Hearts and minds in PNG

Reflections on serendipity in Papua New Guinea July 2019

The opportunities for growth in Papua New Guinea are enormous. Education is doing its very best to maintain a pace and enable change in a country that is dominated by headlines of poverty, crime, poor infrastructure and tribal infighting. The headlines are often true but underneath this lies the belief that the people of Papua New Guinea can bring about change themselves. They are beautifully diverse in their language, their appearance and their habits. They are warm and generous with time, humour and welcome. They are embracing their history and traditions, acknowledging their failings and looking to combine culture with commerce, people with prosperity and openness with opportunity.

I have been fortunate to work in some incredible places with some inspirational people. Papua New Guinea felt different. It was the serendipity of new connections, of random associations with previous travels, of conversations once had in dreams and laughter shared as if lifelong friends. So, the opportunity to work with fellow educators, to share ideas and challenge their thinking never felt like ‘work’. It was intensely professionally rewarding. Sharing ideas to ‘raise the bar’, to stretch and challenge learners, to promote positive learning experiences and develop a more resilient and independent learner was met with enthusiasm, commitment and professionalism. Teachers with vastly different experiences worked alongside each other in teams to develop their thinking.

Tony needs a special mention. Every school needs a ‘Tony’. Tony has been teaching in elementary and secondary schools for over 35 years. With a typical Melbourne-born approach to life (they get all four seasons in a day down there you know – makes you or breaks you) he never once offered the ‘seen it – done it’ line. He took every idea and moulded into something for the team. But above all this, after a quick trip home, he presented me with a PNG shoulder bag. Inside it was a pair of trainers, socks, shorts and a ‘Kokoda Track’ shirt. We were off trekking the next day into Varirata National Park, several hundred metres up and the start of something amazing. Tony does this trek as a practice run with pupils from the school, before they get ready to do part of the Kokoda Track further in to the Highlands region of PNG. But they also do residential camps on the more remote parts of the main island and even on some of the smaller islands. Skills and experiences that just don’t happen in so many other parts of the world. Tony provides this above and beyond his daily duties. The commitment is significant but he loves his job. One day he will get around to doing some serious retiring. every school needs a ‘Tony’.

So with Tuesday’s trekking, mud sliding, bird watching and burger eating all done, the focus shifted to middle leaders: the driving force of the school and so often the determinant of success. They are the actions in the ‘ethos’. We communicated on so many different levels, considering the vision required to make a difference and the ‘why’ we do what we do. Again, the two days never once felt like ‘work’. The outcomes were significant. A real shift in focus and a realignment of values. We all left feeling very positive about the future of education.

The final day was working with classroom (or learning) assistants. With no previous professional development for many years, these ‘significant other adults’ in the classroom were keen for new knowledge. There was a tangible feeling of progress, great humour and passion for learning. It was an incredible day. I would happily hang up my training hat right there and then, knowing I had done my bit.

The incredible context that those in education in Papua New Guinea find themselves, whether ex-pat or native islanders, creates a unique camaraderie, a philosophy of endeavour and triumph over adversity, a resilience to tough times and unpredictability, and a warmth of character that is quite unique.

The week finished with an opportunity to hike up to a ridge about 400m above the town of Port Moresby with Lauren and her fiancé, Demetrius. Breakfast to follow and a trip to the market before a flight to Hong Kong and beyond. Quite a fantastic way to end my short stay in paradise.

For those of you who are educators, looking for adventure and challenge, beyond the pale then try this experience. The Ela Murray International School, part of the IEA group, like many other schools in remote places, struggles on many occasions to recruit. It puts pressure on existing staff and leadership. Get in touch if this has sparked some curiosity.

For those of us privileged to travel the world, meeting educators in unique places, I believe we have a responsibility to share what we see and to tell others the good news. Our world is an incredible place. It’s up to us to hand it over in a better state than we found it.

If you would like to find out more about professional development around the world from Dragonfly Training, then get in touch with mary@dragonfly-training.co.uk.

How does your garden grow?

Careers related learning in primary schools – some thoughts and ideas.

Any good gardener would tell you that if you don’t look after the soil, not much is going to grow and the quality of your crop will be limited. There is growing evidence that providing the right kinds of interactions with employers and the world of work at an early age can make a real difference to the future decisions of young children.

Careers related learning is not limited to talks from parents about their unusual career paths or a trip to a local museum, it is the language that we use, the curriculum that we provide in primary schools and the attitudes and aspirations that we try to foster in early education. Children are exposed to many influences as they develop, most significantly by their parents, other family members and their school friends. Between the ages of 6 and 8, they will have already assigned many jobs to a particular gender, through behaviours and attitudes, therefore limiting much of their early thoughts on a job because of their own gender. Furthermore, between the ages of 9 and 13, they will have placed a social value based on perceptions of social class or intelligence and therefore abandoned ‘fantasy careers’ and placed significant further constraints on career choices. It is therefore incumbent on teachers and school leaders to provide very early intervention to promote better language in Early Years education, to broaden horizons and create opportunities to raise aspirations for young children and their families. This is even more important with families where no one has attended university or has significant qualifications or training. It is also short-sighted to think that any careers related learning in primary school education will wash over children’s heads or be too early for them. It is not about gearing them up for college, interview practice or choosing exam subjects, it’s all about opportunity and enrichment.

Primary schools in the UK currently provide an exceptionally rich diet of a curriculum with hundreds of opportunities for children. What might need to happen more often is a strategic approach to considering the impact on children and their families in terms of exposure to employability skills, the workplace, types of work and pathways. This can be done with a simple data collection tool such as a Google Form, designed for schools to complete a quick subjective assessment of the impact of each of the activities or events each week. Simple. Here’s an example form. This is designed to reduce workload, improve productivity and collect essential information to support and measure impact. We can also use this idea to share good practice amongst schools.

There is a great deal of work out there to demonstrate good practice. Most notably through the research activities of the Careers and Enterprise Company and Education and Employers. What Works? Careers Related Learning in Primary is excellent in creating a clear landscape of advice and ideas with impact.

So what works for you? Are you an employer, looking to find ways to ensure a good record on corporate social responsibility or looking to create a seedbed for your future workforce? How could you help? Primary Futures is a network of thousands of employers offering their time to ensure relevant and timely connections with schools, for children as young as five to meet employers, hear their stories and see what they do. Why not have a look. Drawing The Future is also a fascinating research and review article looking at stereotypes and aspirations of young children. If you are a school leader, consider how to embed careers related learning in every aspect of your curriculum. Bring parents in to support and talk about their unusual career paths, but do it with a purpose and a plan. Group your parents together, get them to share ideas. Most importantly, find out what your children think. Work to broaden their horizons and remove limitations of gender, race, disability or social position. Let’s open a few more doors.

Four key themes run through all of the research:

  • High-quality interactions with employers and local businesses
  • Sustained involvement and engagement of parents and developing a shared role
  • Exposing children to careers related learning and employability skills in the curriculum
  • Inspiration STEM events both in and out of school

Keeping these themes in mind when developing a curriculum that offers more than literacy and numeracy will be essential in broadening horizons for the next generation.

Why not share your thoughts and ideas below in the comments section. It would be good to hear what else works or what the barriers are to this approach being successful.