Thursday, April 13, 2006

School Visit

After a few hours rest to recover from a 4 am start, our programme in Lae began with a visit to the local secondary school. It was quite uplifting spending time with so many bright and hopeful young students, although the teachers were very frank about the problems with budget the school faces. The school was built in the 60s and seems to have little maintenance since – there are now almost 400 students and just 9 teachers. The teachers, like all the people we meet working in the health and education sectors, are tremendously pragmatic and dedicated in the face of difficulties that must be quite overwhelming.

The parent of the children pay fees - 1200 kina (about $750 NZ) for boarders – a cost which would be prohibitive for many living in PNG, but the children do seem to be getting a good quality education. Many of the students we talked to had already decided on what they would study at University – law, medicine and journalism were the most popular. All of the students were articulate, confident and spoke easily about their experiences with the delegation.

One aspect of the visit that was concerning was the absence of education around HIV/AIDS and safe sex issues. PNG is a very conservative country and these are not topics that are easily discussed, especially in a school setting. The head teacher mentioned his desire to introduce teaching around these areas, but felt it was unlikely that this would be supported by the parents. There is also not coordinated sexual and reproductive health modules in the national curriculum which the school teach.

This definitely brought home to me, and the other members of the delegation, how great the need for comprehensive and integrated planning is needed in terms of the HIV/AIDS issues. Our meeting with the various UN agencies on Monday emphasized this and outlined where and how this was happening – and how NZ can continue to support this work. The big question remains – will the results happen in time for the generation of kids we met today?


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