Accessing education amidst the pandemic
COVID-19 and education in Papua New Guinea
International Children’s Day is celebrated every 20th of November to bring into focus the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child and how best these rights can be recognized at present. But since the unwelcome arrival of the COVID-19 global pandemic, many children’s rights have been impacted. Among them, a child’s right to access quality education.
The Papua New Guinea education system received several blows from the lockdowns caused by the pandemic. Schools were forced to shut down and students were sent home for four weeks on both occasions causing lost instruction time and increased rates of drop out. This has highlighted the immediate need for digital and remote home learning methods and curriculum adaptations to be developed.
Fortunately, the National Department of Education’s - Education in Emergency Response and Recovery Program (EERRP) funded by the Global Partnership for Education, and the Australian Government under the PNG-Aus partnership Save The Children and UNICEF have worked with the Curriculum Development Division to facilitate the development and roll out of Home Learning Packs (HLP)s for remote learning and RACHEL devices for digital offline learning.
The Home Learning Packs are a resource book developed to help students catch up and progress their learning remotely under minimum supervision during emergency periods when classes are disrupted. In partnership with UNICEF, Save the Children has helped facilitate the training and distribution on the HLPs in targeted provinces such as the National Capital District, Lae -Morobe, Madang, Western and Sandaun Province.
The RACHEL device, acronym means Remote Area Community Hotspot Education Learning. It is an offline Wifi hotspot application that allows students to access textbooks, journals, application forms and other knowledge products relevant to their studies. It is currently being rolled out in 27 schools in 5 EERRP project implementation locations. The equipment is installed in targeted schools and has around 700 reading and reference books that can be accessed by students. The students can access the device from their phones or laptops within hotspot proximity distance.
Among students benefiting from these resource packs is Faith Toliman, 15-year-old 6th grader who attends New Erima Primary School in NCD.
“I think it’s a great resource for kids like me. I reside in Wildlife Settlement and some us don’t have money to own a phone or buy a textbook to help us with our studies. Even if I do have a phone, I don’t have enough budget to buy data to do school research and assignments."
“I wish to be a doctor one day because I went through a lot of medical operations growing up,” says Faith. “With these packs, my learning has surely improved. I have never owned a laptop or a phone in my life but accessing textbooks like these from the App and having home learning packs to take home will help me get closer to my dream.”
Similar sentiments were shared by Faustina Rautoka, a 13-year-old 7th grader from Pari Primary school in NCD.
“The pandemic in a way, has helped us in our studies by getting us to work alone at home when given take-home tests and assignments during lockdowns. These activities give us the confidence to resume face-to-face learning in school.”
Faustina believes remote learning is key to progress and wishes to have the HLP with her until she finishes her studies in high school.
“Remote learning is important because in school, there are so many distractions. The home learning packs will help get me up to speed with my classes as I enjoy learning by myself. I want to use these packs to support my studies till I finish my 12th grade,” she says.
Faith and Faustina are among the thousands of thriving students benefiting from the remote offline learning RACHEL device and Home Learning Packs for self-paced learning at home. The HLPs will also be made available online for other schools not in the program so that more students are able to maintain and progress their learning during school disruptions.
UNICEF continues to support and facilitate these new initiatives as per its core mandate which is to uphold the rights of every child as stipulated in the Geneva convention in 1989. Especially the right to education.