Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a South Pacific island nation of approximately 5.2 million people. It is heavily forested, with many mountains and swamp areas, which make travel within and between the 20 provinces very difficult. The majority of the population lives in rural areas. This regional isolation has ensured the retention of the culture, language and customs of over 700 distinct indigenous tribes and clans. The PNG government is committed to inclusive education. It has embodied inclusive philosophy in its Special Education Ministerial Policy Statement (1994) and the Department of Education’s National Special Education Plan 2004-08. The government is also a signatory to UNESCO’s global mandate of Education for All by 2015. Inclusive education priorities include capacity building through pre-service and post-service special education teacher training. is necessary for disabled people to be educated with their peers.
The 1990 PNG National Census identified approximately 12,000 people with disabilities over the age of 10 years. The number of children with disabilities enrolled in schools has not yet been documented, due mainly to the absence of a national data collection mechanism.
Special education service provision in PNG is managed through the government’s National Special Education Committee and National Special Education Unit. Delivery of special education services is done through 14 Special Education Resource Centres, based in major towns and cities. The resource centres are operated by non-government organisations, including the Christian Brothers’ Callan Services Network, Red Cross, and the St John’s Association for the Blind. The resource centres support families and children with disabilities, educators and school administrators, and provide community-based rehabilitation services to children with disabilities who are not attending school.
Teacher training in inclusive education
Before 2004, there was no university-level special education degree programme in PNG. Students completing undergraduate degrees in education elected to study single units on inclusive education as part of their general education degree programmes. In 2004, Divine Word University, in association with Callan Studies Institute, introduced the Bachelor of Special Education degree programme. The aims and priorities of this programme reflect the goals set out in the National Special Education Plan. Goals include university-level professional development in inclusive education, including inclusive pedagogy, school structures and leadership.
The degree programme consists of eight distance education units, each with a compulsory one-week residential component. The programme specifications highlight the incorporation of input from such ‘stakeholder groups’ as teachers, school administrators and children with disabilities into programme content. Reflecting the central importance of inclusive special education provision in PNG, the first Bachelor of Special Education unit offered was Inclusive Education, which was delivered in semester one, 2004.
Renwick Centre provides lecturing and resource support to the degree course. This has included the production of study guides, books of readings, provision of supplementary resource materials, and the delivery of lectures for the units on Inclusive Education and Educating Children with Vision Impairments. The content of these two units includes recent international perspectives on inclusion and disability, including research into ‘best practice’ in developing countries.
Students in the programme to date have included the staff of special education resource centres, school principals, head teachers and classroom teachers working in regular schools. Many of the students are self-funded, and all have communicated their commitment to lifting the standard of inclusive education in schools and community-based services.
The development of an undergraduate special education degree programme in PNG is a positive step towards translating special education policy into practice in schools and communities. In 2006, the first batch of university graduates will be returning to their schools, special education resource centres and other workplaces across PNG. The special education degree programme will have provided this group of educators with the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes to become future leaders in the field of special education and to effect change at local, regional and national levels. It is hoped that these individuals will make a difference in the lives of current and future generations of Papua New Guineans with disabilities.
Frances is a Lecturer in Vision Impairment, Renwick Centre.
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