More children are now enrolled in school than ever before, in big part thanks to the Government’s school fee abolition initiative. Despite this promising news, about half of primary school-aged children are still out of school, with fewer girls going to school than boys. The causes relate to distance from school, security, lack of parental support and the environment in their homes. The country’s net enrolment rate of 63 per cent - the lowest in the Asia and Pacific region.
Only one in three children complete their basic education, meaning most do not stay in school long enough to learn the basic learning skills. Children in rural areas are also less likely to receive an education than their urban counterparts.
Furthermore, Early Childhood Care and Development, which looks at the development of the babies and toddlers, is not recognized in the Papua New Guinea National Education System.
In addition, there is also very little capacity in the education system to address children with special educational needs and disability.
A review of child friendly schools in rural areas in PNG revealed that 41 per cent of the students did not like the condition of the school toilets, with many schools lacking improved and adequate toilet facilities. Many use basic pit toilets and some schools do not have toilets at all, forcing students to practice open defecation which poses serious health hazards.
Most schools also do not have access to a piped water system, with most relying on rainwater to meet the drinking and hygiene needs of students. Water is often unclean and during dry seasons there are extreme water shortages, and some schools are forced to close for few days. Adolescent girls in school suffer the most, with higher levels of absenteeism. Due to lack of clean, private changing rooms with soap, water or sanitary pads, girls are often sent home. Some stay absent for few days, missing classes and suffering from reduced self-esteem and dignity.
UNICEF in action
UNICEF’s education programme provides support to improve education opportunities for girls and boys so that they can enroll in school, stay in school and complete the basic cycle of education. Key areas for UNICEF are the following:
1. Universal Basic Education
2. Child Friendly Schools
Through a stakeholder workshop, UNICEF has supported the development of indicators and minimum standards of Child friendly Schools in the PNG context.
The innovative school club concept of child friendly schools,, where children are encouraged to participate in non-curriculum activities encourage children’s participation to come to school and also which opens the opportunities to learn other skills that they may harness for their person-al development in a holistic manner. School clubs help sustain interest of children in school, promoting talent while at the same time addressing embedded gender-stereotypes that inhibit full-participation and realization of rights especially by girls.
In addition, UNICEF supports schools to establish violence free learning environments with the training of school based counsellors and through positive disciplinary actions in line with the Behaviour Management Policy.
UNICEF is also working with the Government to fully implement its Gender in Education Policy. In partnership with the Government, UNICEF provided support to revive the Accelerating Girls’ Education National Steering Committee and works with this Committee to promote schools that provide a healthy, protective and effective environment for children to learn in.
3. WASH in Schools
5. Education in Emergencies
One of the innovations in this area is the development of ’Riskland’ game - a board game that can be used as a teaching and learning aid for teachers and a fun activity for children to play and learn at the same time. It focuses on how to prevent and respond to emergencies and UNICEF is supporting the delivery of the game to all schools in the country. It has also initiated incorporation of DRR and climate change in primary school lesson plans.
6. Inclusive Education
Bougainville's ten-year conflict and its impact on education