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Investing in human capital vital for PNG

Investment in human capital is the pre-requisite for the country’s future,to take it out of ourdependence on others, writes PAUL BARKER.

IT’S quite heart-breaking to think of poor parents, especially, who have struggled to get their children through school, then being faced with these impossible costs, if their children have been able to secure places in the tertiary institutions.
Clearly, achieving universal primary education in Papua New Guinea is an important priority, but for students and their parents to feel that school education is worthwhile, it needs to reach a quality and be relevant to the lives of Papua New Guineans.
It will also be costly to deliver education to the dispersed population of Papua New Guinea, but the country needs to find ways to deliver it cost-effectively, including the use of affordable new technology, and with close partnership with local communities.
Investing in teacher training is a first priority to be able to strengthen the capacity of the teaching service, in terms of adequate numbers and skills, and ensure that those with the needed passion for teaching and readiness often to work in remote rural locations are available and supported, including with enough scholarships for those talented grade 12 leavers choosing teaching as their careers.
The retention of the teachers in the education system requires a wide range of actions and partnerships, and suitable support and oversight to help ensure that teachers both remain in the service, but also to avoid waste from absent or ghost teachers remaining on the payroll when no longer present at schools.
Investment in human capital is the prerequisite for the country’s future, to take it out of over-dependence on others, and having the professional, technical and entrepreneurial skills to provide a professional workforce, but also to develop diverse businesses and utilise the innate talent and energy that’s in the young and older people of the country.
This requires a wide range quality tertiary education delivered largely within PNG.
At the moment, the tertiary institutions, universities, technical colleges etc, are only able to offer places for about 1/5-1/6 of the grade 12 graduates, let alone the grade 10 and other school leavers. This is tragic.
Clearly, benefitting from a place in college is a great privilege in a country where so few do, and gaining a place and a scholarship is a greater privilege for the few beneficiaries.
However, it is also critical that the country recognises and supports its talented young people in an equitable manner, and that the State performs its function of reducing, rather than reinforcing the existing and growing inequality in society.
Paying university and other tertiary fees will also be a struggle for parents, except the wealthiest, but it is important to ensure that the State support is particularly available for the talented students and parents least able to afford the fees.
The Budget has certainly taken a bit hit in recent years, in terms of falling revenue and continued deficit budgeting and growing debt.
Everything has taken a hit over the past 2 years, in terms of reduced allocations, including law and justice, health and education, with the exception of district services improvement programme funding, the cost of debt servicing and expenditure on major events, notably Apec (and hitherto sports facilities in NCD).
The tertiary institutions (both universities and teacher training colleges and technical colleges) have been severely deprived of funding for many years, to the point where they struggle to perform their core function.
Clearly, the funds used for some of the government’s more extravagant projects would have gone a long way to supporting the universities, or other priorities, such as infrastructure maintenance, or reducing debt and the cost of debt servicing.
Those are choices that society, through their government, needs to make.
Not everything one wants can be funded, simultaneously, especially when revenue is tight, but it is critical that human resource development is given high priority for the country’s present and future, together with pursuing the right policies for formal (and suitable informal) sector economic activity and employment will also grow, and able to absorb the skilled output from PNG’s education system.
Faced with lack of funding from government, UPNG and other universities, are forced to take action of their own to make ends meet.
It is important, however, that this burden is not forced upon the universities in isolation.
It clearly needs to be part of a wider dialogue, including Department of Higher Education, Research, Science and Techonoly and Treasury and other relevant departments and ministries, plus with financial institutions and development partners, to help ensure adequate institutional funding (including making up for past shortfalls), equitable arrangements between State institutions, as far as possible, encourage opportunities particularly for more disadvantaged parents (including some means-testing arrangement), and facilitate a realistic student loan scheme with banks, which can genuinely be repaid by the students in due course, or honoured by the State, where the graduates are unable to repay, by nature of their lack of employment, or by working in certain public functions, such as nursing, teaching etc.

Paul Barker is the executive director of the Institute of National Affairs
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