits that go against the law, good order and community harmony. Exploitation by unscrupulous business owners in the night club, fast food and tardy retail businesses is widespread. They work long hours as security attendants, waiters and waitresses, cleaners, barmen and barmaids and just to get paid the urban minimum wage of K90 per fortnight with no contributions made on their behalf to superannuation funds or overtime for extra work hours and or for working during public holidays. That’s criminal and Labour Department investigators are nowhere to be seen to correct the work place injustices and when they do turn up they are enticed and hoodwinked into submission by the unscrupulous business owner. Government leaders and decision-makers cannot and must not remain inactive and silent when our young people are being mistreated this way. They are this nation’s productive and reproductive generation who – through no fault of theirs – are pushed out by an erratic education system at Grades 6, 8, 10 and 12. Help them to become constructive and useful citizens of PNG. They must not become this nation’s “lost generation”. Go to any Port Moresby night club or cheap fast food outlets run by one dominant group of people from the north of the equator to see how badly and poorly young Papua New Guineans are treated by people who can hardly speak or write a word of English. A young Papua New Guinean – even with a grade 8, 10 or 12 education -- is far more conversant and maybe literate to a degree in the English language than the “parasitic fly-by-night” owner of a night club or cheap imported goods merchant or the fast food entrepreneurs. Don’t get this scribe wrong. There are some exceptionally well meaning business people from up north who have good money to invest in our national development and have worthy technology and skills to pass on to Papua New Guineans. But the trashy opportunity-seekers and predators – which cheat our people with their cheap fast food recipes and substandard clothes, shoes, jewelry with imitation labels, electronic gadgets, CDs and DVDs – should never be allowed to take a hold on micro-economy of this country. They should never be allowed unscrupulously exploit our way of life, our standard of living, our dignity as humankind or our gullibility. Domination of a nation and its people by unscrupulous business predators is the most intolerable form of injustice, inequality and denial ever. Decent high quality education supported by top level human resource development and skills acquisition stand out as an effective insurance against exploitation of our children’s and their children’s future inheritance by unscrupulous aliens. Outsiders must never take advantage of our innocence, ignorance, identity, dignity, subservience, passiveness, rights and opportunities. The present generation has a duty and responsibility to ensure that our children and their children’s future is not mortgaged, enslaved or irrevocably transferred to aliens for a song and a dance. But take heed. The “volcano” of unemployed youth is growing higher, getting a lot more restless and worst is yet to come if the pressure is not released soon rather than later.
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