Papua New Guinea Education Department on trend to capture SDG 4?


The Papua New Guinea Education Department and Government have made attempts to address the country’s development plans relating to education development. The attempts on implementing TFF policy and changing the school structure and curriculum are short-term and reactionary measures to addressing high accessibility rate. Using technology and enacting Right to Education Act is fundamental to ensuring sustainable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for the children now and in the future.


In 2011, Papua New Guinea (PNG) ranked 153 out of 187 countries. However, PNG’s rank in the recent Human Development Report (2016) indicated a grim trend where the country’s position has, in fact, declined to 154 out of 188 countries. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) adopted the Sustainable Development Goal 4–Education 2030 in 2016, building on the progress of Millennium Development Goals 2 (MDG 2) which relate to Universal Primary Education (UPE). Unlike the MDG 2, which had taken a top-down approach to education development and had a limited number of targets, the SDG4-Education 2030 has 10 targets and 11 indicators.

As PNG approaches 2020 – the year for Vision 2050 review – the demand for meeting Agenda 2050 becomes urgent. In regard to education, access to secondary schools is 20% of the total student’s enrolment (NEP 2015 – 2019). As the school population increase due to the Tuition-Fee Free (TFF) policy (National, 2017) and expansion of primary schools, there is a need to capture the 80% of students who have not made it to secondary schools. This essay argues that the educational policy shifts such as the free education policy and changing the structure and curriculum could have negative implications on achieving inclusive and equitable quality secondary education.


• Promote – refers to action plans and policies for stimulating learning
• Monitoring – the act of careful observation, critiquing and taking measured action aimed at meeting SDG 4–Education 2030 targets.
• Primary Schools – specifically refers to Upper Primary (Grade 8) going onto Lower Secondary (Grade 9) students ages 14 and 15 years old.
• SDG4–Education 2030 – Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
• Secondary Schools – specifically refers to Lower Secondary to Upper Secondary students ages 15 and 18 years old.
• Strategy – education development policies (or plans) for a period of either 5 or 10 years.


The founding fathers of PNG placed education highly among the National Goals and Directive Principals of the national Constitution. Vision 2050 also places education at the top of the agenda for 2050. The Constitution emphasizes the need for strong national participation and independence and Vision 2050 compares the country’s present achievements to an international standard, the Human Development Index (HDI).

PNG Constitution – ‘self-reliant effort’

Of the five National Goals and Directive Principals enshrined in the Constitution, integral human development (IHD) is the first goal and calls for:

‘…education to be based on mutual respect and dialogue, and to promote awareness of our human potential and motivation to achieve our National Goals through self-reliant effort.’ (P.N.G. Const. Amend. 22)

The foresight was that education plays an important role in achieving the IHD. But the development must be realised through ‘self-reliant effort’ (p.5). However, in the last two decades the pace of education development in PNG is described as either stagnant or regressing (NRI Report, 2010). The NRI report on PNG Development Performance revealed that there was progress made on the HDI rank in the mid-1970s, stagnated in the mid-1990 and declined in 2015. Although efforts have been made to improve the quality of education in PNG, the indicators for improvement have been contrary.

It is, perhaps, reasonable to suggest that the education planners revisit the fifth goal in the Constitution, and facilitate a strategic shift from measuring PNG against the Very High Human Development countries, and instead refocus the ‘institutions of […] education […] towards Papua New Guinean forms of participation, consultation, and consensus, and a continuous renewal of the responsiveness of [education] institutions to the needs and attitudes of the People (P.N.G., Const, Amend. 22).

In perspective, the Constitution directly addresses SDG 4-Education 2030 (target 4.1) which is about providing the teenagers with lifelong learning opportunities which are fundamental to living a meaningful life.

Vision 2050 – ‘Free and Universal Basic Education’

The 40-year strategic plan was established in 2010 by the Somare (National Alliance) government with the mission to lift PNG from a very low human development country to a very high human development country. Like the Constitution, the vision recognized education as the ‘key’ driver for achieving other goals and made it the number one pillar among the Seven Pillars of Vision 2050.

The emphasis was placed on Free and Universal Basic Education for all school-age children from Elementary 1 to Grade 12 (PNG Vision 2050, p. 5).

In 2011, the O’Neill (People’s National Congress) government replaced the NA-led government and made free education its key policy, thus the inception Tuition Fee-Free (TFF) policy in 2012. Certainly, PNG’s Constitution and Vision 2050 are indications of governments, past and present, giving prominence to education; and recognizing it as the number one driver for social, political and economic improvements.

However, the Constitution emphases that citizens must work – ‘self-reliant effort’ – to achieve IHD, not ‘free’ without effort to realize development. This raises the question to the sustainability, and hence the constitutionality, of the free education policy and first education goal of Vision 2050. So, is the free education sustainable after the PNC government? This question is addressed in section 5.1.

Papua New Guinea Education Department Plans

This section compares data relevant to PNG’s development. Firstly, it analyses the Human Development Index (HDI) during the early years of Independence. Secondly, it identifies 3 influential strategic plans needed updating before 2020: Vision 2050, National Education Plan (NEP) 2015 – 2019 and Universal Basic Education (UBE) 2010 – 2019.

HDI Trend and Inference

Progress in social, political and economic developments was promising after the Independence. Indicatively, the first 20 years delivered improved education. However, there was a steady drop in the 3 key areas of human development after 1995, followed by a slight increase from 2005 to 2015. Furthermore, the Human Development Report (2016) showed that PNG’s overall HDI ranking declined from 153 to 154. PNG never ‘broke-out’ of the 0.55 HDI value.

An extrapolation of the trend line from 1995 to 2015, using the baseline development pattern of 1975 to 1995, positioned PNG above an HDI value of 0.6. In fact, that would mean that if PNG’s development paced at the same rate after independence for the second 20 years (1995 – 2015), the country would have ranked among the Medium Human Development countries.

2030 Education Goal PNG trend

National Education Plan 2015 – 2019

The Papua New Guinea Education Department condensed the 2015 – 2019 was, actually, a 10-year plan to a 5-year plan so that it coincides with Vision 2050 review in 2020. Unlike NEP 2005 – 2014, the NEP 2015 – 2019 provided some interesting statistics relating to primary and secondary education.

Papua New Guinea Education Trend SDG 4 targets

Indicatively, 45% of teenagers who enrolled at Grade 8 and 53% at Grade 10 in 2014 did not continue to Grade 9 and Grade 11, respectively. The major cause of Grade 8 and 10 students exiting formal education is examinations. Despite that, it is a concern why many students are also leaving school in Grade 9 (18%) and Grade 11 (21%).

The shortage of school fees nor examination can be recognized as reasons when these are non-exam grades and 1994 was a tuition-free year. The education planners may have to find out why a large number of students were exiting formal education, even when they have already passed the examinations and enrolled at school during a free education year.

Universal Basic Education (UBE) Plan 2010 – 2019

The MDG 2 and UBE were the foundation of education plans in the last 10 years. The PNGMDG Report (2010) indicated universal primary education (UPE) should be achieved in 2015. Despite the popularity, there were instances of quick adjustments with the application of UBE model.

In his contribution to UBE Policy Research Framework, Kukari (2012) defined MDG 2 as the ‘basic education’ inclusive of lower secondary education – the first 9 years of schooling. This was revised to 12 years of basic education in Vision 2050 and consistent with the recent SDG4–Education 2030. In practice, UBE in the PNG context is inclusive of secondary education, not just up to the primary level as implied in MDG 2.

Another rushed policy adjustment was witnessed during the implementation of the TFF education policy. In its inception in 2012, the TFF policy covers Elementary to Grade 10 (TFF Manual, 2012). The policy, however, changed after two years to include Grades 11 and 12. Though the government may have seen both ‘adjustments’ as improvements, the adjustments are reactions to solving ‘unintended’ problems (G. Walton, 2017) rather than meeting a pre-defined need.

Papua New Guinea Education Department POLICY-DECISIONS

Having discussed the strategic plans of the NDoE, some important setbacks needed to be considered. Since 2012 many changes in the education system have brought about unintended consequences.

Tuition Fee-Free Policy

Four governments with the assistance of Papua New Guinea Education Department have attempted the free education policy: Chan People’s Progress Party government (1981), Wingti People’s Democratic Movement government (1993), Morauta PDM Government (2002) and O’Neill People’s National Congress government (2012).

The previous three attempts lasted less than 18 months whereas the recent free education policy also referred to as the Tuition Fee-Free (TFF) policy, continued for over 6.5 years. The PNG government considered TFF policy its commitment to improving access to education (NEP 2015-2019).

A survey by the Australian National University (ANU), titled Financing and the Tuition Fee-Free Policy (ANU, 2012), described the impacts of TFFE policy on the education system. The research paper used the term ‘big bang’ to describe the huge increase in TFF funding. For example, the research stated that ‘a big bang approach can cause “access shock”, whereby a sudden rise in student numbers puts pressure on educational quality (p. 5). The research revealed that there was strong growth in enrolment at an average of 15 percent in the first year, 2012. They concluded that

‘the increase in enrolments between 2011 and 2012 is a clear indication that the policy has substantially increased access to schooling for children across the country’ (p.14).

Furthermore, a discussion paper on TFF policy titled ‘The challenges of providing free education in Papua New Guinea’ found out that the number of children getting primary education, including girls, since 2012 has increased (G. Walton, 2017). The drawback is that the data released by the NDoE indicated that over 80% of students enrolling at primary school (orange) in 2012 did not make it to secondary schools (red).

School enrolment data Papua New Guinea 2020-2030 SDG 4

Curriculum Changes

Outcome-Based Education (OBE), also referred to as Outcome Based Curriculum (OBC) and was introduced into the education system in 1992. After 33 years, many stakeholders blamed OBE/OBC for low levels of literacy and numeracy attainment among children in PNG. Sinebare (2014) described the impact on OBE/OBC as destructive ‘tsunami’. And, further explained that many students who have been educated under the OBE cannot perform simple arithmetic or read and write in good English.

An education officer further stated that the curriculum is not relevant to PNG (EMTV, 2015) and called for a change to improve the standard of education in the country. N. Kuman (2014), in his ministerial statement further reiterated that

‘One of the main causes of the OBE being a failure was due to the concept was conceived by outside experiences and was difficult to use and manage the system at the national and sub-national level[s]’ (National, 2014).

A working committee formed in 2011, reviewed OBE and gradually introduce Standard Based Education, (SBE), also called Standard Based Curriculum (SBE), in 2015. A further drawback is that after 33 years, stakeholders realized that the 1992 curriculum change was a mistake.

Structural Changes – Papua New Guinea Education Department

The structure is important for stability and policy implementation at national, provincial and local levels. In fact, one change in structure could undo past developments in not done properly. However, the NDoE and Ministry of Education inferred that the changing of structure ‘is to improve the quality of education and accessibility’ (Kuman, 2017). Some of the changes were announced but have not taken effect. The current structure is 3-6-4. The NDoE plans to implement the 1-6-6 structure, starting with select schools in the National Capital District in 2018 and, gradually, introduced nationwide. Following are some of the perspectives on the unpopular structural adjustments (National, 2017 & NDoE, 2016).

• 1975-1992 (6-4-2 Structure): Primary School Grades 1 – 6, High School 7 – 10, National High School 11 – 12). A total of 12 years of schooling based SBC.
• Post-1992 – Current (3-6-4 Structure): Preparatory, Elementary 1 and 2, Primary School Grades 3 – 8, Secondary school Grades 9 – 12. The current structure with curriculum changes from SBC to OBE in 1993 and OBE to SBC in 2015.
• 2015 (2-6-6 Structure): Elementary 1 and 2, Primary School Grades 1 – 6 and Secondary School Grades 7 – 12. This was supposed to have taken effect in 2016 but did not eventuate.
• 2017 (1-6-6 Structure): Elementary 1, Primary School Grades 1 – 6, Secondary School Grades 7 – 12. This change would result in primary schools taking on Grades 1 -2 and the secondary schools taking in Grades 7 – 8.

The change in school structure from the current 3-6-4 to 1-6-6 can place a strain on existing infrastructure and resources at secondary schools when the 7th and 8th Grades from primary schools are absorbed into and housed at secondary schools around the country. To put into perspective, in 2014 there were 900, 000 primary school students and 150, 000 secondary school students (Figure 2, p.5). The main disadvantage is that there are not enough spaces at secondary schools to sustain the high number of primary school students.

Online Selection and Online School Leavers Form

The most recent Principals’ Rating Conference jointly hosted by the Department of Higher Education, Research Science and Technology (DHERST) and Measurement Services Division (MSD) in Port Moresby on the 18th – 23rd June 2018, discussed the importance of Grade 12 online selections and completion of online School Leavers Forms. Use of technology in education is an example of meeting the needs of a growing population and raising up to meet the challenges posed to the education system. In addition, the Global Monitoring Report on Education 2017/8 emphasized that it ‘is vital to collect data on learning outcomes, to shed light on factors that drive inequality in education.’ (UNESCO, 2017, p. 4). The recent conference is a clear example of two educational bodies working together to capture and use data for the benefit of schools, educational bodies, students and other stakeholders. Though several education changes may not have clearly addressed the consequences of the increased number of students at primary and secondary schools, DHERST attempt to take school selections online is a sustainable approach.


Both the Constitution and Vision 2050 broadly identify human development as the main driver for other developments (Vision 2050, p.4). However, there are two missing links. Firstly, the education projections outlined in the UBE 2010-2019 and NEP 2015 – 2019 are unrealistic or set too high. Secondly, there is either an absence or complete ignorance of the inspection mechanism to enable transparency at the school level.

T. Ambang (2012) explained that lack of monitoring capacity and good governance at national to oversee the provincial and ward functions could be the barrier to improving quality of education. Moreover, a recent report (UNESCO, 2017) indicated that there are no check-and-balance mechanisms in the country. In fact, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) sponsored report, Global Education Monitoring Report 2017/8 (GEMR 2017/8), identified two key considerations for PNG government and NDoE: inclusion of Rights to Education in the Constitution, and National Education Monitoring Report (p. 446).

Right to Education Act

Right to education is a ‘basic human right’ recognized in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights by many international conventions. However, there is no clear provision of the Right to Education in either the Constitution or the Education Act 1983. GEMR 2017/8 stated that

‘Regulations need to be in place before allowing new or fast expansion of education diversification, and equity considerations need to be kept in mind’ (UNESCO, 2017, p.69).

The argument here is that there is no provision in the existing legislative instruments nor an Act of Parliament that states, ‘Every Child in PNG has the Right to Free and Basic Education’. PNG Education Act 2003 clauses 2 (a), 2(c) and 4 (b) only relate to the parents’ right or authority’s right to make sure children are educated.

To address this issue, the PNG government must enact a specific Act, like India’s Right to Education Act 2009. And, recognize children’s Right to Education so that any government can be held to account for any policy-decisions contrary to the Act.

Education Monitoring Reports

In the last 20 years, the country has relied heavily on reports from the external organization like the UNDP to track developments in education. Understandably, development plans like the MDGs and SDGs are influential on policy-decision making in a low human development country like PNG.

There are capacity or funding issues where national organizations such as the National Statistics Office cannot provide current and valuable data on education (Loop PNG, 2017). One way to address policy issues, within NDoE is to build a strong governance and management team aimed at improving collaboration among national education officers in various divisions of the department.

An example is the Papua New Guinea Education Department’s establishment TFF Secretariat (NDoE level) on TFF policy which is responsible for scrutinizing the implementation of and reports on TFF education policy from the District Education Implementation Committee (Provincial/District level). The downside was that this check-and-balance mechanism was established in 2016, nearly 5 years after the inception of the TFF policy.

TFF policy in PNG Education

Inspection Vital for Up-holding Standards

The School Inspectors, also called Standard Officers, do play an important role in promoting quality of teaching and learning at schools’ levels. The inspectors are national officers working at provincial/regional areas – they are the eyes and ears of NDoE directly reporting to the Education Secretary. Indicatively, their insights on current developments can shape learning.

In his doctoral thesis, Apelis (2008) concluded that inspection is instrumental for teachers’ professionalism and for improving the quality of teaching in the classroom. However, the Inspection Division has struggled to meet the increasing number of schools and number of students and teachers (E. Apelis, 2008).

The education minister, Nick Kuman, admitted that school inspections are rarely carried out in parts of the country because of lack of funds (Loop PNG, 2016). To ensure inclusive and sustainable learning for every child, the School Inspectorate Division of the education department must be resourced to carry out their responsibilities.

Sharing Data and Information

The Papua New Guinea Education Department (NDoD), through its Data Branch and Measurement Services Division, and DHERST collect and keep vital school data needed for education planning, certification and selection. Firstly, the Data Branch collects school data from School Learning Improvement Plans (SLIP) – the annual operational plans usually developed by principals.

The SLIP contains development plans, budget, school populations and other yearly plans. This is vital for the distribution of TFF funds and other educational grants. Secondly, MSD also collects data from schools to help with the administration of national assessments for Grades 8, 10 and 12 and Certifications.

Furthermore, DHERST requests and uses the data from the branch/division of NDoE for the purpose of the online selection of students to tertiary institutions. In fact, the data NDoE has with its ‘cousin’ branches can be used to effectively promote research and development, and address policy issues.


The Constitution, Vision 2050, UBE 2010 – 2019 and NEP 2015 – 2019 have embraced education and the number one driver for social, political and economic development in the country. The two later plans are up for review in 2020 in line with Vision 2050 review which is an ideal time to evaluate the progress made in the last decade. The online SLF and Grade 12 selections are DHERST’s initiative to meet the challenges of dealing with the high number of students. However, since 2012 several unintended drawbacks have surfaced.

  • The 2015 Vision mission is an ambitious plan and an unrealistic expectation. The 40-year trend since 1975 showed that PNG would have comfortably ranked in the Medium Human Development countries if the country development paced at the same rate since Independence.
  • High numbers of students are also leaving school at Grades 9 (10% in 2014) and 11 (21% in 2014). School fee problem and examinations were not the causes.
  • Based on 2014, data over 80% of Grade 8 student do not make to secondary school – Grade 9. The high number of students is, also, unsustainable at secondary schools.
  • The absence of the Right to Education Act and National Monitoring Report on Education for measuring attainments and challenges of SDG 2-Education 2030 indicators.
  • Lack of school inspection and collaboration within the NDoE and its ‘sister’ offices at national provincial and ward levels. Improving school inspections and collaboration within the education department is key for improving learning in classrooms and identifying development opportunities.


Finally, the Papua New Guinea Education Department has made attempts to address the plans relating to education development. The attempts on implementing TFF policy, changing the school structure and curriculum are short-term and reactionary measures to addressing high accessibility rate.

The writer this article believes that using technology and enacting Right to Education Act is fundamental to ensuring sustainable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for the children now and in the future.

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  1. PNG eHow

    This is awesome. Cool website. Keep up the good work

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