IDRC Pan Asia Networking sponsorship

The second knowledge - information skills and Papua New Guinea

By:  John Evans, SPCenCIID, University of Papua New Guinea
(presented at 1997 Waigani seminar)

Andrew Treloar's paper outlined the kind of programme needed for a full time information worker.  This paper explores the kind of knowledge that we all need to manage our own information.

The terminology is inexact and in need of improvement and maybe one of you will come up with a nice alternative to "information skills."   Kanasa's paper shows that the Zia people, for instance, have a very well developed terminology for different areas of knowledge and information.

Compilation of these thoughts has been greatly assisted by, and rely heavily upon, materials recently developed in Canada.   These materials have extensive readings and a bibliography.   As I am mainly attempting to bring the useful work done by the teacher-librarians to a different audience I hope I can be excused the extensive use of quotations!

"Knowledge is the result of the process of knowing, which can only occur as the learner actively constructs what he or she knows, using information in the process.  The confusion between knowledge and information is perhaps one of the most serious and widespread mistakes in the current use of information technology, and it leads to the attitude that giving student information is identical to giving them knowledge... knowledge results when an individual personally transforms information. Knowledge is private, while information is public."

The issue is not a new one, Dr Johnson (1709-84), for instance, spoke of knowledge being of two kinds - one knows a thing oneself or one knows where to find information about it. Relevant and perceptive 200 years ago - and certainly far more so now. Information and communication technologies, and an abundance of commercial enterprises, are capable of bringing an unprecedented amount of information to our desktops, homes and villages. How are we to know what is available, when to use it, and how to use it?

However, uncontrolled and unorganized information is not a resource. Its chaotic abundance is a burden to the information seeker. To succeed in such an environment, focus must shift from the supply of information to selection and use of information. As such the skills of handling information are as important for work in the future as the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic were in the past. The issue goes beyond individual responsibility, and educational systems and institutions must allow for these significant new requirements. This will involve consideration of changes in the learning process to reflect the ready availability of information, changing the role of the teacher given less need to deliver facts, and greater involvement of resource specialists.

Add to this the peculiar characteristics of the information resource and we become aware that the informatization of society changes the context of society. For society to benefit from a resource whose quality or relevance is not always assured depends on who is using that resource, how well they use it, and for what purpose. We should not uncritically accept the hype about information, but attempt to clarify issues. Neither should we expect the resource to be handled for our benefit without challenges to past practice and without a considerable sharpening and development of our abilities to deal with the resource.

This resource is with us whether we like it or not. Is it possible to develop a ways and means of using information skills so that it will treat development of thought processes as well as the handling of information?

Needs of students

John Naisbett, author of Megatrends says that our society is "drowning in information, but starved for knowledge."  Students need information drownproofing. They must acquire skills that will help them find, interpret and synthesize meaningful messages that are buried in a flood of uncontrolled, unorganized information. Schools must teach these critical thinking skills if students are to meet the future with confidence and hope.  The teaching of these crucial generic skills is the responsibility of all members of a school's instructional staff.   The school library, with its human and material resources, has a significant role to play in this co-operative endeavour.

Similarly for school children to be prepared for a future characterized by change, they must learn to think rationally and creatively, to solve problems, to manage and retrieve information, and to communicate effectively. As a consequence, current and future curriculum development at all grade levels will stress the teaching of core components and skills, which are transferable across disciplines, applicable to any learning situation, regardless of content.

The world of work also has changing demands as recent reports indicate. These reflect the issue of the importance of lifelong learning, critical thinking, and working effectively with an array of technologies. These need to be the basic skills of the education system.

As society has shifted from an economy based on capital goods (industrial) to an economy based on services (information) there has been a corresponding shift in what is expected from education. Knowing how to ask the right question may be the single most important step in learning. The process that is conducted in order to find answers to the right questions leads to the point at which information becomes knowledge. Information Literacy the ability to access, evaluate and use information from a variety of sources is central to all successful learning and, by extension, to all successful living.


The solution often supplied has been a jumble of issues and agendas each having their own proponents. This hodge-podge will contain things like library skills, computer skills, study skills, thinking skills, writing skills, etc. etc. The lessons of the last twenty years indicate that these things should not be taught in isolation and that an effective integration of a broad base of information skills is required:

  • skills need to be directly related to content area curriculum and to actual assignments
  • skills themselves need to be tied together in a logical and systematic information process model

Information Literacy by a well accepted definition is:-

The ability to complete successfully a complex problem solving process that requires:-

  • defining a search strategy,
  • locating the needed resources,
  • accessing and understanding the information that is found,
  • interpreting the information,
  • communicating the information, and
  • evaluating conclusions in view of the original problem

Beneficial results of information literacy can be anticipated as follows:-

  • Information literate people are those who have learned how to learn.
  • They know how to learn because they know how knowledge organized, how to find information, and how to use information in such a way that others can learn from them.
  • They are people prepared for lifelong learning, because they can always find the information needed for any task or decision at hand.

Information literate students are competent, independent learners. They know their information needs and actively engage in the world of ideas. They display confidence in their ability to solve problems and know what is relevant information. They manage technology tools to access information and to communicate. They operate comfortably in situations where there are multiple answers, as well as those with no answers. They hold high standards for their work and create quality product. Information literate students are flexible, can adapt to change and able to function independently and in groups.

The 1980's saw the necessary frameworks developing in education to support information literacy programmes. This paradigm shift towards resource based leaning is illustrated in figure focused on generic skills and developing lifelong learning. As is usual in this field a wide range of policy documents and guidelines were produced, each of them espousing and advancing this particular cause. To a rarer extent documents of this type are being produced in developing countries. However, for developing countries significant attention would need to be paid to the traditional resource base and how this can be a source of information literacy.


It would be useful to be able to apply a standard set of procedures that could assist in our development of information literacy. Fortunately several have been developed, and they are multi-step process models, an example is the SUCCEED Model for Independent Learning:-

S Select and focus topic and information needs

U Uncover potential sources of information. Learn how to access them.

C Collect, examine and select suitable resources

C Compile relevant information from selected sources

E Evaluate, interpret, analyse and synthesize the information

E Establish and prepare an appropriate format and present the information

D Determine the effectiveness of the whole process

The most widely used model, and one which is widely supported by textbooks, videos and other materials is the Eisenberg/Berkowitz BIG SIX Model of Information Problem Solving, which consists of:-

1. Task definition

2. Information seeking strategies

3. Location and access

4. Use of information

5. Synthesis

6. Evaluation

This can readily become the framework for an entire curriculum, integrating neatly with other curriculum areas and thus ensuring inter-disciplinarity. In the Big Six approach, whenever a student has an information oriented problem the steps outlined are to be initiated. But this is not always a matter of following through the sequence. To complex jobs and solve problems, students may loop through a number of steps repeatedly. Overall, however, all the steps are utilized.


The above changes imply the use of resource-based learning and all that that entails. This will be difficult for many developing countries. However, research indicates that good resource provision is important essential for success:

  • The size of a library media staff and collection is the best school predictor of academic success
  • Students who score higher on standardized tests tend to come from schools with more SLMC staff and more books, periodicals and videos regardless of other factors including economic ones.

To breathlessly summarise just one more piece of research:-

  • Voluntary free reading is the best predictor of success in reading comprehension, vocabulary growth, spelling ability, grammatical usage and writing style
  • Access to school library media centers results in more voluntary reading by students
  • Having a school library media specialist makes a difference in the amount of voluntary reading done
  • Larger school library collections and longer hours increase both circulation and the amount read.

Papua New Guinea approaches to information skills

P.N.G. educational institutions are making attempts, but in an uncoordinated ad- hoc fashion, in relation to a number of variously named skills and in a manner unrelated to the curriculum. Possibly the most extensive case is that of the PNG Department of Education Library Skills syllabus, Gds. 7-10. This reflects a 1970's approach and was extremely slow in development, and lacks links to other areas of curriculum. It is taught in isolation, generally in schools with very poor libraries, and by teachers with very limited knowledge of libraries either. A factor in this particular slant to what could have been an useful development may well be the strong part played in the development of the syllabus by librarians at the National Library Service.

Further examples of partial approaches to information skills exist at the tertiary level. Examples can be found at Goroka Teachers College, at the P.N.G. University of Technology and at the University of PNG Law Faculty. Course units or a part of a course unit are devoted to these skills, often in association with material taught by the language department.

Unless there is a change of thinking this experience is likely to repeat itself more widely at UPNG as these elements are mentioned in proposed compulsory enrichment courses for students in an uncoordinated form. Reform of courses at the P.N.G. teachers' colleges currently subject to an Australian aid project development proposal shows the same mistake about to be perpetrated again with provision for revision of library skills at these colleges.

Recommendations for "Information and the Nation"

As much of the above has consisted of putting forward of the ideas of others here is my original contribution!  To put in place means of correcting the situation with regards information skills the following recommendations are made to the Seminar:-

1. In place of current partial and ad- hoc approaches educational institutions and systems consider the teaching of information skills which are:

  • Integrated to other curricular areas
  • Use a well developed model for ease of acceptance and delivery

2. The trend towards negligible provision of resources must be reversed, acknowledging that resources can both be traditional and of western origin and recognising that both have roles to play.  Development of PNG content of media resources is to be given priority.

3. That an advocacy programme be adopted in order to ensure that the above improvements gain attention and acceptance.

4. Given the interconnected nature of issues these recommendations need to be formulated within the overall action plan of the conference.

By:  John Evans, SPCenCIID South Pacific Center for Communication Information In Development
e-mail author:  c/o John Evans evansjoh3@email.com
Papua New Guinea © 2000

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