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Universal Primary Education: A Pillar for Development

Statement by Dr. Isiye Ndombi, UNICEF Representative at an Education Donor Partners Meeting in Port Moresby on 25 November 2005.

Besides the first layer focus on Governance, Economic Growth/Stability and rule of law issues, the next most important priority for this country is ensuring that all children receive Universal Primary Education (UPE). UPE is a pillar goal – in development – for the following reasons:

  1. UPE is the gateway out of poverty. I submit that we cannot claim to be committed to poverty reduction when half of the primary school age children remain out of school.
  2. UPE is foundational in progress towards the attainment of sustainable human development, whichever way one looks at it.
  3. UPE too will help to unleash productivity and self-development of Papua New Guineans, wherever they are.

Current evidence is that fees are the greatest obstacle to participation of children in elementary and primary education. Other problems include distance to school, security concerns, unfriendly school environments (in both the physical and social sense) and opportunity costs relating to competing seasonal economic activities.
What evidence do we have to say that fees is the largest problem?

  1. Our work with communities in the provinces revealed that unaffordability of fees was the number one cause of non-enrolment and number one cuase of drop-out.
  2. In 2002, when free educaiton was proclaimed, enrolment in schools went up by at least 15 percent, only to come down again when fees was re-instituted. A very clear message indeed. Unfortunately, there existed no design options to guide the Government of the Day on how to run free and compulsory education. We need extra teachers, extra classrooms, extra reading and learning materials and capitation funds for schools to manage their regular programs. With appropriate planning and availing the necessary resources, it can be done. Countries poorer that PNG have done it. Because the 2002 experience was unplanned and therefore met major difficulties, some might tend to blame the strategy. I believe the problem in 2002 was not the strategy. It was because the was no costed time-plan. We can do it with a good horizon and a good plan.
  3. Even for families which have some affordability to pay, if they have difficulties, we have evidence that the will choose boys before girls. As we all know this is not the human rights way.

Very much on the same notepulation at the expense of the poorer segment. Children who are shut out of schools because their parents cannot afford fees cannot benefit from the subsidy.
What am I saying? I am saying that the current strategy slows down the country’s development momentum and it excludes the poor. I also need to state here that because data on elementary and primary net enrolment rate were not known, most of the international reports over-estimate PNG’s basic education achievement by reporting gross enrolment rate data as net enrolment. The NDOE, with UNICEF support, is currently implementing a net enrolment rate study to determine baselines that can be used for accelerated planning for UPE achievement. The objective is also to mainstream the NER tools in the routine data collection processes of schools. Because the NDCD and NDOE, with UNICEF support, are expanding birth registration into schools, we feel that these two processes will reinforce each other.

What do we propose as the way forward in policy discussions to explore ways of moving forward with UPE:

  1. By March 2006, NEW data on half of the country's provinces will be in. We propose that a high level inter-agency team meets to review this data and its implicaions.
  2. That this team draws up a freamework for bringing forward the target time for UPE, what it will cost and what planning scenarios we should adopt
  3. That a DP round table is convened in May 2006 to review how Papua New Guinea can move forward with UPE. This can be at the highest or close to the highest levels of leadership in our agencies.

I suppose that from the foregoing, you have a clear understanding of UNICEF’s areas of collaboration in education. We have four main areas of focus:

  1. Working with NDOE and partners to explore options for accelerating progress towards UPE. NER study, policy discussion paper, etc., are among the plans under this project.
  2. Working with the NDOE, provincial governments and partners to make schools friendly to children; effective, healthy, protective, girl-friendly and child-, parent- as well as community-inclusive.
  3. Working with NDOE, provincial governments and partners to ensure promote enrolment of girls on par with boys in all elementary, primary and high schools and eventually also tertiary levels.
  4. Working with NDOE, provincial governments and communities to strengthen the fight against HIV/AIDS through the school system

Thank you for your attention.



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