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At a glance: Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea aims to ‘Accelerate Girls Education’

© UNICEF PNG/2004/Pirozzi
Susannah Thomas dropped out of school at age 10 and started picking beans on the family coffee plot.
NEBILIYER, Papua New Guinea, 4 February 2005 – Susannah Thomas had to drop out of school at the age of 10, after her parents told her that they could no longer afford to keep her there. Instead of going to class, she began picking coffee beans on the family plot in the Nebiliyer district of western Highlands Province.

Every day, after around four hours of labour, Susannah returns home. She smiles bashfully as she passes her friends in school uniforms, who are returning home after classes. “I feel very sad that I can’t go to school. I used to like reading and writing so much,” she says.

Susannah is not the only girl in Papua New Guinea who has lost – or who never had – access to education. As poverty spreads, many parents are asking whether it is worth sending their children to school, especially girls.

The statistics are disturbing. Primary school enrollment is only 76 per cent. In the National Capital District, the enrollment rate is around 80 per cent, while in the Highlands region, where Susannah comes from, the enrollment is below 65 per cent. The gender gap in Papua New Guinea is the highest in the Pacific region: For every 100 boys in primary school, there are 80 girls; for secondary school the corresponding figure is just 65 girls for every 100 boys.

© UNICEF PNG/2004/Pirozzi
‘Accelerate Girls’ Education’ (AGE) programme, supported by UNICEF, has brought more children, especially girls back to school.
Getting more children, especially girls, into school has become a top priority for the government of Papua New Guinea. With the help from UNICEF, the government recently launched a programme called ‘Accelerate Girls’ Education’ (AGE).

One of the main objectives under the AGE programme is to make schools more child-friendly. More learning materials, safe water and separate toilets are provided for boys and girls in targeted provinces across Papua New Guinea.

“Through the AGE Committee, UNICEF has suggested to the Education Department to send circulars to provinces that are affected by seasonal activities like feasts, coffee and vanilla season to adjust their lesson times so that children don’t miss important lessons,” says UNICEF Project Officer for Education, Gabriel Andandi.

By November 2004, within nine months of its launching, the AGE programme has succeeded in getting 1180 girls back to school in six provinces. UNICEF is also advocating for free primary education, which would make a tremendous difference for thousands of children like Susannah.

All of these changes have brought Susannah new hopes of returning to school. When asked what she enjoys doing now, Susannah thinks for a long time, and bites her finger nervously. “I don’t know,” says she. “I enjoy school. I only think about school. That is what my heart wants,” says Susannah.



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