Primary School Age
About half of Papua New Guinea’s primary school-aged children are out of school; most are kept out by the burden of school fees. Other causes that keep or push children out of school relate to distance from school, security and the environment in the homes. Of those children who enroll, some 60 percent do not complete the basic education cycle.
Following the structural reform which created the new elementary, primary and secondary systems, enrolments increased dramatically. According to the National Department of Education, between 1993 and 2002, overall enrolments in Prep through grade 12 increased by nearly 68 percent. Progression rates between grades six and seven have increased from 41 percent in 1992 to 73 percent in 2001, in large part because of the changes in the structure of the system which ‘topped’ up schools to include grades seven and eight making this level more accessible to more children. However, retention in the basic education cycle through grade eight remains low as nearly 50 percent of children enrolling in grade one drop out before grade six. There are also major provincial variations in retention: the Eastern Highlands and West Sepik provinces are notably low at grade eight with only 21-22 percent remaining in school, while at the other end 65 and 79 percent of pupils completed grade eight in Western province and National Capital District, respectively.
The gender gap in education has improved at the margin, but not achieved the target of gender parity. There are about 80 girls for 100 boys at the basic education level dropping to 65 at the secondary and 35-40 at the tertiary levels. Female students at teachers’ colleges only occupy 42 percent of places. The presence of female teachers has been known to influence girls’ attendance and completion of schooling.
Attendance and absenteeism are the other serious issues, estimated at over 10 percent at any one time. Other internal factors constraining participation relate to the quality of the school and learning environment such as the presence of the teacher, teachers’ attitude and capacity and the levels of resources for teaching and learning such as books and teacher guides and/or resource materials. Other factors that contribute to children leaving the system are harvests, cash-cropping (child labour), drought, elections and tribal fights.
For Papua New Guinea to accelerate poverty reduction and create sustainable human development momentum, all her children must have access to quality education as a fundamental gate-keeping step. UNICEF and partners are supporting Government initiatives for achieving Universal Primary Education and Education for All.