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.