Open Learning (FODE) to UPNG and Graduating

George Kipan is from Enga. He graduated at the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG) in 2017, majored Psychology and minored Human Resource and Strategic Management. 

George faced financial problem like many children in PNG do. He left school at Grade 9, came to Port Moresby and studied at FODE’s open learning centre – a school for second-chance students. 

George was selected to De La Salle (Bomana) Secondary School and to UPNG. He lived with relatives as he made his way through the education ladder. 

His story is one of determination, courage and hope. 

He has a passion for research and blogging especially to help others. Here is more about George on LinkedIn.


Life as a Day Student at the University

My schooling life has its challenges and darker days like a ship sailing through the storm. However, 2013 was a happy year for me. The year marks the time when all the hardwork and struggles have paid off. 

My name appeared in the newspaper to undertake Psychology at the University of Papua New Guinea. Perhaps the best part was realising I was on the govt’s tertiary scholarship, HECAS (Higher Education Contribution Assistance Scheme).

Father’s prayers

My father is a Pastor, loyal to his Christian principles. My family does not have much. We face the financial burdens to pay for school necessities and fee like an average family from the village does.

We believe God has a plan for me.

In the village hut, my father prayed for me to make my goals in education come true. His prayers were the source of my strength to make it to university. 

Open learning (FODE)

I came to Port Moresby with a hope to find education opportunities after withdrawing from Grade 9 in 2006 due to financial problems.  I aspired to get a university degree early on in life, even leaving secondary school at Grade 9 would not stop me. 

After two years out of formal education, I enrolled at the FODE (Flexible Open Distance Education) in Port Moresby. I completed Grades 9 and 10 through the open learning centre.

Note: The open learning centre (FODE) is a second-chance education avenue for upgrading of grades/results of secondary school students; and an option for students who for various reasons cannot complete their education in the mainstream schooling system.

I was one of the Grade 10 students from the FODE’s open learning system that competed for a Grade 11 placement. It was highly competitive to secure a Grade 11 spot in the city schools, let alone coming from the open and flexible learning system.

I was fortunate in 2011. The De La Salle (Bomana) Secondary School – on the outskirts of Port Moresby – offered me a Grade 11 space.

At the end of 2012, I completed Grade 12 and made it to University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG) as an undergraduate student of Psychology for the academic year 2013.

NOTE: We created some Learning resources for FODE study centres for students at Grade 7 – 12. Click on the link to see more. 

Living with relatives and attending Uni

I was a non-residential student on enrolment at UPNG. I had to live with my relatives. It felt okay as I have been living with them since the open learning (FODE) days, but overcrowding in the house made it hard for me to do my university work. I knew that I had to reside at the university campus to avoid distractions.

I sought assistance to pay for the boarding and lodging fees from my relatives in Port Moresby. If they helped me with the lodging component, I could reside on campus as a boarding student. Unfortunately, I didn’t get much help and only managed to pay for the compulsory tuition fees and attended the university as a day student.

The thought of entering university alone left me disappointed and depressed. It reminded me of the challenges I’ve gone through while living in the overcrowded house and attending the open learning centre (FODE) and De La Salle Secondary School.

The university studies would be different. It would mean new struggles and challenges. I wanted to give up on my educational journey as no one seemed to care or recognized the efforts I put in to get into the university.

However, the urge in me to complete my education was still fresh. I knew that I cannot quit. Quitting was not an option as it will affect me and not anyone.

Hope, struggles and strengths

After Grade 12, I took some time to reflect on the memories, efforts and sacrifices I have made since I came to Port Moresby. I told my inner-self that giving up on my education goals is not an option, because I have made it past FODE’s open learning and secondary school (Grade 9 – 12).

It is too late to stop now.

The reflection gave me the courage to continue. I was convinced that if this was God’s will, nothing on earth will stop me from achieving my dreams.

Having a strong sense of assurance and faith in myself, I registered as a non-residential student (day student) when the 2013 academic year started. That was my first year at the university. The beginning of the year was very challenging as I transited into a new environment.

First year at UPNG minus lodging

The overcrowded two-bedroom house I was living-in has its challenges for me. The four little children played fairly all day. They would talk and scream and play from the morning to evening and at the weekends too. The noise was just unbearable.

The adult relatives, whose majority have not made it to high school, did not even understand the life of a student at university; and what it means to have tonnes of assignments, or study for the semester examinations.

The workload at the university was many times more than the workload from FODE’s open learning centre and secondary school. The struggle to get work done was too much.

Given the circumstance, I knew I had to be proactive to face it for the sake of my education. I planned my timetable to attend the university tutorials and lectures between 10:00 to 11:00 in the morning each day. And, did the assessments and extra reading in the afternoons.

At home, I had to wait for everyone to go to bed before catching up on my university course-work. Usually, I would work from 12:00 am to 5:00 am, rest for 2 – 3 hours and attend classes at 10:00 am.

This became a daily routine for me and worked well to some extent, but towards the middle of the academic year, I started to face some problems when the academic schedules changed.

I sometimes overslept and missed classes due to the late nights’ sleep. In some cases, I would miss classes because some of my courses were re-scheduled to commence at 7:00 am or 8:00 am.

In addition to my adversities, I had a hard time affording bus fare which was K4.00 every day with barely anything to eat during breakfast and lunch.

Maintaining HECAS status

I knew that home and personal situations could potentially affect my academic performance, but I managed to carry on. Surprisingly, I was able to maintain the government HECAS scholarship in 2014 to do my second year.

To he honest, though my Grade Point Average (GPA) was not very high, it was enough to cater for the compulsory tuition fees under HECAS. That was good news. It motivated me to continue.

I saw that despite the new challenges I faced in the first and second years, I did reasonably well. I maintained my marks rather than fall behind academically.

Second year: A friend in need, is a friend indeed

The second-year was the year that I would always be thankful for. I was fortunate to meet one of my course mates who was a boarding student. His Name is Enock Simon and he is from Kimbe in West New Britain.

In life, we can have some best friends but there is always one true friend who can understand and see you true needs more clearly than your immediate families. Enock was one of them.

Despite I am from the highlands and he was from the coastal region, the bond and understanding between our friendship were strong. He saw my struggles and reasoned with his roommate.

With a kind and open heart, they both agreed that I would ‘bunk up’ in their room to study during test and exam periods. We also did the major projects that required teamwork together.

Even though it was contradicting to some by-laws of the university to reside like this, I would spend a week (especially when the workload was high) at his room. I saw this, not so much as an opportunity, but a hope I cannot take for granted for the sake of my education.

Electric kettle – a luxury at university

With the kind heart and privilege offered to me, food was not a condition, so I must fend for myself. I saw this understanding as a hope for maintaining my marks in the second year of study.

Later in the year, I went to see one of my cousins and told him about my situation. I asked him if he could help me to buy an electric kettle. He kindly responded after three days and gave me K200.00. This was the largest amount of money I ever received from a relative to help me since I came to Port Moresby.

I bought a new electric kettle, a carton of snack biscuits and Maggie Noodles and left them in my friend’s room at the campus. From there on, I would often spend a week with my friends before a major test or exam to study without any disturbances.

Students’ staple – maggie noodles and snacks biscuits

Sometimes when I do not have bus fare, I would sleep at my friends’ room. When it comes to preparing my dinner, I boiled water in the kettle, poured the hot water into a bowl and dropped in the noodles and waited for two minutes to cook. 

Many students in PNG will know, Maggie Noodles and Snacks biscuits are a ‘match made in Heaven’. 

This continued until the end of my second year at the University of Papua New Guinea.

I was fortunate again to maintain my marks to be eligible again under the govt scholarship, HECAS, to do my third year in 2015 but without the Boarding and Lodging component.

Third year at UPNG: situation at Uni improved

After having learnt from the 2014 experiences as a day student, I planned to change things around. I saved some money that I made throughout my Christmas holiday. I asked my friend if he could help me keep and sell food items to the other students living on the campus.

He agreed and was happy about the idea to help me. So, I bought two snacks biscuit and two Maggie Noodles cartons and left them in my friend’s room at the start of the 2015 academic year.

That year, my friend secured himself a single room and I was optimistic but confident that things would work out well for both of us.

As predicted, things seemed to improve throughout the academic year. I followed my usual routine to university, spending a week at my friend’s room during test and exam times.

With the little profit that we made, we added flex cards to our sales and replenished the noodles and snack biscuit stocks. We continued to sell from the friend’s room. The profit from the sales helped towards bus fares and meet basic needs like soap, toothbrush and Colgate.

I participated in different extra curriculum activities like students’ welfare association and volunteering activities. Time was not a problem anymore. The year came to an end very quickly. I completed the third year on a high note and maintained my scholarship status under HECAS again. 

Final year at UPNG: part-time Christmas job

During the 2015 Christmas break, I knew that I had to make some money to sustain my final year at university. I applied for several part-time Christmas jobs with organisations in Port Moresby. 

I was fortunate. The National Capital District Commission (NCDC) offered me a vacation job which I could not turn down. With the part-time job, I saved some money to go back to school.

My friend secured another single room when the 2016 academic year started. This time, we were able to buy enough items to sell with the money I saved-up while working during the Christmas break.

Despite of the challenges and struggles at the university, I completed my final year. And,  graduated in 2017 with a Bachelors Degree in Psychology at the oldest university in Papua New Guinea, UPNG.

Remarks: open learning to UPNG

The writer left school at Grade 9 and came to Port Moresby. He continued with Grade 9 and 10 through the open learning system at FODE. Then, he went on to doing Grades 11 and 12 in the formal secondary school before attending the University of Papua New Guinea.

Throughout the story, readers would have noted that the transition from FODE’s flexible open learning to secondary school to university was not smooth. The struggles are real and resonate with many students who have tried to get a better education without parental or relatives help. It was challenging for George.

Here is what the writer said at the end of this remarkable story…

I was a non-residential student without the privilege of boarding and lodging on campus.

I can only do my best to maintain my marks to qualify for the government’s assistance. My yearly GPAs were not outstanding. It was just enough to qualify me for the HECAS, the govt scholarship.

My friends and I also got through other disruptions like the 2016 nationwide student’s unrest throughout Papua New Guinea.

While embracing the life’s experiences as my teacher, I believe in my father’s prayers and fulfil the plan that God has had for me.

Readers’ note

If you are a student who made it into university or in the workplace through the FODE’s open learning system, please let us know your story. You could inspire thousands of students out there. Write to us at

Read about the Writers-Earners initiative. You can also get more information on ‘how to write for us’ here. Your article could be featured on PNG Writers’ Corner.

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