Sustainable and inclusive learning during COVID-19
Students lost approximately 800 hours of instruction time over the two academic years.
An estimated 2.4 million students in Papua New Guinea (PNG) experienced disrupted learning and long absences from school during lock downs in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students lost approximately 800 hours of instruction time over the two academic years.
Efforts in expanding access and improving the quality of education in Papua New Guinea was compromised by the pandemic. The loss of protection and other forms of support provided by schools, including school-based health and child protection have also impacted children’s learning and well-being.
School students in rural and very remote regions currently are often the least able to ensure continuity of education through remote learning online. Given the challenging terrain and restricted accessibility to electricity and connectivity in Papua New Guinea, learning through digital technologies has been limited. Loss of education has been shown to hit poorest communities with limited resources and with the current pandemic, the longer it persists, the greater the fear and hesitancy to attend school. Likewise, the longer students are out of school, the less likely they are to return to their education.
Education in Emergencies Response Recovery Plan
In response to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Department of Education (NDoE) and its partners including UNICEF, supported by the Global Partnership for Education and the Australian Government through the PNGAust partnership developed an Education in Emergencies Response Recovery Plan (EERRP) and pledged a total of AUD 34.7M to implement the plan. The EERRP targets three urban areas - Lae, Madang and the National Capital District - where population density and total cumulative cases have been highest, as well as Western and Sandaun Provinces which border Indonesia and the Autonomous Region of Bougainville.
Several interventions implemented under the EERRP included 35,000 students receiving essential school materials, early childhood development kits and student and teacher incentive backpacks containing basic school stationery, protection messaging, and solar radios to access broadcast lessons. Additionally, 320,000 students in NCD, Lae, Madang, Western and Sandaun will have access to
home learning packs by March 2022. This is to support remote learning to help students catch up and progress their learning with minimum supervision during emergency periods.
The NDoE’s drive towards digital transformation and digital learning has also seen students in 27 schools across five targeted provinces benefit from the Remote Area Community Hotspot for Education and Learning devices (RACHEL). The RACHEL device is an offline Wi-Fi hotspot application that allows students to access textbooks, journals, application forms, and other knowledge products relevant to their studies. The device contains over 700 reading and reference books which can be accessed by students from a phone or laptop within hotspot proximity distance.
In addition, UNICEF through Save the Children are converting 25 decodable books into talking eBooks for the Bloom Reader App which allows children to follow along reading the text with pictures. The talking eBooks have also been adapted with sign language for children with auditory impairment. A total of 82 open-source elementary level books and NDoE Shell Books which align with the Standards-Based Curriculum (SBC), have also been converted into talking eBooks. These books, owned by NDoE, have been repackaged and shared for use as reading aloud on television and online media platforms.
The Education in Emergency Response and Recovery Plan will see 450 targeted schools in NCD, Lae, Madang, Western and Sandaun receive a phone containing over 15 knowledge products produced through the response, as well as a preloaded app to upload school census data to support monitoring and planning in the National Department of Education (NDoE). In addition 5,000 micro-SD cards have been loaded with NDoE syllabus documents and EERRP learning materials including the Home Learning Packs and Booster Packs as well as two free reading apps (Library for all and bloom reader).
Digital classroom libraries
A pilot program targeting 25 elementary schools in NCD will provide digital classroom libraries filled with culturally relevant, age-appropriate, original content for children in Papua New Guinea. Part of the digital library are 40 tablets that come in a custom-designed commercial-grade lockable transport case pre-loaded with both core reading relating to the curriculum as well as hundreds more carefully curated titles. While still in development, over 3,300 learning items relating to the PNG curriculum from preparatory to grade 12 have been loaded onto the My PNG Home Study Page set to be launched in 2022.
As the response included all sectors of education, through Flexible Open and Distance Education (FODE) over 5,000 students vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19 also benefited from a range of home learning delivery mechanisms. This is comprised of Home Learning COVID-19 Relief Package kits, 3,200 Home Learning Backpack kits tailor made for distance learners, 1,200 Tablet PCs for digital learning and 1,000 printed resource materials to support continuity of learning.
WASH in Schools
Through NDoE’s commitment towards sustainable WaSH facilities, more than 69, 000 students now have access to safe water and handwashing facilities following the completion of 876 handwashing tubs and 41 tanks in 111 schools in selected provinces. This intervention also includes eight Inclusive Education Resource Centers. 5,439 female students also received Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) kits and 150 kits have been provided to female teachers in Papua New Guinea.
More than 171,000 students including over 75,000 girls in 6 targeted provinces were provided information, education, and communication materials (stickers, posters, and leaflets on Back to School and COVID-19 health messages) These were distributed to targeted elementary, primary, and secondary schools.
Approximately 80,000 parents and caregivers received training for CVOID-19 on parenting in the Emergencies program. The program, facilitated by UNICEF and delivered by Save the Children, aims to help to build strong relationships between children and their parents and caregivers enabling them to resolve problems together.
Schools can play an important role in the safety and well-being of students. Student and teacher safety and wellbeing are a key focus of the program, as is ensuring students can resume classes after school closures. Once teachers are back in the classroom and their students are regularly attending in 2022, teachers will need to assess their students for loss of learning and support them to recover this time. They may need to fill key gaps in knowledge and foundational skills, particularly in English and Mathematics before they can implement the full curriculum as planned.
With the support of the Global Partnership for Education and the Australian Government through the National Department of Education (NDoE) - and the hard work and collaboration of partners ChildFund, World Vision, Save the Children and UNICEF, it has been proven that PNG has been active to counter the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic within the education sector to be better prepared for future emergencies.