Achieve Universal Primary Education Rwanda, Pakistan and Papua New Guinea

Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) initiated a Global vision for improving the standard of living, sustaining the natural environment and living coherently in the 2nd Millennium. This includes the MDG goal on education and the stride to Achieve Universal Primary Education.

Papua New Guinea (PNG) as one of 193 Member States of the United Nations (UN) signed up to this union right after its independence on the 10th of October 1975. MDGs from 2000 to 2015 had eight goals related to

  • (1) Poverty;
  • (2) Primary Education;
  • (3) Gender Equity;
  • (4) Child Mortality;
  • (5) Maternal Health;
  • (6) HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases;
  • (7) Environmental Sustainability; and
  • (8) Global Partnerships for Development.

About this article: This is an original work by the creator of PNG Insight blogs and websites. The work in a written assessment for the Post-Graduate Diploma in Leadership & Development at the Pacific Adventist University. It is part of the work on Education and Development in Papua New Guinea that was accredited with a GPA of 3.84. For more info, contact me at

Achieve Universal Primary Education – Papua New Guinea’s Challenge

PNG’s government departments, and donor agencies, were instrumental in developing, assessing and reporting aimed at achieving the MDGs in the last 15 years.

The former Prime Minister and founding father of Papua New Guinea late Sir Michael Somare, in his remarks on the 2004 MDGs report, stated that performance at provincial and local levels was ‘mixed’ (Undporg, c2004).

How can PNG go forward with better results? The 8 recommendations in this report can have a positive impact on the overall PNG’s achievements of Universal Primary Education. Politicians, education leaders and implementers need to take this report seriously.

What is Univeral Primary Education, UPE?

UPE is Goal 2 amongst the eight MDGs. The goal emphasized the need for compulsory, free and quality education for both boys and girls of primary school age children.

Primary education, especially the education for children seven to fourteen years of age, is seen as a powerful driver for social and economic development and for archiving other MDGs. (Worldbankorg, c2003).

Structural Reform (1993) came into effect in PNG where community schools ‘ topped up’ to primary schools. Instead of Grade 1 to Grade 6 with an examination at the end of year 6, the elementary schools had Grade 1 and Grade 2 identified as Elementary 1 and 2.

The transition happened at the end of Elementary 2 where pupils move into Grade 3 and continue to Grade 8 without having to sit any national examinations in between.

The structural adjustment increased the progression rate from 41 percent in 1992 to 73 percent in 2001 (Primary School Age, UNICEF PNG, n.p.).

The focus, as far as UPE was concerned in PNG, was geared more towards the seven to fourteen years old and less on preprimary and post-primary levels.

The diagram illustrates a standard educational structure by considering existing structures in the United Kingdom and the International Education Agency (IEA) in PNG.

Achieve Universal Primary Education Rwanda, Pakistan and Papua New Guinea

Can Papua New Guinea achieve Universal Primary Education?

There is an urgent need for the National Department of Education (NDoE) to have a centralized data collection mechanism to collect, analyze and present accurate reports and or disseminate them to the Papua New Guinea (PNG) government and stakeholders.

Even nearly 5 decades years of independence, the NDoE through the Measurement Service Division (MSD), cannot gather accurate data nationwide.

This write-up emphasizes the importance of achieving not only Universal Primary Education (UPE) completion but also proposes a way to improve educational data gathering in PNG.

One main constraint of achieving Universal Primary Education (UPE)/Universal Basic Education (UBE) is the unavailability of accurate data for developing sectorial policies, plans and making realistic future projections.

Key indicators for measuring educational achievements like retention rate, enrolment rate and education quality must reflect real situations.


2.1. Policy targets in Elementary and Primary Schools

Specific Gross Enrolment Rate (GER), Cohort Retention Rate (CRR) and Youth Literacy Rate (YLR) were marked for achieving in 2015.

Policies on structural, examination and school fees at primary schools were implemented to achieve GER of 85 percent, CRR at 70 percent and YLR at 70 percent by 2015 (MDGR, 2004).

In fact, the rates were set below 100 percent to be more realistic and achievable. For example, expanding access at elementary schools is directly proportional to GER. The understanding was that if elementary schools were established in each village, enrolment would increase.

Also, within the primary schools, the number of students continuing school to Grade 7 is maintained with the phasing-out of examinations at Grade 6.

The NEP 2005 – 2014 identified enrolment age at six years of age. Enrolling students early, at the age of 6 or 7 years, in elementary schools increases their chance of remaining until completing primary education.

Cultural obligation (especially on girls) and intrinsic social norms tend to force students out of school, especially when there is a disproportion in the age gap within the classroom.

It is a serious concern for students who may have been in their late adolescence and early teens and doing Grades 6, 8 or 10.

The table shows a projection of students’ enrolment age. Over a third of students enrolled in Grade 1 on 1999 aged nine and ten. In Grade 10 they would have been in their late adolescence.

Universal primary education in PNG

2.2. Pre-reform and post-reform: Comparison of Grade 6 and Grade 8 data

Recent policies, in particular, the Tuition Fee Free (TFF) Policy 2011 have been thought to have positively impacted school enrolment and retention.

However, data from primary schools before and after the reforms have indicated little improvement.

The number of Community Schools (now Primary Schools) increased every five years in the hundreds until 1999, but was unchanged in 2015:

  • 2224 schools, 1983;
  • 2503 schools, 1998;
  • 2673 schools, 1999; and
  • 2663 schools, 2015.

Examination statistics for Grade 6 in 1990 and Grade 8 in 2015 showed 112,763 (NDoE, c1996) students and 120,000 (The National, 6th October 2015) students sat the national exams in Grade 6 and Grade 8, respectively.

The projection for the Grade 6 population in PNG for 2004 was 151,513, yet the population for Grade 8 in 2015 did not reach the target 10 years later.

There is a strong indication that after 15 years of MDGs, the numbers of primary schools had remained static, and there was very little increase in the number of students taking exams.

PNG’s inability to maintain and identify the development dilemma in these two key areas could be attributed to several factors.

The key inadequacies are the inaccurate data and a lack of policy guides: either way, there was gross misinterpretation and representation of data from the start.

2.3 PNG Education Plans and Challenges

PNG government plans on education showed that achieving UPE is a work in progress (MDGPR, 2004) and for PNG to achieve UPE it needs careful planning (Richard Bridle, UNICEF, 2007).

A holistic approach is required at all levels of education, especially involving the churches on education and development fronts.

At elementary levels, the demand for teachers saw untrained teachers, who were educated to either Grade 6, Grade 8 or Grade 10 recruited to teach elementary pupils.

The pupils would have been taught by certificate holders at Grade 1 and Grade 2 were now taught by teachers with very low English and mathematics competencies.

Improved training for teachers, particularly in Literacy and Numeracy, at Elementary schools can improve the quality of knowledge and skills (Ivan Ngoboka, c2015) that are being imparted to students early during their education life.

Educational Sectorial Review (ESR) 1991 recommended the need for PNG to improve access rate, maintain students in school and reform curriculum (A Kukari, c2012, p.3).

The report uncovered that ninety percent of school-age students have not attended school, the attrition rate at forty-five percent and the curriculum was long overdue for reform.

Several education plans were developed after the review including National Education Plan 1995 – 2014, Universal Basic Education (UBE) Plan 2010 – 2019 and recently PNG Vision 2050.

The plans after the 2nd Millennium also took into consideration the MDGs. In particular, UBE was aligned towards achieving compulsory, free and quality education for all young boys and girls – a sectorial policy framework built on MDG Two, the UPE.

The focus of these plans was to increase access, retention and quality by:

  • improving pupils’ indicative rates like the enrolment, retention, attrition and progression rates;
  • improving teachers’ training and achieving students to teacher ratio of 40:1;
  • improving educational services and procurements; and
  • developing relevant curricula to be implemented and monitored.


3.1. In Numbers: Rwanda From Civil War to Achieving Universal Primary Education

The Rwanda Civil War ended officially in 2003. Reports on Rwanda’s achievements indicated that they saw major UPE milestones in under twelve years. Rwanda was able to successfully address the high drop-out rate (Ivan Ngoboka, 2015).

The numbers indicating their positive story:

  • 1870 preprimary schools were constructed for three years of pre-primary education targeting children between the ages of four and six years of age; 
  • two institutions offered degree courses for pre-primary teachers, including 13 colleges offering diploma and certificate courses in the same field; 
  • 9 years of free basic education implemented in 2006; 
  • the number of primary schools between 2000 and 2012 increased by 24 percent; 
  • enrolment in 2013 figures increased by 68 percent; 
  • rate of students who have never been to school halved to 9 percent from 18 percent; 
  • the ratio of boys to girls in school had increased within 12 years from 50.9:49.6 to 49:3: 50.7, a shift which saw an increase in the girls’ school population.

3.2 Pakistan’s Universal Primary Education Constraints

It was indicative that Pakistan was not going to achieve UPE two years before 2015.

A report on Pakistan’s constraints and challenges summed that the government needs to show a ‘high level of political will’ to achieve UPE (Zakar, Muhammad Zakria et al, 2013).

There was significant variation in enrolment rate where some parts of the country were at 60 percent whilst one was at as low as 39 percent.

A constitutional amendment in 2010 granted sole responsibility for policy reform, implementation programs and monitoring.

The decentralization of education functions resulted in complacency in many parts of Pakistan.

The following are obvious constraints, among many, that hindered achieving UPE:

  • insufficient educational service; 
  • untrained teachers usually appointed by political recommendation; 
  • lack of community participation; 
  • Illiterate parents;
  • lack of political commitments; and 
  • Poor infrastructure and learning resources.

3.3. Achieve Universal Primary Education – Papua New Guinea in Perspective

PNG’s government policies on education and challenges are manageable and achievable. It can Achieve Universal Primary Education.

Correct data and careful planning are required to achieve educational goals going forward.

UNICEF Deputy Director for East-Pacific highlighted that if Cambodia, a poor country, could achieve UPE ‘there was no reason why PNG could not do it’.

Figures released by NDoE in 2015 showed that of the 120,000 Grade 8 students, 50.83 percent (61,000 students) do not continue to Grade 9 at lower secondary school.

The projected number of primary school enrollment by 2014 was 90,703 students (NEP 2005-2014). Indicatively, the number of students sitting exams surpasses the projected figure, and students present in the classrooms at lower secondary schools remain very low.

There was a glaring disparity between the number of primary schools and the number of secondary schools.

In the same year (2015), there were 2263 primary schools and 256 secondary schools. Because of these figures, it appears that infrastructural development does not catch up with population growth.

To fulfil policies and plans on UPE in the country, both educational and political leaders at national and local levels must know that there is a need to invest time, money and effort in education.

In the research article Challenges for Quality Primary Education in Papua New Guinea—A Case Study the researchers stated:

”… the quality of leadership demonstrated to lead the educational change [in PNG] has been disappointing. Inadequate leadership at the administration and curriculum levels hurt the quality of education. Achieving quality education has also been hampered by inadequate funding, scarcity of skilled human resources, and inappropriate infrastructure in all educational institutions” (Hindawicom, c2011,Volume 2011).

There are similarities between PNG and Pakistan as far as constraints are concerned. It was difficult to identify a developing trend given limited facts and figures.

Whereas, Rwanda had presented a clear case. PNG needs to learn from success stories.

This means having strong leadership in education circles who can be the main drivers in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 2016-2030 Goal 4 about achieving quality education in early childhood development, care, preprimary education, primary education and secondary education (Wwwunorg, c2016)

4. A PROPOSAL: Key factors for Achieving Universal Primary Education

PNG has many constraints with its growing population. There is a need for collecting and disseminating vital statistical data.

This study proposes that a data collection mechanism is established to address the problem of the unavailability of reliable data.

To create an independent data management organisation, separate from and from the National Planning Department, NDoE and MSU.

One way to make it happen is to create a customized website for collecting useful data for measuring key UPE indicators. The education department has what is called the ‘SDCS’ (Students Data Collection System). It needs to ensure that this system is internalised and run by education officers so that data and information can be accurately captured in real-time.

This exercise has to be made mandatory for schools in the country to comply with.

5. Conclusion – Achieve Universal Primary Education in Papua New Guinea

The achievements of MDG were sub-standard, there were strides made in the formulation of educational policies and plans aligned to achieving UPE. What is needed now more than ever is ‘political will‘.

Learn the lessons from Rwanda and Pakistan to Achieve Universal Primary Education in Papua New Guinea.

To achieve MDG goal 2, it is recommended that the government of PNG, through NDoE, implement the following strategies:

  • Increase the number of secondary schools from 256 to 2000.
  • Expand the existing secondary schools by increasing classrooms.
  • Promote vocational and technical secondary schools for Grade 8.
  • Develop stringent planning, monitoring and management mechanisms.
  • Train preprimary teachers up to degree level.
  • Increase capacity at teachers’ training institutions.
  • Mandatory Grade 1 school-age at 6 years old.
  • Develop data collection and dissemination mechanisms.
  • Reduce the dropout rate (50.83 percent) at Grade 8, by setting targets for the 8 points.



Barbara Bruns, Alain Mingat, and Ramahatra Rakotomalala. “Achieving Universal Primary.” 2003. (accessed July 10, 2016).

Education, National Department of. National Education Plan 2005-2014. Policy Framework, Port Moresby: Government Printing, 2004.

Kukari, A. Universal Basic Education Policy Research Framework: A Focal Point for Research, Monitoring and Evaluation. Discussion Paper, Port Moresby: National Research Institute, 2012, 39.

MALKEN, SHEILA. Examination Population at Primary and Secondary School. News, Port Moresby: The National, 2015.

Maureen, Gerawa. Potential to abolish fees. Newspaper, Port Moresby: The Post Courier, 2007.

Ngoboka, Ivan. MDGs: What has Rwanda done to achieve universal primary education? News, United States: SyndiGate Media Inc, 2015.

PNG, United National Development Program. MILLENNIUM DEVELOPMENT GOAL – Progress Report for Papua New Guinea 2004. Progress Report, Port Moresby: UNDP PNG, 2004, 50.

Rena, Ravinder. “Challenges for Quality Primary Education in Papua New Guinea.” Challenges for Quality Primary Education in Papua New Guinea—A Case Study (Education Research International), 2011: 11.1 “Sustainable Development Goals: 17 Goals to Transform Our World.”United National Sustainable Development .n.d. (accessed July 10, 2016).

UNICEF. “UNICEF PNG.” n.d. (accessed July 10, 2016).

Zakar, Muhammad Zakria, Shazia Qureshi, Razza-Ullah, Rubeena Zakar, Nauman Aqil, and Riffat Manawar. Universal Primary Education in Pakistan: constraints and challenges. News, Lahore: Centre for South Asian Studies, University of the Punjab, 2013.

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