SEAM supports community-based learning and literacy projects in Papua New Guinea, the largest of the Melanesian Island Nations of the South-West Pacific.
Anyone who has walked through the rich gardens and the rain forests that make up one of the world’s great ‘lungs’, will be aware of the profound interconnections between culture, art and environment in Melanesia. These interconnections range from the materials drawn from the forest for the making of everything from houses to canoes to art through to custodianship of knowledge, history and skills that, in turn, sustain the culture, the natural resources, and the integrity of the tribe and its culture. Across the country there are resilient communities living in villages with rich gardens, rivers, reefs and forest resources.
The challenge these communities sustain the ground of their culture, while at the same time contributing to, and benefiting from the modern post-colonial world. Land and tradition is threatened by the loss of forest resources, and by the disaffection of youth, especially young men, lured to the towns, wanting access to the new culture of money but without the training to make a purposeful contribution either to the ‘new’ culture or to advocate for the ‘old’.
These communities see literacy as an essential tool to the preservation and maintenance of their heritage and arts as they meet that ‘fundamental challenge’ of ‘finding a positive way to reconcile and combine the traditional and the modern.
SEAM will support remote communities through the Creative Learning Environment of its School-in-Box. Housed within a flexible and low cost structure, School-in-a-Box will embody the principles of bringing together the traditional and the modern through all aspects of its design.
Help SEAM support communities actively trying to sustain their culture and environment while at the same time contributing to, and benefiting from, the modern post-colonial world.
Across PNG literacy rates are very variable, estimated from a high of over 70% to a low of 5% depending on age and location. Literacy rates for 15-24 year olds are estimated at 64% for men and 59% for women. The number of primary schools (to Grade 8, the equivalent of Australia’s Grade 5) and teachers have increased over the last 20 years, again in a variable pattern. However it is estimated that across the country there are up to 680,000 children who do not attend school, and many of the schools, especially in the regions are poorly resourced, without power, water supply or toilets. Gender disparity between girls and boys enrolled in government schools is 20%. Those girls who do go to school often stop at menstruation for lack of privacy, toilet facilities and sanitary products. Of non-literate adults, an estimated two thirds are women.
For Grades 9-12, students must either leave their villages for a high school in a provincial town, or study by distance education. With few cash resources, it is difficult for village parents to send their children to town, and they are often reluctant to do — for the dangers of drugs, violence and pregnancy are very real. For students studying by distance learning with no structure of support or supervision, and few resources, there are major obstacles to success.
Even the remotest communities have had a history of interaction with modern PNG. Aware of the problems that can arise in the gap between educational attainment and modern expectation, community leaders identify education and training as a key priority for further development. With the spread of mobile technologies into all but the most remote area, community leaders know that the pace of change is likely to accelerate, and with it both the opportunities and the perils. They are aware of the double danger of – on the one hand – their young being lured into the towns, and — on the other — of outsiders being drawn to their resources of land and reef as assets to be exploited. Education and training are essential if the community is to safeguard its culture and move with strength and intelligence between the 'old' ways and the 'new'.
Education in PNG is the responsibility of the government and SEAM works with government approved training programmes and with the support of Education authorities.
In partnership with KTF, SEAM's innovative School-in-a-Box will provide a Creative Learning Environment to support literacy in the following ways:
STAGE ONE — RESOURCE SUPPORT FOR SCHOOLS
Most remote schools have limited or no access to books, atlases, dictionaries, encyclopaedia, science or art resources. Most teaching is done by chalk and board. Many children have little more than a pencil and an exercise book. Each School-in-a-Box will be managed by a teacher trained at the KTF Elementary and Primary Teacher's college. Resources – books, computers, printers, art materials etc – will be integrated with the College curriculum
From stage one, School-in-a-Box will introduce SEAM's Making Books initiative.
STAGE TWO — ADULT LITERACY AND MICRO-ENTERPRISE TRAINING
Adult literacy is frequently raised as a priority in community meetings. Adults want literacy both in its own right, in order to be able to support their children at school, and to read the heritage and other stories that are made by the students in the book-making programme.
Working with community women’s groups, School-in-a-Box will provide micro-enterprise training in partnership with KTF's solar light initiative.
STAGE THREE — DISTANCE LEARNING AND TOP-UP SKILLS
To support village students continue their education past Grade 8, SEAM/KTF will work in partnership with the Flexible, Open and Distance (FODE) Learning Section of the PNG Education Department. School-in-a-Box will be registered with FODE.
As well as providing resources for secondary education, School-in-a-Box will also enable a return to education for those who left school early, encouraging skills to support much needed, small-scale local enterprises. This is also considered a priority in communities with youths who struggle to find a place either in the 'traditional' or the 'new' worlds they straddle.
Help SEAM deliver the Creative Learning Environment of School-in-a-Box to support literacy, vocational and adult learning in remote communities. Help these communities safeguard their heritage as their children are educated to meet the opportunities and the perils of the 'new' ways.
Carvings, weavings, barkcloth paintings, masks, canoes, shell and stone ornaments, plumes, decorated belts and arm bands, skirts and capes: the art of Papua New Guinea are rich and varied. Collectors and artists have been drawn to Melanesia for over a century, and Oceanic art can be found in museums and art galleries across the world. In some communities these ancient art forms continue as new generations gain the knowledge and the skills to take them forward. In other communities, the ‘old’ ways are known only by a handful of elders. In some places traditional art practices have all but disappeared.
On the high flanks of Mt Lamington in Oro Province, the women of Ömie are among the last living exponents of a form of bark-cloth art that had rarely been seen outside Ömie before 2002. The villages were poor and marginalised; only the older women were painting.
Since then, through an initial sponsorship and now through Ömie Artists, their art has achieved critical acclaim and exhibition in major Australian state galleries. The success of the barkcloth and the return it is earning for Ömie has been transformative, bringing renewed interest in the art to the younger women as well as a focus for the men. Ömie Artists is managed by Australian curator Brennan King.
For Ömie Artists to become sustainable into future generations, educational and literacy support is essential. As a very remote community in rugged terrain, schooling is particularly stretched and inadequate. School attendance is low and few children complete Grade 8.
Help SEAM help PNG’s artists sustain their unique art and their heritage as they meet the challenge of an encroaching world.
New Guinea is the largest of the Melanesian islands of the South-west Pacific.
Papua New Guinea comprises the eastern half of this island as well as the islands to the north and east, including Manus, New Ireland, New Britain, Bougainville and the Trobriand and D’Entrecasteau Islands.
Australia and PNG have had entwined histories for more than a century. The colonial administration of Papua passed from Britain to Australia in 1906. The mandated territory of New Guinea came under Australian administration after the First World War. Australia’s front line defence in the Second World War was fought in PNG, most notably on the Kokoda Track.
PNG became an independent nation in September 1975. It remains Australia’s closest neighbour, tied not only by shared history and borders, but by trade, aid and the needs of regional security.
PNG is a country of great beauty and complexity. Its population is estimated to be around 6 million. More than 800 distinct languages are spoken. Loved by those Australians who know its people, its islands and remote communities, it is too often disregarded by those who hear only of its problems with governance and urban violence.
SEAM believes passionately in the potential and possibilities of PNG: its great traditions, its love and care for its forests, its reefs, its rich cultures. SEAM recognises the courage of its educated young who speak out against corruption and work to improve opportunities and governance in all sectors.
Founded in Australia, developed in PNG with its emphasis on remote communities, SEAM's objective to help support literacy and opportunity for coming generations.
SEAM works in partnership with communities, the PNG education authorities and accredited non government organisations.
Help SEAM support remote communities in PNG sustain their culture and environment while at the same time gaining the education and skills they need to contribute to, and benefit from, the modern post-colonial world.
1 Ben Scott, re-imagining PNG, Lowy Institute Paper 09, p. 87.
2 Nicholas Thomas, Oceanic Art, Thames and Hudson, 1995, p. 9.