By Xavier Dorney,
Turning off the main road that led us away from the Hanuabada by-pass roundabout, we were now on a road strewn with potholes. Pulling up next to a yard, surrounded by a barbed wire fence, flooded from the rain that had fallen over the last few days, lay Hagara Elementary School.
One of the first schools founded in the Port Moresby area, the school has had little funding since its inception. The new, and I use that word very loosely, classrooms are mind-bogglingly built at the bottom of a hill and flood every time the area receives rain. Today the concrete floors are covered in silt and clay making them futile for the purpose of learning.
The classroom I am standing in usually holds a class of 40 – 50 pupils. They will have to be merged with another class in the older building, built on stilts at the side of the hill. As it turns out this was going to happen anyway because the classes’ teacher hasn’t turned up for school.
A number of teachers haven’t turned up for school – what seems to be a constant problem throughout the PNG educational system. Hagara Elementary has over 800 pupils with most class sizes being around the 40 – 50 pupil mark. The teacher to student ratio of this Year Two class today will be 1:100. Standing quietly in shock, I am sure the Queensland Teachers’ Union of Employees would be up in arms.
I’m invited into the classroom – there weren’t enough desks and chairs for the original 50 students in the class. At a guess there were twenty already sitting on the floor when the merged class enters. In this classroom, with no ceiling fans let alone air-conditioning, there are now 100 students – 70 of whom are on the floor. What’s more shocking is they’re all happy – I haven’t heard one complaint. If this was my ten year old she’d be on her laptop emailing anybody and everybody about the injustice of it all.
As we leave their teacher farewells us cheerfully and thanks us for visiting – she seems to have a resilience her absent colleagues are missing. I’m not sure I would share her same resilience faced with her day to day circumstances.
As we are leaving we’re invited into the Early Learning Class. I’m pretty excited about this having taught in a Pre-School room in Brisbane. Once again there are 50 kids aged 4 – 5 in this classroom – I’m pretty sure our ratio was 1:10. I shake my head in sympathy as I watch her effortlessly garner the kids’ attention and keep them engaged. I’m then told that this is only the first shift – there are so many kids eager and craving to learn that Hagara has 100 students enrolled for this early learning class. This amazing lady has two shifts of 50 four to five year olds that she teaches every day.
I leave amazed and inspired by how much the teachers here are achieving with the very little help they are receiving. Hagara Elementary are currently fundraising to build a new classroom block, on stilts to prevent flooding, with ceiling fans to keep the kids cool. There are also plans for their own library. Fundamentals we all take for granted.