PNG’s secondary schools fall short on their cultural mission

By KEITH JACKSON – 11 June 2014, Keith Jackson & Friends: PNG Attitude

OBSERVING that many of Papua New Guinea’s cultures, customs and traditions are disappearing, Jane Pumai Awi and Rose Bolgy – both senior lecturers at the University of Goroka – decided to look into the matter of how this trend might be reversed or slowed down.

Taking as their starting point the notion that  one way to preserve PNG’s traditional cultures was through teaching literature in schools, they decided to undertake research to ascertain the extent to which the teaching of literature in secondary schools promotes PNG traditions and customs.

Their research found that, while teachers are willing to teach literature to promote culture, they are severely handicapped by the lack of relevant materials.

The two researchers also found that many teachers could not differentiate between different types of literary genres. For example, they did not know the difference between a short story and a novel.

Poetry. The research discovered that teachers in secondary schools do want to use poetry to promote PNG cultures and customs, and many of them do this already. But they are hindered by the lack of relevant materials. Teachers say they feel comfortable teaching poetry: 68% teach it; 32% do not.

Short Stories. Seven out of 10 teachers say they use short stories in their lesson to test students’ comprehension and do vocabulary exercises. The most commonly used short story texts are Moments in Melanesia, Toropo the Tenth Wife andThrough Melanesian Eyes.

Drama. This wa the most unpopular of all genres. The majority of respondents did not any answer the question of whether they used it. The researchers concluded that this was indicative of the question not being understood or of teachers’ unfamiliarity with the concept of teaching drama. 

Novels. The novels used in most schools are The Crocodile, Canoes of the Dead, My Mother Calls Me Yaltep, Ten Thousand Years in a Lifetime andMy Childhood in Niugini. The classroom activities flowing from this are identifying elements of novels, group discussion, book reviews, book reports and writing stories.

The researchers conclude that, while teachers want to teach literature to promote customs and cultures, they are handicapped by the unavailability of materials. There is also some confusion about how they should teach the different literary genres.

Some respondents indicated that there is a grfeat need for the relevant institutions – that is the Curriculum Division, the University of Goroka and secondary schools – to work together to develop a syllabus that stipulates the importance of teaching literature.

A valuable research report by Jane Awi and Rose Bolgy which needs to be taken seriously by the responsible politicians and institutions. 

The complete version of the report is available here – Download Promoting PNG culture through literature teaching

Jane Awi lectures at the University of Goroka in creative arts (previously having taught literature) and has just completed PhD studies at Queensland University of Technology. She is a member of the Crocodile Prize Organising Group. Rose Bolgy has been teaching language and literature in secondary schools since 1982. Rose joined the University of Goroka in 1997 and, as a senior lecturer, teaches language, literature and linguistics. She has Masters degrees from the University of Sydney and the University of NSW and is currently pursuing a Master of Creative Writing with the University of Sydney.

Published by Ples Singsing

Ples Singsing is envisioned to be a new platform for Papua Niuginian expressions of creativity, ingenuity and originality in art and culture. We deliberately highlight these two very broad themes as they can encompass the diverse subjects, from technology, medicine and architecture to linguistics, music, fishing, gardening et cetera. Papua Niuginian ways of thinking, living, believing, communicating, dying and so on can cover the gamut of academic, journalistic or opinionated writing and we believe that unless we give ourselves a platform to talk about and discuss these things in an open, free and non-exclusively academic space that they may remain the fodder for academics, journalists and other types of writers alone. New social media platforms have given every individual a personal space to share their feelings and ideas openly, sometimes without immediate censure. The Ples Singsing writer’s blog would like to provide another more structured platform for Papua Niuginian expressions in written, visual and audio formats while also providing some regulation of the type and content of materials to be shared publicly.

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