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Community Teacher Education in Papua New Guinea

Chapter 9 - Improving Teacher Education:  .i. Teacher Educators

Chapter 9 - is from the complete text of Dennis McLaughlin and Tom O’Donoghue, Book:  Community Teacher Education in Papua New Guinea; August 1996. 133p. A4. ISBN 9980-84-066-8. K20. (overseasUS$20) * as approved for use by authors *


Chapter 9 - Improving Teacher Education:  .i. Teacher Educators

The aim of this chapter is to report research which sought to provide some understanding of aspects of the PNG cultural context focusing on the question: What factors influence learning of PNG teacher educators and inservice teachers at university? The research explored the experiences of learning of teacher educators and inservice teachers (N=103) at the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG). They were all enrolled in the Education Foundations unit, which is the compulsory first unit in the two year inservice Bachelor of Education (BEd) course.

The research question invited an ethnographic approach (Marton, Hounsell, & Entwistle, 1984), since the research is about understanding PNG students, about the "whys" of the generated data (Stenhouse, 1975). One of the purposes of the ethnographic approach is to articulate theory which is embedded in practice, "how people make sense of their everyday world" (Cohen & Manion 1981, p.33) and thus contribute to emerging theory. The ethnographic approach adopted in this study aims to bridge the theory-practice gap (Furlong & Edwards, 1977), in the PNG context. Avalos (1985) has lamented that the majority of research on teaching carried out in developing countries has not helped in the generation of better education practice, where such is needed. She observes that only recently have studies within the phenomenological and ethnographic perspectives provided insight to stimulate more effective teaching and better promote student learning.

In the beginning stages of this study, while the general investigative question concerned the experiences of inservice teachers while at University, issues such as language difficulties, financial support, survival strategies, manipulation of courses and lecturers dictated that sources of data develop from individual interviews to small group forums back to further individual interviews with some students maintaining a journal. Such a research process evolved as a result of the researcher interacting with students and data. A detailed research blueprint could not have been planned before initial fieldwork was undertaken:

The design of qualitative studies is frequently ambiguous as often little is known about the nature of the phenomenon before the study. Design modifications are common throughout in response to the needs of the participants in the study or because of the nature of the preliminary findings (McLean, 1987, p.133).

Since the issues this research focused upon are concerned about understanding "from within" (Burrell & Morgan, 1979), multiple data collection strategies were employed as these provide the flexibility for the varied contexts from which data were obtained. Denzin (1978) argues that research designs based on a combination of data collection strategies provide a substantially more complete and complex data on phenomena, than do unimodel research. Such strategies are more likely to expand understanding than generate facile data on supposedly effective teaching strategies (Parlett & Hamilton, 1976). Moreover, they possess more credibility because they increase the reliability and validity of results (Reason, 1981, p.239). Ethnographic studies often employ:

...interviews and observing in the field, along with analyses of documents collected, and short questionnaires often open ended in structure. In addition, the study of stored records (e.g. admissions data, test scores, costs, number of students pursuing different options) often form an integral part of an in depth programmatic investigation (Parlett, 1981, p.222).

Consequently, Table 1 was more a record of the conduct of the research rather than a blueprint that was followed.

The samples in the research are relatively small, through they are sufficiently large to generate useful data. Researchers in PNG often experience a pervading prejudice that does not encourage participation in a project that appears to assist another. The reasoning goes something like this: "Why should I help here, since I myself will not benefit and my own efforts will be used in the promotion of someone else's career"? Consequently, different groups participated in the data collecting strategies, so as to minimise the manifestation of this attitude.

Table 1: Summary of Research Design


What factors influence the learning of PNG teachers undertaking higher education






Teaching strategies that promote student learning

Characteristics of best and worst courses.

Characteristics of good and poor teachers.

Student problems.

Academic problems.

Problems of studying in English.

Participant observer


Questionnaire (N=30)


Student Journals (N=15)


Informal Interviews and Student Forums (N=12)

February - November




February - June


July - October



A questionnaire was designed in consultation with five long-serving UPNG academics. Some questions were suggested by previous research (Lewis, 1974; Shea & Still, 1976; Dutton, 1977) and from data generated from the initial fieldwork. The draft was then distributed to ten education students for their comments. The final draft was then distributed to students enrolled in the Education Foundations unit (N=103). 30 students returned their questionnaire. Few of these students were approached again to respond to any other research instrument.

Student Journals

For another unit, students (N=15) were requested to maintain a `learner's journal'. Students were asked to write one entry each week of about one page in length. The theme of the entry was the students' own choice. However over the period of a semester, they were asked to include the following prompts when they believed it appropriate.


How do I go about reading for assignments? How do I go about collecting information?

How do I go about writing an assignment? My experiences of reading in English

How can lecturers help students learn? What are your problems at UPNG?

Relationship with academic staff? Group work versus individual work;

Teaching at UPNG.

Forums and informal interviews

Three (3) "forums" were held over the year with interested, volunteering students. The themes of the forums focussed on learning difficulties. Participants numbered approximately twenty (20). From these forums, a number of students were identified as helpful and articulate informants (Pelto, 1970). They were approached and asked if they would be willing to participate in a fortnightly interview with the researcher for approximately fifteen minutes' duration. It was stressed that students should maintain a commitment for the fortnightly interview, otherwise it would be better not to volunteer. Twelve (12) students finally accepted the invitation to be interviewees. Below is an informal interview schedule that formed the basis of much discussion. Quite often a single question/theme was pursued over a number of interview sessions.


Reasons For Task

What have you been studying lately?

What have you found out? (choice in its selection)?

How did you feel about assignment before start?

How did you attempt to answer the question?


Did you get help from lecturers? Did you ask for help?

Obtaining information from books difficult? How did you go about it?

How do you go about note-taking? How difficult is reading for you? (explain).


While you were doing your assignment, how did you feel towards your task?

What problems did you experience? What did you feel you learnt?

Do you ever rush assignments?


Do you usually get good marks?

How do you go about getting good marks?

(a) Is there any subject that you are doing in which you particularly like the assessment?

(b) You don't like the assessment?


For you, what are good lecturers?

Tell me about good lecturers and the way they run

- their course;

- relationship with students.

Bad lecturers?


The presentation of data from the questionnaire, students' journals and interviews are integrated but presented under thematic issues which were generated from a cumulative analysis of data derived from the different instruments.

Preferred teaching strategies

From the results tabulated below (Tables 2 and 3) students believed that tutorials were the best learning experience provide at the university (96%), probably because it permitted them to exchange ideas from among fellow students and teachers (92%) and discuss difficulties (88%). One student noted in his journal: "I really enjoy these sessions, where the groups discuss openly on the floor, the event" (topic).

Table 2: Preferred Teaching Procedures


Like Very Much







Large tutorials

Small tutorials

guided by tutor

Small tutorials

run by students

Teaching Activities

Research Project

Practical Activities










































PNG students indicated strong preferences for discussion and group work. Possibly, this was because students may not have developed sufficiently listening skills that permit comprehension of a quickly spoken lecture in English. One student identified this as a problem:

The lectures have been delivered as if the listening audience were ... people who speak and understand English as their first language. For instance, the use of technical terms is not easily understood. If they (lecturers) took some minutes to explain the meaning of those words then I could understand what was being transmitted.

The tutorial can provide the time and information for students to discuss the difficulties they had experienced through the lecture mode. The lecture may be problematic and not be the best means of promoting learning:

For the last two weeks I have sat through some education lectures and although some students may have gained new knowledge, I feel that a good number of other students have gained very little out of the lectures. From my observation, I have seen students leaving lecture rooms with expressions of dissatisfaction and confusion .... I have come home often from those lectures and tried to reflect on some of the major issues ... but I found it quite difficult to logically recall the main points from my notes.

Table 3: The Purpose of Tutorials


Like Very Much


Un- certain

Strongly Dislike


Discuss difficulties

Gain confidence &

skill in speaking

Exchange of ideas among

students & teachers

Learn new


For assessment


























Good and poor lecturers

Good lecturers appeared to exhibit some of the following characteristics.

* they knew their subject content

* they prepared for lectures. One student commented insightfully upon this:

He knows the content but never comes prepared. He takes a long time to cover the work. He spends all of the time writing on overheads (projectors). Other lecturers prepare them before. He talks down to us. But who cares? We know he doesn't fail anyone. He really isn't interested in making us work and think; just keeping us happy.

* they explained meaningfully:

I learn from given examples a lot. I understand when a text is explained with examples. That's how I learn best. Sometimes I learn a lot when a lecturer is diverted into a real situation based on my background knowledge. I don't learn when lecturers talk about things I don't have background knowledge about.

* they stimulated thought and promoted discussion:

With your experience in PNG, you seem to understand our way of learning. You develop our learning by providing materials that suit us. What you give is not easy. But you want us to be critical.

* they challenged students, their values and beliefs in a personal context:

I find the lecturer in this course to be very much interested in the students as persons. He is very critical about his students and their performance and we see this as a genuine sign of interest in wanting us to do better. He is warm and friendly with students without focussing on any particular student.

Students valued lecturers who have "an open approachable personality who understands students' problems". One lecturer who seemed to have a positive rapport with students had this said of him:

He is interested in what we do. If we have problems he is very approachable. I am happy with what he does. He criticises us but gives advices (sic) on how to improve on those failures.

In addition, an appreciation of the PNG cultural context created a special rapport. One student in a journal entry noted:

Expatriates working in PNG have their own way of analysing the Papua New Guinean way of life... . Some of the expatriates who can't cope with the PNG way say that Nationals are of low standard in the way they behave and do things. But there are a few expatriates who like PNG way of living. Those are the ones who can fit well in PNG society and promote PNG culture. One of the expatriate who is really interested in PNG ways is (named). I am impressed with the way he creates deep thoughts in the UPNG students' minds.

Another student in a letter to a lecturer emphasised the need for sensitivity and respect for a student's culture:

You are one of the few expatriates, I have come across who is genuinely interested in our culture and in us as people. I, for one, have been very disappointed and frustrated with the attitudes of some so called missionaries who do not seem to see anything good in our culture. I recall telling a nun at High School: "If you can not see anything good in our culture and our people, please don't talk or say anything about them".

Cultural sensitivity towards Melanesians and the inclination and gradual ability by expatriate lecturers to attempt to see through Melanesian eyes (Jordan, 1987) may be necessary for successful and genuine dialogue in the education process at UPNG.

Students did not like lecturers who failed to motivate students. Some criticisms of such lecturers were. They:

* cover too much content;

* talk too much and do not allow discussion;

* can't explain things;

* read from notes or text books;

* "preach" rather than teach.

The journal entry below is an insightful perspective on poor lecturing:

I've observed from lecturers and tutors the way they present whatever they want to get across to the students. I often wonder if students grasp what they are getting at. The first thing I notice is lecturers reading their notes. Not enough examples or good explanation is given to students to make things clear. For two to three weeks we had a lecturer ... who came along and gave lectures by reading his notes. It seems that he didn't know his stuff. Students fall asleep, some make unnecessary noises and some did other things. Most of the time this particular lecturer had his eyes on his notes and being a wooden man on one spot. Students found his lectures very boring because they weren't supplied with any notes related to what was being lectured on. I told myself that the lecturer was not making me learn but helping himself. If the lecturer focussed his eyes on the students he could have worked out that the students weren't attentive. But I watched him raise his head a few times and I expected him to notice something. But that didn't happen. Was that lecturer ignorant of the fact that his lecture was boring? Or was he there to pass the time and get his pay whether the students did learn something or not? That brings me to the question: Do these lecturers know something about effective teaching? If no, why tell community school and secondary teachers to be effective in their teaching when some of the university lecturers can't even do that? Do adults from university learn differently from students in primary and secondary schools? I think some of those lecturers need inservice on effective teaching. Otherwise they are only here to fill their pockets.

Assessment of students

Table 4 indicates that students have a strong preference for assignments (100%) or practical work (92%) as assessment instruments. Students also preferred short tests (92%) in contrast to examinations (64%). Feedback from assignments and short tests permitted students to gauge their progress as well as to compensate for previous disappointing results.

The assessment program of different subjects was a leading factor in their choice of subjects in any particular semester. This was particularly so with regard to students sponsored by the National Department of Education. Sponsored education students have their university fees paid and are on salary while studying, though they are required to pay for university accommodation which is approximately one fifth (1/5) of their salary. Sponsored students are required to achieve a grade point average of "C". Those who scored below this "C" average, have their scholarships terminated. In order to maintain their scholarships, some students initiated a variety of covert procedures. They switched to units that they thought would more likely maintain their average, rather than the units that would enhance content or professional knowledge.

Moreover, some students surveyed the assessment programs of lecturers and their choice of units was influenced by which unit had a final semester examination or not. One student from a group interview, articulated the rationale for his actions:

I take my course adviser's opinions on what subjects to take. In the first week I find out which lecturers have an exam. I only want to have to do two exams in the exam week. Any more is too much pressure for me. I listen to what the others (students) say about their courses and lecturers and then change into these ones. I don't tell my adviser. I have even put the lecturer's initials on the transfer course sheet. No one seems to notice. This way I can keep my scholarship.

This pressure to maintain a grade point average of "C" was not only on the students. Lecturers in the Faculty of Education felt pressure to sparingly allocate a "D" grading. Lecturers were aware that even if students had passed their subject with a "D", this may not ensure their continued sponsorship.

Table 4: Student Preference for Assessment Instruments


Like Very Much


Un- certain


Strongly Dislike



Short tests



Practical work

Assignments in drafts




































There was another pressure on lecturers. This was more subtle in the Faculty of Education when compared to other faculties but it existed and lecturers' actions were judiciously planned in order to minimise it. One economics lecturer wrote to a national newspaper describing it:

Here I extrapolate only from my own experience of the Department of Economics and Commerce that many academics are simply in no position to fail students who do not work. The reason is that all academics who have failed large numbers of students have petitions written against them complaining against their quality as a teacher. This has happened in my department in virtually every semester....The claims are investigated, no matter how outrageous and how patently false they are. Administrators, being creatures that exist for the sole purpose of surviving, will never punish those who lie in order to bully their lecturers into passing them....In fact this year, one of the most senior administrators actually went into an advanced economics class and took a vote of students as to whether they were happy with the performance of a lecturer and was willing to bring the matter of his dismissal from the course to the university's academic board if the majority of students were unhappy. In such an environment, it is simply impossible to fail students so I do not. I have learnt my lesson clearly. The students will leave you alone and so will the administration. If you try to force the students to work you will just end up in trouble. So why bother? The answer is you don't. (Grynberg, 1987, p.8).

Problems of students

It was reported in Table 5 that the most serious problem which affected studies was too much noise (92%), which according to qualitative data was related to male student drinking. This was the main reason for vandalism of the halls of residence. One female student documented her experience:

In private homes, weekend is usually the best time for working people to be with their families, sometimes inviting friends for dinner or just relaxing and watching television... At the University of Papua New Guinea that does not apply. Students tend to refresh their minds from a week's study and lectures with alcohol. Only a few students do that, but most of us students want to have weekends relaxing peacefully studying or catching up with assignments. But our interests are often taken away by a few selfish guys who go over to the girls' area screaming at the girls and throwing bottles on the back walls. This is the time we have to lock ourselves in and force ourselves to go to sleep even if we want to study. I have witnessed this on so many occasions. I had planned to have my dinner quickly that day so I could get my assignments attended to. I got to my room and began doing my assignments. No sooner had I started then there was a rattling noise of bottles being thrown on the back walls. I stopped completely from doing my assignment and waited to hear what was going to happen next. While picking up my pen ready to write, I heard a cassette player being played to its full volume. I just had to cancel, because I could not concentrate with so much noise going on.

Student drinking had contributed to much violence on the campus, which was so serious that the University constitution was temporarily suspended and the then Vice Chancellor ruled temporarily by decree. One student documented the actual and the anticipated violence:

On fortnight Fridays, students who are under national scholarships get this allowance of K13.00. Some students are sensible enough to spend their money on useful things which are needed in their studies, while others spend it on beer. Some drink beer to refresh their minds from studies, they say. Others drink because they have problems with some of the students back at the campus. This results in students having fights on campus. These students don't appreciate this free money. Instead they get drunk and destroy buildings and other properties of this University.

Though females and males living in close proximity was not considered a problem (28% agreed is was), it was considered a major problem for woman living in the female residence "Luavi". This was verified through subsequent interviews with female educators. One recorded the problem in her journal as this:

This is a rule for females living on campus that from 8 am to 9 pm, ladies who have boyfriends can take them to their rooms. To those concerned they are happy about that. But what about the rest of the ladies? To me personally, I do not agree with this rule. Some of us want privacy (student emphasis). It seems as if our dormitories are public places for men. When men come into out house especially some of us ladies have to hide away in our little rooms because some of them get really drunk, when coming to their girls. When this happens, we just don't have the freedom to move around the dormitories.

Threatening behaviour to women culminated with a rape of a student by another student. This precipitated widespread protest from the female students, resulting in increased security for women, and a vigorous campaign to apprehend and exclude violent students. This has been largely successful, with male drunkenness and its exhibition having been contained. The diligent application of already existing laws and a new dynamism from the wardens of students have assisted in the establishment of a better discipline and personal accountability in male students.

Student problems of studying

The most common initial problem which teachers faced was their own misconceived expectation of what constituted learning at UPNG:

Until I came to university I always taught (sic) that the lecturers will give us notes and write down on boards, then we copy them. At the end of the week, we have a test on them, then we continue like that until the end of the year. However my assumptions have changed after starting courses here. Each student is guided with course outlines, co-ordinators, lecturers and tutors and students have to do a lot of independent work like reading and writing assignments.

These expectations possibly came from the very structured learning and teaching modes that teachers had experienced and presently promoted in community schools, secondary schools, teachers' colleges (McLaughlin, 1995). Independent assignment work caused many frustrations. One student noted that this type of writing was a novel experience for her:

Writing essays is what I hate to do. Not because I am not interested in doing it or finding out about more. It's because I've never written essays in my life time. In my teacher training period, essays were never part of our assessments. When I was on the field (teaching) I never wrote one. It was only when I had to do one which was part of the university entrance examination. When I sat to do that essay, I was completely blank because I didn't have any background on essay writing.

A recurring theme was not that teachers lacked motivation to study, but that they were relatively unprepared for the type of work required, and initially lacked the skills and organisation to undertake university work with competency:

A lot of independent work and study is conducted here at the University. A total of 14 hours is spend on lectures and tutorials and the rest of the time is on private study. One of my main problem (sic) is just how I will quickly get on with my study or assignments. Many times I sit at my desk and I am undecisive (sic) on what to do. Once I've got my priorities right then it is the problem of actually starting to work, example: The major essay on Education Foundation. Since the essay was given I have skim (sic) and skanned (sic) through the ten (10) books from the lecturer handouts reference sheet. How I go about interpreting the text and putting them on paper is another problem to me. One solution to my problems is that I must refer my work to the lecturers for clarification. Then from the lecturer's advice I'd get started and continue on from there.

Table 5: Problems of Students



Un- certain

Not Serious

Dormitory rooms too hot

Students drinking

Disagreement between regional groups

Breakages in Halls of residence

Too much noise for study

Text books unavailable

Not enough sleep

Not enough recreation facilities

Not enough places to study

Not enough text-book money

Males & Females living close together

Too many recreational distractions





































One explanation of such behaviour is offered by Lindstrom (1990). He suggests that traditional PNG was an inspirational society where the important thing was not individual intellectual endeavour but where to find the right sources. In inspirational systems, successful learning is explained in terms of hard work and struggle not in terms of individual intelligence (McLaughlin, 1994):

The way in which educated Papua New Guineans talk about the process of getting an education is revealing. Images of struggle, climbing up, and escape are dominant... almost all references to the process of acquiring knowledge stressed `hard work' or ’struggle’ of some kind (Young, 1977, p.32).

Lecturers need to provide students with direct guidance in the clarification of their learning problems. This may be a necessary interim step and structure towards personal independence. It seems erroneous to assert that this is not treating students as adults. For the beginning student, much of what is required at university is confusing. In terms of the Perry (1981) Scheme, students are at the stage of dualism and need structure as well as challenge to gain increased independence. This issue is concretely explained by one frustrated student:

This is my first year of study at UPNG. I didn't have any background about where to get more information from and how to get it. Sometimes I want the lecturer to tell me more about a topic. But he tells me to look it up in books that are found in the library. When I go to the library, it takes me a hell of a time (student emphasis) to find the right books. In classes, a student who has no more background than me asks a question about something he doesn't know but what he gets is, I am not going to spoon feed you. Now where does that student stand? He doesn't know where to look. He wasn't trained to find information himself. Whose fault is it? Most of us teachers who have taught in the community schools face the same problem. We need guidance from lecturers.

In addition to the provision of guidance and feedback, academics may need to have some insight into how Papua New Guineans react to confusion and criticism (Epstein, 1984). Among Papua New Guineans, the distinction between truth/falseness is very different from the Western perspective. For PNG students falseness is closer to falsehood. Traditionally, the veracity of knowledge gained its legitimacy from its sources rather than its knowledge context. Consequently, if error is detected in a student's work than such acknowledgment may be interpreted as a personal denigration: "As such, criticism and commentary (say in university seminars), no matter if this attempts only to evaluate the content of a knowledge statement, unavoidably also accuses the person making the statement" (Lindstrom, 1990). Recognising this cultural perspective, the expatriate lecturer is wise to deliberately provide a continuous balance of challenge and support (Meyers, 1986), while simultaneously maintaining a personal rapport with students. Moreover, students need to believe that the academic, who might be providing the challenge really has their ultimate interest at heart. This was illustrated in the following journal entry:

I like (academic named). He is helpful, easy going caring and sometimes tough. I say this because I admire the way he advises me on personal and academic problems I have. He is quick with encouragements (sic), whenever I was lazy to do given tasks. Laziness in me has greatly affected my studies. His toughness and the being hard on me had the feelings inside me say that anything can be possibly done, if I work hard towards that. He has made me see myself as a person with the potentials and capabilities to do just anything but my laziness pulls me back. Should I put everything into what I have to do, I could become a very good student. I also see in me that I have too many interests and they are contributing towards my poor academic outcomes. I can improve drastically if I work harder and take his advices (sic) much more seriously.


These data (Table 6) supported previous research (Lewis, 1974; Johnson, 1972; Wuillemin, 1984) indicating that the English as the medium of instruction was a major problem influencing learning among UPNG students .

Table 6: Languages usually spoken by students on campus


Tok Pisin*





* Tok Pisin is PNG's lingua franca. For most students it is their second or third language, the first being the local vernacular. PNG is a nation of at least 869 vernacular languages not dialects (Grimes, 1989)

A contributing factor was that much of what was learnt at school was unable to be reinforced at home (Tables 7 and 8).

Table 7: Frequency of English spoken in the homes of students



Regularly not main language

Main language





The following journal entry exemplifies student difficulties with English:

As English is not my first language, the assignment was like cracking a hard nut. Some of the sentences written by other students was (sic) correct to my judgement. The English speakers would say that there were a lot of errors. Anyway to me it was like unjumbling a puzzle. I had to write and rewrite again until the sentence sounds sensible to me. The Practical English Writing Course is very helpful.

Table 8: Parents' level of education

No School

Community School (7-13 years)

Provincial High (13-16 years)

National High (17-18 years)

College or University (post grade 12)

Others e.g. bible school







Consequently, English has been perceived and used as an institutional language rather than a preferred medium of transaction and thought. Most teachers indicated they spoke English most of the times on campus. This is not the norm for serving teachers, as this journal entry illustrates:

Another problem that I have been trying to overcome is language. That is, that I am still trying my best to really master the English language. However, I find this problem, only during formal conversation and when I am talking with someone, who is a better English speaker than me. For example when I am explaining something to someone, and then suddenly, my mind goes blank if I can not immediately think of the next word that I should say. At the same time, my mouth is heavy, and sometimes I began to repeat myself or else the conversation goes out of context. One contribution (sic) factor to this non fluency in language, is the fact that back in the community school, we speak English in the classroom. Outside of the classroom we either speak pidgin or vernacular. Besides that, English at the community school level is very low. Partly because we have to use English in the children's level of understanding.

Table 9 records the reading interests of teachers. Few teachers read novels regularly (12%). The daily newspaper, school text books and the bible were the next most preferred sources of reading among teachers. The majority of text and library books that students are required to read are written by first speakers of English for native English readers. The following quotation from a journal illustrates the complexities of a student attempting to make meaning from text:

Collecting information from reference books is difficult for me. There are three main difficulties that I have been facing. The first problem is the interpreting of English languages into own words. Vocabulary can also be a part of this problem. For example, when I am reading, and then come across an unfamiliar word, then I have to stop reading and consult the dictionary for the meaning of that particular word. This slows down the pace in which I should be reading. When I look at the dictionary I find that there are more than one meaning for a particular word. I get confused in putting the meaning of that word and it takes me a lot of time to decide. This can take me more than one hour to do and if I have to do other assignments, I start to guess and half the time my guesses are wrong.

Table 9:  Types of reading material read by teachers


Never Read

Not Often Read

Some-times Read

Often Read

Very Often Read



Religious Books



School Books

Study Books





































Although the respondent suggested that the basis of his reading problem was a vocabulary one, this may be a simplistic hypothesis. Possibly the difficulty in choosing appropriate meaning is more a conceptual problem than a language one. In general, the method of teaching English to children in PNG is to use English only without using vernacular as a medium. Research (Elkin, 1964) into this strategy of teaching English to Australian aboriginal children has shown it has had limited success, and this success was in the first two years and this with reference to concrete situations and objects. As schooling became more complex, there appeared to be a gap between the ideas the teacher wished to introduce and indigenous concepts..."unless the local language is used as the main structure of that bridge, the child is apt to flounder and seems unable to go beyond rote achievement" (Elkin, 1964, p.150). This has been observed in PNG (Johnson, 1972) and constitutes an important insight to be realised by PNG educators. For other second language learners, (e.g. Europeans and Asians) whose own education has progressed against a highly developed technological society, English language difficulties are likely to be mostly those of translation, since these learners have similar conceptual background as Americans, Australians or Britons. For Papua New Guineans, it is not a matter of translation but concept acquisition. They have to understand the reality that the symbols represent, before they can use the symbols intelligently. For those attempting to negotiate higher education, reading text books can be an incomprehensible and tedious experience. For no matter how many time a dictionary is used, the meaning of individual words do not assist in cracking the language code, that has its meaning embedded in alien concepts. Educated Papua New Guineans often exemplify this phenomenon in their own use of a variety of languages when explaining a topic. Some concepts cannot be adequately explained through vernaculars. One student reflected on this experience in his journal:

I don't feel confident enough to speak English much because I might say something incorrect. But there is something contradicting (sic) to this that I have experienced for some time. When I am telling a story or discussing something with others in either Pidgin or Kuanua (vernacular) I would switch to English to express myself more clearly. When I realised this I thought it was funny to switch from my own mother tongue and express myself more clearly in English. I even remember last Christmas when I use to talk in language (vernacular) to my family members I would do the same but from mother tongue to Pidgin.

For the majority of Papua New Guineans undertaking studies at UPNG, additional courses in English language appear to be essential. Lecturers need to be aware of the frustrating experience students must have in attempting to squeeze meaning from text. Especially in first year of university, readings need to be selected that are appropriate to student ability. Tutorials would be an ideal means for the development of more sophisticated conceptual understanding. Unless structures are deliberately provided to foster this conceptual independence, students once again will resort to survival strategies (McLaughlin, 1995). Guidance and structure is particularly necessary in the writing of an academic essay (Hounsell, 1987). It is an alien process and it seems that the type of writing required is culturally at variance with a traditional culture that employed exclusively an oral tradition in its education processes (McLaughlin, 1994). The following journal entry provides some insight into the problem:

I have been facing some difficulties with essay writing. Starting off a piece of writing has been the main difficulty encountered. For example, my mind sometimes just go (sic) blank and refuses to think of the next word to write. This often slows down the pace in which I should be writing and consequently also does affect the pace in which I should be completing my written assignments. Repeating myself (the same ideas) is another problem that I face. The cause of this problem is probably because I try to relate the English language to the way I say things in my language. For example, in my language there is a lot of repetition in words, and also we tend to talk around things rather than being precise. Adding irrelevant ideas is another problem that I face. I often make this mistake when I try to give more examples of an idea that I was discussing.

An attempt was made to explore the validity of this hypothesis and discussion with groups of students verified that this circular and repetitive approach was a common characteristic of PNG languages. Traditionally, Melanesians avoided direct confrontation with one another and preferred lengthy periods of negotiation perhaps covering days, in order to arrive at a compromise (Narakobi, 1980, p.18). Consequently, resolution through processes of compromise must by necessity, be circuitous and repetitious. Markwell in his study of religious conceptual development among Tolai children noted a similar process occurring:

Observation of the village people at their meetings, which in the Tolai area are frequent, prolonged and quite significant in the people's lives, and discussion with members of the Sub-Commission responsible for revising (religion) syllabus and texts, suggest that the people of Papua New Guinea do not proceed in a linear progression when they are trying to communicate a message or instruction to others. Rather they seem to proceed in a circular manner going around the point at issue again and again in ever widening circles. Instead of growing to a point, as Europeans tend to do, they seem to take the point for granted and proceed by growing further and further away from it in a repetitive process of illustration and example (Markwell, 1975, p.85).

The technological processes inherent in Western education, demands a linear logical sequential product, as well as preciseness of expression. Essay writing needs to be taught at University (Hounsell, 1987) and the "Oxbridge" draft/discussion process to essay writing has been a significant structure in the learning of how to write more academically (McLaughlin, 1991c):

This journal focuses mainly on the three drafts written about the assignment we had to do. I will especially comment on the drafts written, time and effort put into the study, and the benefits, gained from the study. The drafts written were done in three different period of time. They had to be written and shown to my co-ordinator who commented upon them. I was very frustrated when my first drafts .mark was very low especially when a lot of time and efforts was (sic) put into doing it. The mark pushed me up in the second draft done, but I thought that was the last of things. After the conference with the lecturer, I still had to do the last draft on which I hope the points are higher. I was impressed with the outcome of the second draft because of what was scored. The drafting of those drafts helped me a lot in many ways. They helped because I know now how to go about doing writing, and organising information and referring to researchers and thinking deep into the issues being investigated. To sum up, even though plenty of time and effort was used, I gained a lot from the issues investigated and the drafts written. The use of the English language was definitely a problem to me.

Causes of poor academic results

Table 10 indicates that worries about the family, often residing in the village was a major source of concern.

Table 10: Problems Contributing to Poor Academic Results



Family problems

Lack of personal study organisation

Problems with opposite sex

Excessive workload

Students overconfident in their ability: "being at university means you're smart enough."

Physical tiredness

Novelty of university life wears off

Assignments left to last minute

Too much social life

"Students don't pay for their studies, if they paid for their own studies they would be motivated to learn" (self sponsored student)











Culturally, Papua New Guineans find support and identity in a community and extended family context (Narakobi, 1980, pp. 17-18). Students, and in particular married students, indicated that this level of support was not provided at UPNG. Most teachers have to provide maintenance for spouse and family in the village, as well as maintain themselves as students. Since communication in PNG is difficult, it is difficult to contact family quickly. Unresolved problems about welfare of family members affected the academic progress of some students.

Other factors that caused academic failure were clustered around a lack personal organisational skills, which was related to leaving things to the last minute and laziness, a phenomenon not unique to PNG students (Marton, Hounsell & Entwistle, 1984). For example:

It took me two days to complete my assignment based on Practical English Writing over the weekend. The assignment was really an essay in which I am to locate the different areas in the essay and rewrite them into paragraphs. I started on Saturday morning. After reading over the instructions and the exercise (of course trying to detect errors) which I would omit when writing my first draft. By the time I completed my first draft it was already lunch time. I left the work on my study table, had lunch and went to town to refresh my mind. I spent about 1/2 hour at town and came back to the campus. Not being satisfied at my first work I began to lay out the second copy of the same essay. To make a long story short I wrote 3 pages of the same essay and kept improving it until it was satisfying to me. Finally on Sunday I completed the essay ready to be handed in on Monday as it was the due date. Analysing all I did from the two days I learnt that I must be in the right mood, there must be a lot of patience, and time is required to correctly do the assignment. If I had left it to the last minute, I would have made a complete mess.


This chapter accepts the principle that in general, longer formal education is more likely to promote better quality teachers (Throsby & Gannicott, 1990) which in turn are the catalysts for the promotion of quality in an education system (Beeby, 1966). Moreover, it seems reasonable to assert that quality teachers are more likely to graduate from quality teacher educators (Maraj, 1974). This is a problem for PNG, where PNG teacher educators are likely to have been to a developed country for their initial or only degree and may have passed on to student teachers "indigestible theory, to teachers who need practical guidance" (Beeby, 1980, p.465). The teachers of PNG teacher educators hold a key responsibility in breaking into Beeby's cycle if they have done their "homework" (Little, 1988) and attempted to understand PNG teacher educators from the PNG perspective (Jordan, 1987) and are prepared to learn from Papua New Guineans (Crossley & Broadfoot, 1992). The research reported in this chapter aims to assist lecturers to teach more appropriately "out of a Melanesian perspective" (Jordan, 1987,p.5). For those wishing to improve teacher education in PNG, it offers an attempt to construct a "grounded representation of day-to-day reality" (Stenhouse, 1979, p.9) of the problems of PNG teacher educators negotiating university study. Such an orientation has been recommended by Hawes (1979b, p.10): "Unless a traveller has some idea of where he is starting from and the conditions he may meet along the way, he is unlikely to decide upon a satisfactory route".

The main idea the traveller might learn from this chapter is that the initial difficulty of PNG students studying at university is the incongruence between their own beliefs about teaching and learning and those advocated at the university. Traditional illiterate cultures describe learning as a transferral of knowledge which is based on inspiration and memory (Lindstrom, 1990): "Acts of learning in a culture which is illiterate by necessity, have to be orientated toward reproducing" (Saljo, 1987,p.104). Because such conceptualisations are so contrasting, PNG teachers experience a type of academic culture shock during their initial months at university. In time, students either develop metacognitive skills to promote more complex thinking (McLaughlin, 1991c) or resort to tried survival tactics (McLaughlin, 1995) or a combination of both. Associated with this is the conclusion that learning problems in English for these PNG students are not necessarily language code problems but conceptual ones. Clearly then, those with the responsibility of teaching teacher educators should undertake an in-depth cultural analysis of the PNG context. This must be a pre-requisite if quality education is to be promoted in PNG and the donor aid contributions of developed countries are to have maximum impact.


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Chapter 1 - Teacher Education:  Its Roots:  a 40 thousand year education tradition
Chapter 2 - Teacher Education:  The Past
Chapter 3 - Teacher Education:  The Future
Chapter 4 - Teacher Education:  i. Pacific Perspectivies
Chapter 5 - Improving Education:  Policy issues
Chapter 6 - Improving Teacher Education:  .i.  Pedagogical problems
Chapter 7 - Improving Teacher Education:  .i.  Political Intrigues
Chapter 8 - Improving Teacher Education:  Contextual Realities
Chapter 9 - Improving Teacher Education:  .i.  Teacher Educators

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