Saturday, 29 September 2012

Education in the Land of the Unexpected: Part 2

Many schools have awesome murals. The murals at this boy's school show Tolai and Baining Cultural stuff.

In my last entry I talked a lot about the challenges facing teachers and students in schools. Perhaps in this, I’ll focus more on the everyday differences between the Australian (Victorian) secondary schools I know and love and ENB ones.  I think this calls for a nice table!

Victorian Secondary Schools (Aus)
ENB High and Secondary Schools (PNG)
Usually schools have a uniform. The uniform is bought from a shop. Girls almost always have the option of a skirt or pants/shorts. The uniform has suitable items for summer or winter. Thongs (OK, OK, jandels, flip flops, not stringy undies) are not allowed. Most schools have very ‘safe’ colours, like red and white, or navy and maroon (the exception being Wesley College in Melbourne whose bright purple and yellow pupils create the impression of a telly tubbies fan club gathering.

All schools have a uniform. The uniform is sometimes bought, sometimes made by the students themselves. Girls always wear a skirt (never pants/shorts) which is often a laplap (sarong). Only a summer uniform is required. Everyone wears thongs/flip flops/jandels.  Most schools have really brightly coloured uniforms. A particular favourite is a deep red shirt with a bright orange collar.
School starts at around 9:00am and finishes around between 3:00pm and 3:30pm. Teachers and students share a sigh of relief as they each go their separate ways at the end of the day.
School begins at around 8:00am (I know one school that starts at 7:30am). School finishes at around 1:30pm, which is also lunch. Most students and teachers live on campus so they are stuck with each other 24/7. 
After school
After school finishes, students may go to outside school activities (sport, dance, music lessons) or they may watch far too much TV,   eat a plethora of sugar and salt laden snacks and update their FB status. Or if the stars are aligned, they may do some homework.
When classes finish, school based activities begin. Students have supervised study periods, do agricultural work, go to mass, have choir practice for mass, clean the school, etc. (The kids at my base school now have a hip hop dance class to go to! More on that at a later   date).
Class Sizes
There is a cap on student numbers at 26. Many teachers (myself included), think that this is too much (it may be OK at some schools, but when you’ve got a high percentage of kids with special needs 20 is much better). Any more than 26 and we are walking away. We have a union to protect these conditions and believe me, if you’re a parent, it’s in your best interest to defend the working rights of your kids’ teachers.
There is a cap on student numbers at 40. Any more than that and a teacher can technically refuse to teach the class. Now back to the real world.
All the schools I’ve been to (10 schools) have classes around the 50 mark. Teachers know there is no point in complaining. Parents and students don’t complain as they don't have the ‘right’ to go to high school. So if the schools cut down their class sizes, it might be your child who misses out. As it is, many many young people receive no high school education. Some parents beg schools to take their kids and just let them sit on the floor of the classroom.
The Right to an Education
Everyone has the right to go to school. What’s that? You abused a teacher and bashed up 4 other kids, disseminated pornography, damaged school property and there is no evidence at all that you’ve actually learnt anything in the last year? Oh, and your private school kicked you out? No that’s OK, welcome, we’d LOVE to have you in the public system!! (Alright,   I actually do believe that no one should be denied an education but feel pee-ed off that it’s disadvantaged gov schools that bare the brunt of ‘fixing’ troubled kids.)
All kids have the right to primary education but that doesn’t mean they’ll get it. There may not be a school they can go to. The government doesn’t have the resources to check that all kids are enrolled in schools. If you do get to go to primary school, then you need to pass an exam to continue into grade 9 (year 9 in Aus, or final year of junior high in U.S/Japan). And, if you don’t succeed in your grade 10 exam, that’s it for you, no grade 11 and 12. Then, even if you do make it through all these difficulties, there are over 13,000 eligible students for around 5000 uni places. 
Foreign Languages
Students are required to learn a foreign language for the first 3 years of high school (years 7, 8 & 9). Most schools offer at least one European language (often French, German or Italian) and one Asian Language (Japanese, Mandarin or Indonesian). Study of a foreign language beyond year 9 is optional. Many students get a lot out of studying a foreign language, but some students and lots of parents complain that foreign language studies are compulsory. That’s right, some parents sook that their kids, for free, get the chance to learn another language (and about another culture) – oh the inhumanity!! Some parents however, tell me they think their kids are lucky to have the opportunity (I'm told it's not appropriate to kiss parents but I otherwise would in this case).
No foreign languages are taught. That’s because the kids are already doing ALL their studies in their third (at least) language. That’s right, they’re trying to learn about nutrition, genetics, algebra, ancient societies, poetry and religion, in their third language (English). I had the very amusing and fascinating experience of explaining to my PNG colleagues that in Japan, they teach in JAPANESE. They learn maths and science, and home economics in JAPANESE. I was then asked, “so they have textbooks in their language? Oh, so that’s why Japanese people don’t speak English well!” These teachers didn’t realise that what PNG has, an education system which runs in the non native language of the country, is exceptional (and impressive that it runs at all).    
School Responsibility
We have a very risk adverse attitude towards student activities. One example; my former principal was very reluctant to allow myself and another teacher to take students on a bike riding camp (the Great Vic Bike Ride) in case someone hurt themselves. In the end, he relented (he is actually a good guy and was just reacting to external fears) but teachers are constantly being reminded about student safety.  Students are never to be without a teacher in the classroom. Only a qualified home economics teacher can turn on an oven with students in the room, (because without a Home Ec degree I might what, mistake a lamb shank for a underdeveloped year 7?).
I think the fact the kids are given machetes to trim the school gardens really says it all. Students are allowed to be unsupervised in the classroom (this was also true in Japan). Students get up on the roof to clean out the gutters. Students ride, unrestrained in the back of open utes (pick up trucks) with the school logo on them. I’m thinking that perhaps there is some sort of ideal that lives between column A and column B……
The school calendar is fixed. Term holidays are determined a few years in advance. Parents must be given several weeks notice for school excursions. School meetings, concerts, etc, are planned at least a term in advance.
The school calendar is more like a collection of possibilities than a document you might use to make plans. When I first started at my base school, I asked for a copy of the term meeting schedule. The deputy principal handed me a calendar of the relevant months but it was blank. I stupidly asked, “when are the meetings?” to which he jovially replied,  “oh, we’ll just fill it in as we go along”. There are dates set for national exams but this year even they have run late. There are dates set for when results will be released but again, that’s more like a hope than a reality.  I feel like Japan and PNG are polar opposites in this regard and it’s fascinating to be able to compare these two systems (with Australia somewhere in between).
Teaching in Australia is impossible without encountering a whole heap of jargon. I know that all fields have their jargon but I’m going to go out on a limb here and claim that jargon in education is exceptional in its craziness. Jargon is supposed to be one of the tools that in-group members (professional of a particular field) use to create a shared language (and often simultaneously excludes outsiders). However in the case of education, the jargon seems to come from outside, from some sort of evil jargon generating education demon and works to make teaching professionals feel like we have no idea what we’re doing and must be in need of immediate professional development. For example, you are not a teacher, you are a ‘facilitator of learning’. You do not assist or help students, you ‘scaffold them’. Students don’t obtain skills through the subjects they study, they reach progression points within a dimension of a domain which belongs to a strand (I’m not making this up).  And if you lose your shit and say ‘eff you mo fo, I’m a teacher – I stand in front of the class and I TELL THEM WHAT TO DO!’, the evil jargon generating education demon says, ‘no you don’t silly – that’s a teaching style called ‘explicit instruction’’ . Seriously.
Yay, time to celebrate one of my most favourite things about the education system in PNG – it’s (nearly) jargon free!! I think PNG should advertise itself as a jargon free working environment as a means of attracting overseas teachers. I can just see boatloads of tired, jargon tortured Australian teachers, rowing across the Torres Strait to freedom. In PNG, teachers teach, students study. They do assignments and read books and they learn. It’s awesome. There is some Australian influence creeping in, I’ve seen diagrams in the syllabus here which make me shudder (you know the ones with lots of boxes and lots of arrows that all point to everything and go around in circles? Can we not spell ‘interrelated’?) But nobody seems to pay any attention to them, which means - I may have found my people J
AND, added bonus - not many people know how to use powerpoint so you’re saved from having to continuously watch grown ups ‘read aloud’ at meetings.
Students, in general, are allowed to have phones but are not allowed to use them in class (at my old school, the rule was, if I see it, or hear it, it’s going bye bye to the office safe til the end of the week). Students are not allowed to smoke (neither are teachers, at all, on school grounds). Students are in HUGE trouble if they have any kind of weapon on them, so knives are definitely out. Teachers generally do not care if student couples hold hands, etc, but we tend to feel icky deep down inside if we see anything more than that and expect students to keep the love G rated within school.
Students are not allowed to own a mobile phone (remember many of them board at school). They often get caught when they try to charge it somewhere. Students aren’t allowed to smoke, but most don’t seem to want to. They are also not allowed to chew betel nut and that is something they do want to do – often. They get in trouble for doing it but as most of the teachers are betel nut chewers it doesn’t seem to result in lots of trouble. Smoking marijuana is a BIG no no though – very interesting given that many teachers and students are already in school, high on betel nut (if you’re not used to it, that stuff can make you feel CRAZY). Students are allowed to have big knives. Students are not to be seen canoodling in any way shape or form (and some of them are already 20). 
The girls at my base school, bringing in offerings at mass (these students make their uniforms themselves)

Ovens at school for cooking (wood fired - I bet they could make an awesome pizza...)

Recreation Time

 So, I think I’ve said enough about education. I think the next topic should be about the ways in which modernity manifests itself in PNG, the way it saddles up to old traditions and creates some pretty interesting results. If you’re reading this and happen to be a future employer of the author, I was just joking about the jargon; I seriously love scaffolding my learners. I go crazy for authentic assessment! And if you can’t believe that, then practice one my favourite ‘habits of the mind’ and try ‘approaching the situation with humour’ - it always work for me. Lukim yu poro :)