25 November, 2008

Pagelio: Give PNG children a chance

SPEECH by Dr Joseph Pagelio, Papua New Guinea Secretary for Education, to the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly*, Port Moresby, 25 November 2008.

Dear Co-Presidents, Honorable Members of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen...

It is a personal privilege for me to have the opportunity to address you today, as it is an honour for my country to host you all in this important meeting.

There are many things we can all learn from each-other, both developed and developing nations, as we affirm our commitment here together to democracy, human rights and better cooperation between nations and peoples. We also note our shared commitment to work together to achieve global goals and targets as outlined in the Millennium Development Goals.

Papua New Guinea is a young democracy, we achieved Independence only in 1975. We have a population of about 6.25 million, with an average population growth rate of 2.7%. Half of our people are under 19 years old. There are over 800 different languages spoken and 85% of our people live in rural communities based on the traditional village structure, and they are dependent on subsistence farming supplemented by cash cropping.

In this context, as I speak to you today, as Secretary of Education, I am especially concerned with our progress on MDG 2, achieve Universal Primary Education by 2015. About half of our school-age children are not in formal education, and of the rest, half are in mission and faith-based schools, and the other half, about a quarter, are in the state education system. There is a great challenge to increase access to quality resources within PNG schools. Our rural schools are especially disadvantaged by transport costs, lack of infrastructure in telecommunications and electricity, lack of technical support and of course lack of funding.

So you can see, in order to meet our obligations on MDG2 by 2015 is truly a huge national task. The question for us becomes, how can we accelerate progress in a cost effective way? What can we do to make the leap which will see more children attending school, more children completing Basic Education. Here in PNG we have decided that improving the quality of our existing education system is the key. This follows some impressive testing of ICT in education, and we can see that ICT may just be the factor that can help us overcome the challenges we face of difficult terrain, remote locations, of power and communications infrastructure. We believe ICT in education can help us make that leap to achieve our long term goals.

Our government has been engaged in long-term strategic planning to try to meet these challenges within our own budget constraints. Our current Medium Term Development Strategy (2005-10) notes that "Modern telecommunications and the Internet have the potential to greatly expand education opportunities for all Papua New Guineans. By exploiting the opportunities available from the Internet, increased education opportunities can be provided at all levels without adding to budgetary pressures."

Over the course of this year we have been conducting trials in rural schools and in teacher education institutions with the XO laptop of the One Laptop Per Child program. I'm sure you are all familiar with the famous green and white laptop with the little rabbit ears that double as network antennae. These trials have proved very successful in energizing the children, unlocking their creative potential and creating a new collaborative learning environment that goes beyond the school gate and into the community. We are very excited by the prospect of connecting all our communities using the instant wireless network that these computers automatically create. In our villages this computer can work on solar power, it's rugged and can stand the treatment a child can dish out; our children can use it in the bright sunlight or in the classroom. It cannot be stolen or traded because if it loses it's central connection with the school server, it shuts down and becomes useless. It doubles as an e-book reader which means our entire curricula can be digitised and delivered electronically saving us millions of dollars in printing text books. Ten thousand or more books can be accessed from inside the remotest hut. And we can share our own stories in our own languages – all 800 of them --and preserve them for future generations.

And because this meshed network can share a single internet connection, we can see that if this technology can be deployed in remote highland and island villages as well as in larger towns and cities, it will become a catalyst and incentive for us as a government to deliver urgent investments in human resources, in teacher education, in power and communications infrastructure, all of which build long-term economic sustainability.

We are looking at ICT to be a key driver of three strategic objectives for delivering Better Basic Education, objectives which focus on the short-, medium and long term:
FIRST – We want to improve the quality of existing Basic Education. The short-term goal here is to complete our One Laptop Per Child pilot and planning phase in 2009 to cover 10,000 children or about 25 or so schools. The medium-term goal is to scale up One Laptop Per Child to reach all our children who are in Basic Education by 2015 (about 250 000 children).
SECOND – We want to increase the number of children completing Basic Education. We have seen that OLPC can drive an increase in retention and completion rates, as well as lifting teaching standards and the capacity of my Department overall. This is a medium- and long-term goal
THIRD – We want to extend access to Basic Education to all PNG children. As we improve quality, increase completion rates and build our capacity, we will also continually seek to bring more children into Basic Education. This is a long-term process of continuous improvement, which will require a coordinated, whole-of-government effort with the ultimate goal being to meet our Millennium Development Goal commitment to achieve Universal Primary Education (MDG2). We may not make 2015 but we will make it.

In education, our long-term goal is to achieve high-quality systems and standards through reform of the existing education system and more focus on skills development. We see OLPC as the perfect vehicle to drive this agenda.
This initiative also recognizes that if we are to meet our international commitments to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, especially the target of universal primary education by 2015, we must invest in our children now.
Finally, we recognize that while we can aspire to meet our goals, we will need the help and counsel of valued partners to achieve them.
We hope to work with our valued partner in development, the European Union, to develop an integrated strategy and a dedicated ongoing funding stream to enable us to fully develop ICT in education for the betterment of our children and our society.
In our trials we have seen undeniable evidence that given the chance, given the access, our children will embrace new technology to the fullest. It has been extremely heartening to see the skill of their minds on display as they use this world class technology to enhance their learning, and to work with eachother. Our children, like all children, can shine if given the chance. With your help we can give them that chance.

Thank you

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