An Open Book: Papua New Guinean Kids Read for a Brighter Future

November 25, 2015

To improve literacy rates in the country, the Department of Education with support from the World Bank has established more than 21,000 classroom libraries across Papua New Guinea.

The World Bank

  • More than a third of Papua New Guineans are illiterate, with the majority living in rural communities without access to government services such as education.
  • A new literacy program is helping to improve reading and learning skills in schools.
  • More than 21,000 classroom libraries in all 22 provinces of Papua New Guinea will have received reading books by end of 2015.

Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, November 25, 2015 – In Papua New Guinea (PNG), low levels of literacy are a critical challenge. Of the country’s seven million people, more than a third (37%) are illiterate with the majority living in rural areas.

While access to education remains a key priority for PNG’s Department of Education, equal priority is being given to improving the quality of teaching and learning that takes place in schools nationwide. After all, getting children into school is only the first step in education. Ensuring students are learning and stay in school are crucial goals that determine academic success, job opportunities and lifelong learning.

Improving the teaching of reading
“If a child knows how to read and comprehend better, I think other knowledge in other subject areas can be better understood,” said Dr Eliakim Apelis, Deputy Secretary for Schools and Education Directorate at PNG’s Department of Education.

In February 2011, PNG’s Department of Education began working with the World Bank to develop the READ PNG project: a K51.9 million (US$19.2 million) project to improve the teaching and learning of reading skills in PNG’s elementary and primary schools. The project focuses on two areas: providing more books and learning materials to classrooms, so that more Papua New Guinean children can enjoy the benefits of reading; and on helping teachers improve their teaching of reading.

Libraries for learning
Through READ PNG, many thousands of books have now been allocated and delivered to more than 21,000 classroom libraries across PNG, with more than 12,000 teachers and facilitators receiving training on how to manage and take care of the books in their classroom libraries, and how to use the books for other subjects beyond language learning. The books are intended to supplement classroom textbooks; giving children constant exposure to reading materials and fostering positive reading habits.

With this program comes the ability simply to access books to read in class, or to borrow to take home; an exciting new opportunity for many of PNG’s children, particularly those in PNG’s most remote areas.

Children are fortunate to have books closer to them in their own classroom libraries, and they are using this opportunity to read,” says Joanna Wambriwari, a Grade Four Teacher at St John’s Primary School, in PNG’s capital, Port Moresby. “It has boosted their interest in reading, and the more they read; the more their reading skills have improved.”

A mountainous logistical challenge
Yet PNG’s challenging terrain created a mammoth logistical task for the READ team as they managed the distribution of education and learning materials to the schools. Thousands of books were carried for days to reach isolated schools, especially in the Highlands, while others were transported by boats and canoes to those living in coastal regions.

Teachers have reported improvements in student literacy skills, with more Papua New Guinean children accessing reading materials than ever before.

My students’ pronunciation, fluency, blending has really improved since we introduced the classroom libraries,” says Teresa Kil, a Grade three teacher at Wimbuka Primary School, Western Highlands Province.

" Children are fortunate to have books closer to them in their own classroom libraries. It has boosted their interest in reading; and the more they read, the more their reading skills have improved. "

Joanna Wambriwari

Grade Four Teacher at St John’s Primary School

Helping teachers improve their teaching
To complement the libraries and reading resources, READ PNG has also supported a PNG Government-led evaluation of the changes in student reading skills in early school years.

In four provinces – Madang, National Capital District, East New Britain and the Western Highlands – students were measured on how well they were learning to read, which helped to identify some of the strengths and weaknesses in the teaching and learning of reading. The assessment was considered a vital part of the READ project, because struggling readers are more likely to repeat grades and drop out from school. The results of these assessments then led to a component of the project known as the ‘Reading Booster’, which provided teachers with new resources and training to improve the way they teach reading.

In just one school year, Reading Booster’s pilot is already showing promising results. In Madang, for example, the average number of Grade 3 students who were unable to identify a single sound in a word dropped from 22% to 4%. In the Western Highlands, this proportion dropped from 35% to 4%, with the proportion of students unable to read a single letter dropping from 22% to just 2%. Furthermore, many teachers believe this support has even improved their own approach to literacy.

I have learnt a lot in reading skills, and these skills have helped me a lot in how I am teaching reading to the students. I am able to teach children proper reading skills, and at the same time, assess students better,” said Wimbuka Primary School’s Teresa Kil.

Looking forward to universal primary education
This investment by the Global Partnership for Education, the World Bank and its partners in Papua New Guinea represents a small share of the PNG Department of Education’s Universal Basic Education Plan – a 10 year plan established in 2009 to provide access to primary education for all school-aged children. Yet with READ PNG already seeing a strong, tangible change in the literacy levels of children across PNG, there is no doubt that it is playing an important part in helping make this plan a reality.