Feb 27, 2021 Last Updated 4:38 AM, Feb 26, 2021

Perene has a school, thanks to Sisim

Sometimes it only takes one determined person to bring about dramatic transformation. Olokolas Sisim, of the Pamosu language community, is such a man. In 2000, Sisim attended a literacy course run by SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics) in PNG and was inspired to start a school for his community. Perene is a remote village in the Adelbert mountain range, a two-day hike and three-hour PMV drive from Madang town. There was no school in the area and few people were educated, but Sisim believes that education is the key to development. With the help of his community and SIL linguists, Liaw Yong Lam and Chai Sheau Jiuang from Malaysia, Sisim started a prep class with thirty children.

Over the next few years the school grew, adding further grades and students, but Sisim knew he needed trained teachers for the higher grades. In 2004, he made the journey to Madang, to seek help from the Education Department. The following year, he became the local ‘Kaunsil’ (councilman) and started raising funds for the school. Despite the school’s growth, the lack of an official operating code was a problem, so in 2011, Olokolas bought himself a plane ticket and flew to Port Moresby to meet with the education department officials. He was successful.

In 2012, the school was granted its own operational code, now proudly displayed on the school sign. Emal Primary School currently has over 200 students in seven grades and plans to add Grades 8 and 9 soon. Several Pamosu youth have gone on to high school and one has completed Grade 12. Community support for the school is strong, with workdays, a parent-teacher board, and a business that supports the school—which could not have happened without literacy and numeracy skills learned at the school. The community has changed dramatically, reports Chai. Health, hygiene and infant mortality rates have vastly improved.

Education has led to a higher standard of living for all. Sisim has a vision not only for his own community but for development in rural areas across the nation. He urges the government to listen to the needs of remote communities and to support them with education and health services—for the good of the whole nation.

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SPC’s CETC celebrates 50 years

For 50 years, the Community Education Training Centre (CETC) in Narere, Fiji, has empowered hundreds of women who have gone on to make strong contributions to development. CETC was founded in 1963 as a programme of the South Pacific Commission, now the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC). It was founded with a vision of women as agents of change at local, national and regional levels. What began as a three-year project is now one of SPC’s longest running programmes. Over 1700 Pacific women have graduated from its flagship course in community development. Numerous other students, women and men, have taken its business courses. A mainstay of the CETC programme for 50 years has been the practical experience students gain every year by facilitating community development activities for women in communities throughout Fiji. Since it began, the course has constantly been adjusted to meet the changing needs of women. In its early years, in keeping with the times, the focus was on skills that would help women better manage homes and families, as well as empowering them to take on challenges and pass on new skills and knowledge.

By 2002, the focus was on leadership, management and entrepreneurship. A Business Development Advisory Programme was established for entrepreneurs and business support service providers in response to private sector needs. Since the early 2000s, more than 700 women and men have graduated from its business programme. Numerous small and micro-enterprises and business development providers in tourism, agribusiness and handicrafts, have benefitted from CETC’s pool of advisors.

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USP: A silent achiever

But it can do a lot more

As a graduate of the University of the South Pacific (USP) and for someone who taught there for two years, I have a soft spot for this premier tertiary institution of the Pacific. USP is far from being perfect, but it is the one shining example from the many regional organisations of the Pacific.

USP has delivered thousands of graduates, many of who now hold senior leadership positions in private, public, and non-governmental organisations. Several of our heads of regional organisations including USP itself is headed by a former USP graduate! Why has USP excelled when many regional organisations have struggled? Does USP have lessons for others and for the ongoing review of the Pacific Plan?

What is the future of a regional university in light of emerging national universities? I regularly bump into graduates from USP: some I recognise and others I do not. One of my own Solomon Islander contemporaries who is now the head of a major regional organisation met his future wife, a Fijian, at USP. They are now happily married and have six lovely children. These big kids are concrete cases of regional integration. I often remind this foreigner friend of mine that he did not pay enough in bride price, but the truth is that this union would not have taken place without USP. What surprises me is the lack of more such marriages. Not that USP should encourage cross-national marriages but the existing practice of students from the various member nations sticking together rather than mixing with their classmates from other nations may have impeded the above.

**The next generation of leaders** I often bump into senior officials from regional governments who I had either studied with or had taught at USP. This is not too dissimilar to the many encounters I regularly have with graduates of the Australian National University who work in Australia and the broader Asia-Pacific region. Even if not friends, having studied at the same institution creates a rapport that straddles across generations. USP has grown considerably over the past four decades. While some of the old hands who taught me decades ago remain, there are many new and young faces amongst the staff at USP. Many flashy buildings have propped up on Laucala campus. 

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PNG Maritime College lifts standards

PNG Maritime College, the Pacific’s premier maritime institution, is steaming ahead with the opening of new facilities to lift the standard of seamen training in the region. Last month, the college opened three new facilities; a marine offshore safety training centre; an upgraded full mission navigation simulator; and a building housing a library and women’s dormitory.

The new facilities were funded by AusAID through the PNG Incentive Fund at a cost of K5.8 million. Minister for National Planning Sam Basil jointly opened the facilities with the head of AusAID in PNG, Stuart Schaefer. Basil thanked Australia for its continued partnership in PNG’s development efforts and described the Incentive Fund Programme as one of the most effective donor-funded programmes in PNG.

The college’s new principal Captain Richard Teo said the Maritime Offshore Safety Training, which was housed in the Petroleum, Oil and Gas Industry training centre, would soon be accredited with UK’s Offshore Petroleum Industry Training Organisation (OPITO). This would happen after the trainers complete their formal and intensive induction, training assessment and audit.

“This facility will prepare and update personnel working in the PNG Petroleum industry to the highest safety standards in emergency response and survival techniques, fire prevention, safety control/management and in the event of transport helicopter accidents at sea, the ability to remain safe, escape and help others in the same predicament at our Helicopter Underwater Escape Trainer (HUET) facility”

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Assessing children

Need action, not lip service

Strong literacy and numeracy skills are the critical foundation for learning and for a lifetime of success. The Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) provides educational assessment services for the region through the Secretariat of the Pacific Board for Educational Assessment (SPBEA), which merged with SPC in January 2010. SPBEA’s name indicates that educational assessment is the focus of its work.

However, there are numerous facets to educational assessment, ranging from well-known and publicly visible activities relating to examinations and certification to much less visible activities such as training teachers in the use of assessment, monitoring literacy and numeracy, establishing and monitoring teacher standards, registration of regional qualifications, supporting national assessment systems across the region, and ensuring that international developments in educational assessment have a platform within the Pacific region.

In the last decade, SPBEA has worked closely with its member countries and development partners to develop assessments in the areas of literacy and numeracy as well as life skills. Literacy and numeracy achievements also serve as good indicators of the quality of education in the country. Not only are literacy and numeracy at the core of quality education, they also help pave the way for further learning in other areas. Research shows that students who are fluent readers and are numerate are better able to succeed at school, to deal with the basic requirements of everyday life and to be productive contributors to the workforce.

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