Prime Minister Peter O’Neill Right About Education

Prime Minister Peter O’Neill doesn’t mince his words when it comes to matters of education.

As the champion of free education in Papua New Guinea, O’Neill has walked the talk that his predecessors could only dream about.

With only five months left before the country goes to the polls, the Prime Minister has reminded citizens that his Government has “stayed the course and delivered our policies” and “we will do more in the next term”.

In a review of the Government’s performance since 2012, O’Neill said that improving education in PNG had been one of the most important areas for his Government.

“Over this term of Government, we have invested more than K3.5 billion in our free education program, which is in addition to the K3 billion in ongoing education expenditure.

“We wanted to reduce the burden on families around the country – many of them larges families that could not afford to send all children to school.

“This was particularly harder for young girls in some families who often missed out on schooling.

“By removing school fees, our Government has placed an additional one million children in school.

“By investing over K3.5 billion in direct funding to schools through our Tuition Fee Free education programme.

“Today, we have two million children in school – close to half of them are girls.”

That is indeed a significant achievement for the Government in improving elementary, primary and high school education.

Moreover, the Government has invested substantial funding in areas of higher level education in the past five years.

As the Prime Minister said, “Our emphasis moving forward is on improving quality and expanding higher level institution capacity.”

O’Neill firmly believes that the outcome of his Government’s free education policy is that PNG will have a more capable workforce and healthier communities.

While the Government’s free education policy and programmes aim to educate more students, the niggling issue of more graduates and fewer jobs will continue to haunt the political leadership.

Employment opportunities are largely dependent on the country’s economy and the size of its public and private sectors.

Despite a growing economy, which has been spurred by the development and production of liquefied natural gas, the PNG jobs market is limited and is unable to absorb the high number of graduates that are being churned out by our universities each year.

Unfortunately for many university graduates who will be receiving their degrees and diplomas, graduation day is just the start of a long wait-and-hope period.

Some of the luckier ones will be able to secure jobs within a short time while others will have to wait for a while. Still, others will be forced to find jobs that are not related to their fields of study.

Government and business leaders have said that there are alternative ways of providing paid and self-employment opportunities for university graduates.

One of them is to create more opportunities in the small and medium enterprise (SME) sector where graduates can utilitise their particular skills and know-how to set up businesses, which can also provide employment for other citizens.

These new entrepreneurs will need seed money from government funding agencies like the National Development Bank to kick-start their businesses.

While only a minority are likely to venture into private enterprise, most university graduates will still be seeking paid employment and therefore the windows of opportunity are also being opened to them in other countries.

In fact, there is an increasing number of our university educated professionals who are working overseas. Many of them have gained higher degrees in foreign universities and have stayed on to work in those countries.

This bodes well for PNG as an exporter of highly educated professionals.

The Prime Minister’s vision on education and initiatives like the Tertiary Education Fund will go a long way in ensuring the country has an abundance of well-educated and high-skilled people to enhance its growth and prosperity.

As O’Neill said recently, “Without an educated population, we will only continue to have issues with high unemployment, high crime rates and low morale driven by people unable to secure jobs.”

Education is indeed the light at the end of the tunnel for PNG.

The National Editorial  February 10, 2017

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