Friday, July 03, 2009

Classrooms without books in Papua New Guinea

Eric Johns...someone who is passionate about putting books in all classrooms of Papua New Guinea
PNG History Through Stories, Book 2
Ahuia Ova, PNG's first anthropological researcher in the 1920s. His story is told in PNG History Through Stories
A sad but true fact about Papua New Guinea is that our young people know very little about the rich and proud history of the country.
There are books that tell that history, which should be in schools, however, are not.
A number of concerned former PNG residents, seeing this state of affairs, are now working quietly behind the scene to change this trend.
They include writer Eric Johns, Australia’s pre-eminent historian on PNG Emeritus Prof Hank Nelson, and PNG Association of Australia president Keith Jackson.
“The need is urgent,” Prof Nelson says.
“Few schools – or towns – have libraries and some schools are almost bookless.
“The one or two books on the history of PNG in a school may be coverless and one may have been written when Australia was still the administering power.
“The teachers, often facing large classes and without the promised support for major topics in the syllabus, need relevant textbooks – for themselves and for every student,” he said.
“Papua New Guineans need a consciousness of what they have in common.
“A knowledge of a shared history is basic to the building of a nation-state.”
Eric Johns worked in PNG from 1960-1973, teaching at Rigo Intermediate High School (later Kwikila HS), Bugandi High School Lae, KilaKila High School Port Moresby and the Port Moresby Teachers College.
He completed his BA at University of PNG and MA at Australian National University.
When Mr Johns was lecturing at Port Moresby Teachers College 1969-72, he was appalled by the lack of history and social studies resources available to teachers.
He found it especially deplorable that there was almost no readily-accessible information about the history of PNG.
So before he left PNG at the end of 1972, he started to correct this by interviewing a few historically-prominent Papua New Guineans, intending to write their stories.
When he retired from teaching he resumed this work, which was eventually published by Pearson/Longman as 69 stories in two volumes, PNG History Through Stories Books 1 and 2.
The books are aimed at classes below Year 10, where there is no material available for teachers or their students about PNG history.
Most of the details in his books do not exist in any other single book.
A major incentive for Mr Johns in writing these books was the fact that students of PNG were without knowledge of important, ordinary, heroic and notorious Papua New Guineans who lived during the long period before Michael Somare came to prominence.
“Citizens of every nation should know about their own historic heroes and villains,” he says.
The need for these books is enormous.
“In 2004 and 2006, Pearson Education published two history books, expecting that they would be distributed to schools throughout Papua New Guinea,” Mr Johns said.
“Unfortunately, although the books were approved as school texts by the PNG education department, they are still sitting in a warehouse in Australia and are likely to remain there for some time.
“Many other books produced by Pearson and other publishers share the same fate, sitting on shelves waiting to be sent to their intended readers, the long-deprived students and teachers of Papua New Guinea.
“The reason for this deplorable situation is simple – nobody is willing to pay for the books.
“It was different before 2002, when the Australian aid agency AusAID was a reliable purchaser and supplier of classroom materials, but since then the powers that be have taken a different tack.
“Books have been pushed aside, their place taken by consultant-driven curriculum development. “This changed policy, which has been in operation for several years, ignores the basic tenet that teachers – no matter how well designed their curriculum - cannot teach without books and other classroom materials.
“Curriculum is important, but this unbalanced aid policy has done nothing to alleviate the all too common tragic situation in PNG schools – classrooms with few or no books.
The two history books mentioned above are examples of what is waiting unread on the shelves.
PNG History Through Stories Book One and Book Two have a selection of 69 well-researched true stories about people and events in PNG’s past.
They are purpose-designed for PNG classrooms, complete with student exercises and lots of illustrations and maps.
Their purpose is to introduce students in upper primary and junior secondary levels to PNG history - with emphasis on important PNG people, and events affecting PNG people – the kind of history that should be taught in our schools.
For example in Book One the story, The Rabaul Strike, which takes place in colonial Rabaul in 1929, tells of how two men, boat captain Sunsuma, and police sergeant-major N’Dramei, decided to challenge their Australian masters by organising a peaceful and disciplined general strike in demand for higher wages.
Such action was unheard of at the time and many Australians were enraged when they woke to find that all New Guinean workers in Rabaul, except for police on duty, had disappeared overnight, having assembled near mission stations at Malaguna and Rapolo.
The strike failed and those taking place were punished severely, especially the leaders, Sunsuma and N’Dramai, who were imprisoned and beaten.
Sunsuma was unbowed by this experience and ended his days as a respected leader on his island home of Boang, off the east coast of New Ireland.
It could be argued that Sunsuma and N’Dramei should be remembered with pride by Papua New Guineans for their courage in taking on the powerful white establishment, and that their story should be known to all school students.
In Book Two another story, Ahuia Ova, is about a man from Kilakila village near Port Moresby who became prominent as Papua New Guinea’s first anthropological researcher, one of its earliest writers, a leading man of Hanuabada Village and a friend of lieutenant-governor Sir Hubert Murray.
In 1904 the renowned British anthropologist Charles Seligman was so impressed by Ahuia’s talents that he asked him to assist with his studies of the customs of the Koita people.
In the 1922-23 Papua Annual Report, Ahuia published his own study called ‘Motu Feasts and Dances’.
He also recorded stories about the origins and genealogy of the Koita people who lived in Hanuabada, and wrote articles in a government magazine, the Papuan Villager.
The story of Ahuia’s achievements, and how he managed to cope with the demands of Koita, Motu and Europeans societies, and with the opposing forces of Protestant and Catholic churches, is an example of culture clash at several levels that should interest all students.
“If only for the sake of national pride in the achievements of early Papua New Guineans, the names of people such as Ahuia Ova, Sunsuma and N’Dramei, and many others mentioned in these books, should be made known to all school students in Papua New Guinea,” Mr Johns said.
“There is also the question of what constitutes a rounded education, for how can a Papua New Guinean said to be educated who does not know about the heroes, villains and events of the past that shaped his or her own country?
“The immediate and crucial question is, how long will it be before PNG History Through Stories and the dozens of other books, written specially for PNG children but now sitting on warehouse shelves, get to where they should be – in the PNG classrooms?”
“Since completing PNG History Through Stories Book Two I have been researching and writing a history of PNG that will cover the period from prehistory to 1975,” Mr Johns said.
“It will be big, comprehensive and well illustrated, and will take me at least another two years to complete.
“It is intended that it will be a text for senior students and for anyone with an interest in PNG history.
“I hope it eventually gets into the schools!”
Eric Johns can be contacted on email

1 comment:

  1. Hi

    I have been asked by a school in Kiunga, Papua New Guinea, to help with the acquisition of library books.

    I was there recently and seven hundred vocational students, many of them adults, are starved of facilities, including the basics of living conditions [it is a boarding school] and standard classroom items.

    Would you be able to help me?


    I run a volunteer institute for disadvantaged Australian Indigenous persons

    Adrian Keefe MA [Lit]
    Logical English: Advanced Language Institute
    "Advancing with Confidence"
    PO Box 18
    Tabulam NSW 2469