AusAid Got it Wrong

Posted: February 16, 2012 in Education
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Despite what smooth talking diplomats  say in public gatherings,  I have always argued that  Australia’s involvement in Papua New Guinea   only serves their  purpose.    Call it a conspiracy theory   or  whatever you wish but Australian involvement in “strengthening”  functions of the  PNG government   are a key destabilizing factor.

On paper,  Papua New Guinea is Australia’s largest aid recipient.  We “get” over 300 million Australian dollars  a year.  But much of that money does not actually help improve the lives of ordinary Papua New Guineans.

An  AidWatch document [2] published in 2005 reports that    AusAid staff stated,  off record,  that up to 90 percent of  Australian aid money boomerangs back to  Australia.   In  other words, the Australian government   creates the illusion that it is giving money to support its former colony when in fact,  much of the aid dollars are channeled to  consultants  in companies like ACIL, Coffey, JTA and individual consultants.

In July, media reports in Australia and Papua New Guinea revealed  how AusAid consultants  like Geofry Elvy   and others were being paid  between AUD350, 000 and   AUD900 thousand dollars  for advising the Papua New Guinea Government.

While AusAid  puts on a  public relations spin    that it is helping to “build capacity” of poorly skilled Papua New Guineans,  many of those   who have to  work with  Australian advisors  find  very little need for them.

One senior provincial health official expressed that  funding supposedly given to  support health  goes to   pay  for a  consultant  as well as   a parallel system of medicine delivery  separate from the government’s area medical stores.  So  how does that translate into functional strengthening   and capacity building?

In rural health centers,   community health workers have come to depend on AusAid medicine kits  supplied by a contractor. It makes you wonder   what Australia’s real intentions are?  It is to create a dependence on aid so that Australian consultants continue to have a job?  Or is it something greater?

Senior PNG health officials have also pointed out that  health professionals like  specialist doctors are  being poached by  Australian consulting firms  who have  established  donor funded programs  that  provide advice to   the very health system  they  are starving of medical experts.

The education sector,  is another example of  the Australian government’s     interference in the affairs of Papua New Guinea.    Papua New Guineans who  attended primary school prior to the education reforms in 1993 will testify that  the quality of education was arguably better   in the preceding years.  Following  the AusAid supported curriculum reforms,    the PNG   government introduced  the outcome based education (OBE)  system upon   advice from Australian consultants  working for the AusAid’s Curriculum Reform Implementation Program (CRIP).      Aaron Hayes,  an experienced high school science teacher and a qualified school psychologist who  served in the Standards wing of the Department of Education, says [2]  “To my knowledge none of these consultants had ever taught in a PNG school before. Most of them had never even been to PNG before. Many of them were from Queensland where OBE was introduced in the 1990s and they brought this curriculum model with them.”

So what is OBE? It is a  system  that requires teachers to  prepare self learning  activities  for different students  with different ability levels  in each class.    Teachers in urban schools   have long expressed that OBE is an   added burden  to an already stretched education system.    It is suited to a country like Australia  where class sizes are smaller and  where there are adequate resources and teacher aides.   So why did we agree to have it implemented?

Aaron Hayes goes on to say:  “Most of our PNG curriculum officers had not even heard of OBE before, so they did not feel confident to question it or challenge it at the planning meetings in the late 1990s.

“They just nodded their heads and went along with it because they did not want to look stupid by opening their mouths, as we say here in PNG, and they assumed that the CRIP consultants were experts who knew what they were doing.”

Teacher training   is another example of  a dual system  pushed by AusAid consultants. The reforms  brought about an elementary school system that spurred an  increase of  pupils.  While I agree with  universal education, I do not agree with the manner in which its implementation was dictated to us first by the World Bank  and then by AusAid.

Although development partners do not engage in direct policy formulation in Papua New Guinea, the policies and forms of assistance  they provide have the potential to drive policy formulation. The World Bank…in the mid 1990s, was prepared to support only development projects that targeted universal basic education and would not entertain forms of assistance at the tertiary level of education. [3]

The current  teacher  training colleges and the University of Goroka (UOG)   takes  in students from secondary schools.     UOG  offers a four year bachelors degree  in teaching while  teacher’s colleges  offer a two year diploma in teaching.   Elementary school teachers  however,  are   drawn from the vast pool of grade 6, 8 and 10 leavers.  They were put  through  six weeks of  intensive “teacher”  training  and then sent out to teach six and seven year olds.   It  makes a lot of thinking parents wonder if  their children are getting sound education from  former school leavers  – many of whom have   poor reading, writing and numeracy skills.   Was Australian Aid money intended  to create this parallel  teacher training system that ultimately destroys the capacity  future university graduates?

Lecturers in Papua New Guinea’s universities  are now  reaping the seeds of a donor driven education reform  that began more than 10 years ago.   Johnson Kalu, [4] who presented a research discussion paper earlier this year at the University of PNG, highlighted that  students enter   university from secondary schools with a problem of applying the correct English skills.  And they often fail their courses because of poor reading and comprehension skills.

Several education experts and teachers,   point out that the problem stems from the reform dictated,  language bridging process  that happens in  second grade. This is when students who were taught in vernacular or Tok Pisin (by poorly trained elementary teachers) start learning the English language.

Personally, I think  we have  done our children a great disservice  by heeding to a donor driven model of development.    We have allowed our systems  to be weakened  by foreign aid donors like the World Bank and AusAid who apply a textbook template  to a very complex country with its own special needs.

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