Friday, February 24, 2012

Educating the Deaf in PNG

Callan Services worker examines girl
--courtesy of Callan Services
 We hear little about the world of deaf and hard and hearing in Papua New Guinea. In recent times I was contacted by an old friend and colleague, Steven Wawaf Labuan. I was thrilled with the contact after so many years. Wawaf, as I had known him, was teaching linguistics as a tutor at the University of Papua New Guinea before he returned to the Morobe province.

The first thought I had was that Wawaf had completed a book of poems chronicalling a bohemian life outside the corridors of high learning in the great grassland of Markham Valley. That was possible, rememberingWawaf as that radical poet willing to recite nationalisticpoems along side those streect preachers at the crowded Boroko commercial center.

But not so, I would soon discover several emails later. Steven Wawaf Labuan is a different kind of poet altogether. He is someone who is more interested in working with teaching language to the deaf and hard of hearing children in the Markham Valley. Equiped with his linguistic training at UPNG Wawaf found himself involved with this important mission to teach the special group of children in Papua New Guinea.

He took the time to educate me on how he and others like Sylvia Yawingu of the Momase Regional Office for the Callan Services are doing to assist in the language development of this special group of Papua New Guineans. Special Education agencies like the Callan Services and the National Department of Education Special Education Division have been working very hard to identify children with disabilities and aid their improvement before sending them off to mainstream schools where they join other normal children learn the same curriculum in the same class.

Children who are deaf (CWAD) are categorized in two groups: (1) those who were born totally without the hearing sense—that is those who are profoudly deaf, and (2) those who lost hearing sense some time after birth. For those children who are born without hearing, normal child development processes for them are delayed for more than a thousand hours or so, so that what a normal child processes in an instant moment, a child without hearing processes several times later through exposure, or not at all, without exposure.

In developed countries such disabilities are quickly identified and treated right after birth compared to developing countries. In PNG identification and treatment are slow. Usually, mothers of children who are deaf are the first to identify the disability and would normally treat it by communicating with their children through natural sign language and gestures. School age children with hearing difficulties are diagnosed and treated much later in their lives.

With the help of the Callan Services, the special education branch of the Catholic Church in Wewak significant number of children have been identified and assisted. Through their program on deaf units these special children are rehabilitated to comparable status as those with hearing senses. The challenges the Callan Services have are many, but two important ones are the absence of a standard handbook of signs for the complete sign wordlist in PNG, especially in Tokpisin and the absence of a sign language dictionary based on the handbook of word signs.

Steven Wawaf and Sylvia Yawingu are pioneering innovative linguistic approaches to teaching and learning English as a second language for children who are deaf. Three methods used in special education programs are (1) the sound-vibration/feeling-detection device for language learning, (2) oral phonetics and speech production/acquisition, and (3) English comprehension through Trans-phonemic Bridge. According to their report, Sylvia Yawingu and Wawaf Labuan have seen great success in their methods of teaching deaf and children with loss of hearing.

Further research and trial of the methods are currently in progress at the Callan Services Institute in Wewak. The innovative method of teaching and learning English by children who are deaf is an exciting development initiative. The bridge for successful English comprehension suggested for children who are deaf is the trans-phonemic bridge approach that Sylvia and Steven Wawaf developed. Conclusive results before the end of the year will confirm and validate the methods developed by these Papua New Guineans in their mission to help a special group of our people.

I could not help but relate the PNG experience to the birth of the Nicaraguan Sign Language. In 1980s deaf children and adolescents in Nicaragua were brought together in schools. They created a new sign language as a result of the Sandinista revolution in 1979. In their book How English Works, Anne Curzan and Michael Adams, explain that in “the 1980s the first schools for the deaf were opened in Managua, and adolescents from around the country were brought to the school. Within a very short period of time, the teenagers were communicating with each other using a combination of the home signs that different students had brought with them, along with the signs they created. It was, from all reports, a signed pidgin. The teachers, with very little training in the teaching of the Deaf, were using primarily signed Spanish with the students (despite the fact that the students had had no prior exposure to Spanish), which seems to have had little effect on the communicative system that they developed.” The children in Nicaragua had given birth to a new language called Idioma de Signos Nicarguense (ISN) or Nicaraguan Sign Language (NSL). The NSL shares grammatical features with other creoles and other sign languages even though the children did not have access to other languages.

In PNG we might also a unique PNG sign language develop because of our multilingual communities interacting with each other alongside the use of English with creolized pidgins and vernaculars. This sign language unique to PNG will depend on the kind of research and observations carried out at this time.

I have my hats off for Papua New Guineans like Steven Wawaf Labuan, Sylvia Yawingu and other hard working teachers and volunteers of special education programs for the deaf and hard of hearing children in Papua New Guinea.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Literacy and Democracy

The link between literacy and democracy in contemporary Papua New Guinea needs our attention at this time. The general election is around the corner few months away. Papua New Guineans will vote their favored leaders to represent them in the National Parliament.

The election process is both cumbersome and challenging for most people. The educated ones will find the voting exercise meaningful and easier to do, but the majority of Papua New Guineans living in our rural villages will need more than a helping hand to participate in the election process.

More than 50% of our people have no basic literacy to help them with the election process. Most times we assume they understand the meaning of, democracy, election, voting system, and what makes good leaders. Most people who vote do so because of what they understood as an important exercise in citizenry.

Last Christmas students in some of our tertiary institutions used their vacation period to educate and inform their communities about the election process. That was responsible citizenry at work. I commend the students for the excellent initiative.

I would like to take the time to reflect on what it really means to be fully literate in our society. I draw from E. D. Hirsch, Jr.’s book Cultural Literacy: What Every Americans Needs to Know (1987). The book is an important reference in our discussions of literacy and democracy in Papua New Guinea. Hirsch explains in his own words the following remarks, which I thought are relevant insights that we can gain from as we think about literacy and democracy: “No modern society can hope to become a just society without high level universal literacy. Putting aside for the moment the practical arguments about the economic uses of literacy, we can contemplate that even more basic principle that underlies our national system of education in the first place—that people in a democracy can be entrusted to decide all important matters for themselves because they can deliberate and communicate with one another. Universal literacy is inseparable from democracy and is the canvas for Martin Luther King’s picture as well as for Thomas Jefferson’s.”

This passage has affected my thinking about literacy in Papua New Guinea for a long time. It is impossible to separate the observation and practice of democracy with how literate a nation is in counting itself as a member of world democratic nations. The inseparable link between literacy and democracy influences the way a nation sees, defines, and asserts itself as a vibrant democracy.

The word democracy is a big English word that needs explanation and elaboration to those who have never heard of it, let alone write it. What does it mean? How easy is it to explain the word to our village people with no literate skills and experience?

In his attempt to explain the word ‘democracy’ Raymond Williams makes several distinctions. Democracy is a word that came into English in the 16th century in Europe. Since then it has changed in line with historical developments in the world. There are two modern arguments on democracy, according to Williams: “In the socialist tradition, democracy continued to mean popular power: a state in which the interests of the majority of the people were paramount and in which these interests were practically exercised and controlled by the majority. In the liberal tradition, democracy meant open elections of representatives and certain conditions (democratic rights such as free speech) which maintained the openness of election and political argument.” In PNG we follow the liberal tradition of democracy as much as we can by observing open and free elections.

“The mode of choosing representatives is more important than the proportion of the people who have any part in this,” is how Williams desribes it. The right to vote for representatives clearly establishes the modern usages of the term in Papua New Guinea. Yet, this right is sometimes held to ransom in PNG when elections are riddled with violent intimations and covert manipulations that end up in courts or never at all.

The link between democracy and literacy is understated at times. Democracy is fully appreciated once nation states enable levels of literacy to rise to the level of a literate society. The measure of a literate society is where all citizens are able to read newspapers as a source of useful information. A measure that Thomas Jefferson described so elegantly in his often quoted remark: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”

I am reminded here about what Professor OttoNekitel once said about the role and use of language in PNG’s trilingual Parliament: “the informational needs of about 80 per cent of the country’s citizens are not met by those responsible for discharging such services. Arguments put forward to date tend to support the view that access to the most vital information that people need for them to better their lives and that of the nation is far from adequete…In essence…the average Papua New Guinean knows little about what is happening in the country, especially in regard to many of the important public issues. Communication problems of one type or other that impede or impair packaging, handling, and dissemination of vital information by various informational sources to different target groups at various levels of society need a close examination and suggestions on how the problem can or may be alleviated.”

“With the majority of the nation’s citizens so ill-informed,” Nekitel continues, “democracy becomes a privilege of an elite and a mockery of the rights of the majority. Papua New Guineans have no need to be reminded of the spillover effects of this lopsided state of affairs, as many are very familiar with the negative effects of communication processess prevalent in society—this despite improved communication and print media technology.”

Monday, February 13, 2012

Spectators of the Act

I sometimes envy writers in our society who struggle so hard to have their writings published. I have been writing since the early 1980s through sheer conviction that what I do is for the sake of doing what I do best even without having to get paid for it. That conviction has led me to do extraordinary things and discover extraordinary people around the world.

Over time I managed to have my own writings published around the world. I also managed to give readings of my work in PNG, Fiji, Sydney, Hawai’i, Canada, and Minnesota, USA. The life of a writer is never one that is static, but it is one that is full of creative spirit and commitment to transfer human thoughts to print with as much honesty, passion, and integrity. Writing helps a writer to breath life where there is no life, no conscience, and truth making.

In the journey I made as a writer in this country I discovered interesting aspects of such a life. To write a good book takes many months or years before it is published. The best advice is to avoid rushing into publishing a book until it’s complete. Many of us who write creative fiction understand that to have a short story or poem published in a literary magazine it must satisfy the requirements of the editorial board. To have a book published we need to work with professional editors and publishers to have a book published. The costs of such services are factored into a publishing contract.

In my case I had decided three years ago to become a self-publisher. It was hard enough getting any of my books into the hands of publishers. As a self-publisher I had to find money to get my books printed. I did not have to worry about literary agents, editors, and publishers. I also embodied all of them. The challenge as a self-publisher is to have enough money to pay for the cost of printing enough print runs and to have the books sold to the targeted clients. A self-publisher publishes his or her own books, but can also edit, proof-read, and prepare manuscripts of other writers at an affordable price.

A lot of people have approached me to publish their works. I had turned them down because as a self-publisher I have no money to publish other people’s books. I depend on the money I make in advance from selling my books to clients. This helps me to pay the printer and other services associated with printing and marketing of books. Without financial base I can only limit the number of books I can publish.

I am also mindful of the PNG Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act (2000). Publishing other people’s work might get me into a lot of trouble with this law.

In recent times I discovered that two titles originally published by the Melanesian and Pacific Studies (MAPS) centre of the University of Papua New Guinea were illegally published by a new PNG publishing company. I immediately realized that neither I nor any other officials of UPNG had granted publishing rights to this company to re-publish these two books. This particular company had infringed the copyright of the original publisher and the writers. These books were sold to the Education Department with advance payments already made to this publishing company.

The issue here is very serious as it makes us (writers and honest publishers) cringe at the thought that the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act (2000) is toothless.

If it’s my own book I will sue this company. Section 3(3) of the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act (2000) explicitly states: “The provisions of this Act concerning the protection of literacy and artistic works shall apply to: (a) works of authors who are citizens of, or have their habitual residence in, Papua New Guinea; and (b) works first published in Papua New Guinea and works first published in another country and also published in Papua New Guinea within thirty days, irrespective of the nationality or residence of their authors; and that is enforceable as stated in Section 3(4): The provisions of this Act shall aply to works that are eligible for protection in Papua New Guinea by virtue of, and in accordance with, any international convention or other international agreement to which Papua New Guinea is party.” Section 4 (1) provides for all the works by Papua New Guineans protected under this Act.

I doubt if the publisher made reference to here or the officials in the Department of Education have read the PNG Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act (2000). If they had then they are required to comply with this law that protects the original literary works and publisher’s rights.

As a Papua New Guinea writer and publisher I am concerned about this intellectual exploitation. We hear so much money is injected into the Education Department to buy books for schools in the country. In turn it would help encourage and promote more local writers to publish their works. As for those with books already published the Department must continue to support them by buying their books for use in our schools. In that way the writers can make money to help them write and publish more books.

I also observe that even buying of books has become very political. The funding provided by development partners has strings also attached to them. All purchases of books are to be done overseas in the donor partner’s bookstores, companies, and agencies. In that way the AID money is trapped within the donor country.

In relation to arguments I have been making all along is that still our writers, publishers, and book retailers are pushed to the back stage as spectators of the last act in Shakespeare’s Hamlet: To Be or Not To Be. That is the question.

If a blind eye is cast on the thorny issues raised here I see no bright lights for struggling PNG writers and publishers in the future.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Sacrifice and Social Protection

Children need social protection
  Social reform is very much a product of political will in any society. Many of the changes in our life-styles and way of life are by-products of our political will to participate in the changing world. The hard reality is that the wheels of change affect our lives no matter where we live in this country.

The argument that our societies will remain unchanged has no loyalists in this country or elsewhere in the world. All societies change because of the need to or because of the political will exercised by its citizenry and political leadership. Others change unseemingly because of the innovation of technology and global movement of capital in all corners of the world.

The challenge is fixed on the ability of the people to adopt to these changes. In so doing societies must develop visions, strategic plans, and road maps to take them down the road of progress. So often this means making sacrifices in order to fit into the scheme of things.

The ethical question that needs consideration is who and what do societies sacrifice? In PNG societies I can think of three groups of people as an example: the disable, children, and the elderly. In our effort to stay on the road of progress we have mishandled their case.

It is encouraging to see the Department for Community Development leading a Task Force with membership drawn from line agencies to develop a Social Protection Policy to address this case.

During her term as the Minister responsible for the Department for Community Development Lady Dame Carol Kidu and the Secretary Mr. Joseph Klapat set up a Secretariat to research, coordinate, and facilitate the development of the Social Protection Policy. The Secretariat is led by Mr.George Wrondimi as its principle researcher.

In the Second Draft Report Lady Kidu outlines the National Government’s decision and direction that was the focus of a high level consultative forum organized in August 2011, involving all stake holders, provincial administrators, and development partners. A National Executive Council decision of 26th June 2009 allowed the setting up a National Task Force to investigate and report on a policy model for Social Protection in Papua New Guinea.”

A National Taskforce on Social Protection (NTSP) was formed in 2010, comprising of the Departments of Community Development (Team Leader), Provincial & Local Level Government Affairs, Education, Health, National Planning & Monitoring, Treasury, Labour & Industrial Relations, and Agriculture& Livestock. The Task Force is led by Mr. Klapat as the Chairman.

“Many of you may be asking the question: Why do we have to think, discuss, or introduce Social Protection in PNG? In other parts of the world where the impact of over population, poor land fertility, droughts, and high unproductive unemployment is more pronounce and visible, it may be easy to convince both policy makers and the public that Social Protection programs or interventions should be a priority. In Papua New Guinea our situation may not be as visible for various reasons,” Lady Kidu cautioned.

The truth is as Lady Kidu said: “The wantok system or our traditional social safety net system does have limitations. Probably for those living in villages, the system may support them in times of need. For those in large low income households in urban centers, life can be very difficult. Wantok system as we know can drag entire households into poverty, especially when there are more people depending on one bread winner in the household. Similarly, the elderly and persons with disables in low income households will become poorer as well.”

“It is important to emphasize here that formal Social Protection in PNG is not about a dole system or institutions to remove and keep our disadvantage family members away from their love ones,” according to Lady Kidu.

“Instead, it is about relieving and empowering the struggling households to maintain a reasonable quality of live with the state intervening to support the unproductive members of the household like the elderly and children. They will still remain within the households and under the care of their extended family members and caregivers.”

The Social Safety Nets (SSN) is the recommended model for Social Protection in PNG. According to Lady Kidu this model is recommended based on the existing practices in many countries in Africa, South America, Middle East, India, and South East Asia. Based on empirical evidence available, many countries in the above regions have taken the bold decision to introduce Social Safety Net Programs as a major poverty reduction strategy. They have been able to assist their people cope with man-made risks such as financial crisis or natural calamities such as droughts. Many of these countries have experienced improved health and education outcomes for women, children, youth, and improved income and asset level of poor households.

The SSN model is better suited than other models to PNG’s current situation. It is a typical entry point that countries chose for developing a Social Protection system for the population as a whole.The safety nets model is an integrated approach comprising elements of our rich traditional practices as well as some aspects of the introduced formal systems.

In support of the then Minister, Secretary Klapat said: “I also echo the Minister’s call by inviting all the major stakeholders and development partners to jointly make this endeavor a reality for the many marginalised and disadvantaged members of our communities.”

Secretary Joseph Klapat is all praise for the Task Force: “All the eight members representing the respective departments saw a genuine need to co-operate and make the best of their professional inputs into the final report, which will then form the basis of a national policy on Social Protection for Papua New Guinea… I agree with the Minister’s statement that Social Protection or Social Safety Nets …will add a new dimension to enhance the government’s overall efforts towards reducing poverty, thus contributing to the realization of the nation’s Vision 2050.”

The Final Report on Social Protection will be submitted to the National Executive Council for consideration this year,