Thursday, January 17, 2013

Maski Long Integral Human Development

Grade 9 Jubillee Secondary School students during fundraising day at Taurama Leisure Centre 2012

Is it for political convenience or research based that we have to do away with the Outcome Based Education (OBE) system? Second question: Is it the curriculum or the syllabus? Which one are we referring to when we make references to OBE that the government had just scraped?

These are some of the obvious questions raised in regard to the decision of the government last week. I think it is a bit rush for such a decision to come about without considering the emerging issues from such a decision.

The editorial of The National newspaper was spot on regarding the issue. I am of the same view: The editorial asked: “Are we going to just sweep away all we have learnt in two decades and usher in a brand new era?”

In the early days of my career as an academic I was involved one way or another in developing the Language and Literature Syllabus used at the upper secondary level. Other contributions include participating in offering advice on literacy and education at the elementary and non-formal sector literacy development,

In whatever we did the wisdom was drawn from The Matane Report alluded to in the editorial of this paper: “It was a noble vision which was powerful and argued persuasively, sufficient for the country to turn the entire system it has been practicing on its head and introduced in 1992 the reformed education system. An elementary school system was introduced. For a period of three years, every pupil starting school was to pass through the elementary school.”

The principle behind that report was for integral human development. Those of us who represented the universities in the Syllabus Advisory Boards at that tine worked hand in hand with school inspectors, headmasters, curriculum advisors, and subject head-teachers to develop the syllabuses that are used in the education system today.

Herein is my point. The vision and wisdom that went into developing what later was termed the Outcome Based Education was consistent with The Matane Report or The Philosophy of Education, especially in the conviction that education in Papua New Guinea must have as its objective the full integral development of every Papua New Guinean.

It was best for children to learn in their vernacular or whichever language was popular in the area of the school. The principle behind it was so that a Papua New Guinean child will remain connected to their cultural self in later years. 

The importance of this is that English is a pervasive and dominant language that has done more irreparable damage to receivers of that language in terms of replacing the mother tongue of a learner as well as moving a child away from the cultural environment constituted by the language of birth or other languages known to the learner.

Indeed the objective was noble. Are we now satisfied that we have achieved full integral development?  I doubt it. There are more frustrations and overt sentiments nowadays about illiterates overpopulating our cities and urban centers, people who claim themselves to be educated behaving irrationally, and many of our problems are the result of a wider social and economic variables that political decisions seem to jockey with or worse still ignore in addressing.

The problems cited as the cause of poor performance of children in schools are not accurate. A number of reports on curriculum reforms were done previously under the AusAID CRIP program should have been the basis for alternative decisions.  A number of educators and researchers presented excellent papers on the reformed curriculum. I think a visit to those papers would have been instructive.

The problems lay in the provision of resources, learning environments, quality of teachers’ knowledge and command of English language. Provisions of bridging courses and subject specialist’s input have been insufficient over the years.

I have argued in this column and elsewhere that it is not so much the reform curriculum our blame should rests on, but on a number of critical elements that need attention. Take as an example the Grade 11 and 12 Language and Literature Syllabus. The current revised version is based on original version designed in a retreat the Syllabus Advisory Committee had in Jais Aben Resort that I was part of. Much of the materials, especially the list of resource materials and thematic concerns have changed little.

Every time I look at this syllabus one concern remains clear to me. The syllabus needs revision. Some of the books on the reading resource list are out-of print or are not available to every child or schools in Papua New Guinea. In terms of resources not every school has a TV and full electronic equipment and resources to teach units like film and media studies. How many teachers of Language and Literature in Grades 11 and 12 are trained in the field of literature for that matter. Many of the teachers are using basic applied linguistic methods and theories without the specialized knowledge and theories in teaching works of literature.

The bottom line for me is that a review of the system at this time is a must.  At the university level we receive students from the 16 or so years of education Papua New Guineans have to do before entering university.  The problems students have with the English language, speaking and writing, are the result of many factors that we need to consider.  For example, the English language is a complex language with complex structures of articulation that even first language speakers have problems with.  Majority of our students are born speaking their vernacular or Tokpisin that the structures of those languages are innate and often students use these easily as a bandwagon to ride the complexities of the English languages. When they cannot that’s when they are stuck with moving forward.

Research has shown that many children in multilingual environment are better performers than are those in monolingual environments.  The simple reason is that with multiple languages at a learner’s grasps different tools of learning become available.

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