Heather Singmaster visited Papua New Guinea and discusses the educational system’s challenges and some ways the government is implementing innovative solutions. This is part of our ongoing series examining international education systems in partnership with Asia Society’s Global Learning blog on EdWeek.
Traditionally in Papua New Guinea (PNG), there has not been much investment in human resources. Yet, with high population growth expected—approximately seven million today and projected to grow to 11 million by 2050 and then double every 30 years thereafter—the country will have no choice but to face this challenge. Perhaps that is why the PNG government chose last month to host the APEC High Level Policy Dialogue on Human Resource Development in the capital, Port Moresby, which I had the honor of attending and serving as a guest speaker.
One way the government is attempting to address the human capital challenge is by expanding access to vocational education and training (VET). This is a strategy being pursued by other economies in the Asia-Pacific region, whether they are emerging or not.
In the past, VET in PNG was considered the responsibility of the provinces. According to the UNESCO report Education for All 2000-2015, students could begin attending vocational training centres after successfully completing the basic education programme at the end of grade 8. An option today for students who complete lower secondary education is to attend technical colleges, which offer one-year Pre-employment Technical Training courses (currently being replaced by a two-year Technical Training Certificate programme.) Additionally, the Papua New Guinea Education Institute offers a three-year course for grade 10 graduates leading to the Certificate of Elementary Teaching.
Given these various options, one of the biggest challenges facing VET in PNG right now is the issue of coordination among the three different government bodies reponsible for VET: the Department of Education (TVET Division); the National Training Council and the National Apprenticeship and Trade Testing Board (NATTB) at the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations; and the Office of Higher Education. The Department of Labor and Industrial Relations is responsible for setting the national standards and curriculum, and they also administer the nation’s apprenticeship program. This fragmented system contributes to a lack of clarity about different roles, making reform difficult and also leading to budgetary issues as outlined below.
Aligning Practice with Industry Needs
I had the opportunity to visit one of the four main government-run technical colleges, Port Moresby Technical College (called Pom Tech for short). They accept students from across the country and currently enroll 628 students full time. With only approximately 200 boarding spots available, most students have to find their own housing, which is extremely difficult in Port Moresby where housing is limited and expensive. There are only 62 female students, which is primarily because there are only that number of beds available to them at the school and staying outside is not feasible for women.
The school offers programs in 10 different trades with 30 different specialties, and is in the process of adding four more, including automotive electrical and refrigeration, as soon as the standards and curriculum are approved. Women are allowed to take any course they choose, but the majority are in the printing pathway (which includes desktop publishing, graphics, and offset printing). The most popular courses for men are electrical and mechanical.
One additional dorm is reserved for the apprentice program. Students work full-time as apprentices, but come to the school for eight weeks each year to study. During the course of the three-year program they earn Level One through Three certificates.
Pom Tech also serves as the Trade Testing Center. Anyone can come and take tests, beginning with Level One, to be granted certificates and recognition for skills they have—no matter where they learned them.
Striking to me was the fact that in a country where mining and oil production are the biggest industries, there were no courses in these fields offered to full-time students. Apparently this is because the companies doing this work (mainly foreign companies) provide their own training, with some exceptions such as the short courses provided “on demand” to the companies by Pom Tech. For instance, a gold mine may send workers to Pom Tech for a four-week course designed specifically for them. These are only possible when the staff, which appeared to be stretched, has the time.
However, industry involvement in the system is critical to its overall success and providing more than just apprenticeships is important to upgrading it. By keeping training in these key areas as a function of companies, there is no investment into the local workforce, leading to more expenses in terms of either bringing in workers from abroad or having to hold these extensive training courses.
There are many issues plaguing the PNG education system. Yet, there are a few areas where they are making strides:
National Standards and a Qualifications Framework
The VET standards are established through a process led by the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations that involves boards of industry-specific experts. The certificates students earn aligned to these standards are recognized nationally based on the National Qualifications Framework. During the APEC meeting there was much discussion of whether APEC should work toward a regional qualifications framework, an idea that PNG endorsed.
This month marks the beginning of a Memorandum of Understanding signed between PNG and the Philippines to provide assistance on building capacity at VET colleges. Such agreements are not unique to PNG; during the APEC discussions, Australia presented on the work it has been doing on building qualification frameworks with other countries in the region. And Singapore is often providing technical assistance to emerging vocational systems.
Creating or expanding access to apprenticeship programs that work well with industry and provide training in a technical college is a goal of many education systems today across the globe—including in economies much more advanced than PNG‘s. The program that Pom Tech has established seems to be popular, well supported, and running smoothly via a partnership created between government and industry.
Papua New Guinea has far to go, they are eager to learn from others and are opening up to the world. Notably, they are focused on not only developing their natural resources but also developing their human resources. To meet this goal, they are beginning to integrate innovative practices—including global competence and expansion of VET—into their education systems, which can provide an inspiring example for others, including more developed countries.
Read part one on how Papua New Guinea prioritizes global competence in education.
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Photo courtesy of the author.