Until two years ago, there were no schools in this remote community in Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea (PNG) where Peter and his two young children live.


Meet Peter


Parents like Peter would often delay sending their kids to school to protect little ones from walking the long and difficult journey alone. 

For decades this has meant that no child in Peter’s community had proper access to early learning, an integral part of a child’s lifelong brain and social development. 

“When there was no school in our area, our small children suffered,” says Peter. “We kept them at home and waited for them to be old enough to start primary school which is located a long way from here.”  

“It takes an hour for our children to walk to school in the morning and an hour to walk back home after school.”  

Since 2019, UNICEF teams have built two early learning classrooms in Peter’s local area, providing relief for parents and a quality start to their children’s education.   

“Before starting preschool, they did not know how to read or write but now they they’re
learning how to speak English and that makes us very happy," says Peter proudly.
 
 
"When there was no school in our area, our
small children suffered....now they're learning
how to speak English and that makes us very happy"
[Left] Peter Daniel (middle) with his children 6-year-old Margie and 7-year-old Abison © UNICEF PNG/2020/Fred Cook Jnr [Right] UNICEF Communication Specialist, Noreen Chambers speaks to Peter Daniel who has two children attending the local preschool in Morobe Province, PNG © UNICEF PNG/2020/Fred Cook Jnr


Meet Rebecca 


31-year-old Rebecca is a local single mum of four kids and a volunteer preschool teacher at the UNICEF-supported school where Peter’s two children are enrolled.  

Rebecca, in her experience teaching over the last few years observes, “We see good change in the children who are attending the integrated early childhood development program (IECD).”  

“I see that my younger son, Kelvin, who is in preschool, is better able to sound out letters compared to my older daughter.”  

“My own daughter, Jennifer, nine, was in primary school but could not read or write. So, I enrolled her in the early learning class where she is doing very well now.” 
Rebecca’s elder daughter, 9-year-old Jennifer, plays with building blocks at her preschool. Jennifer is part of an early learning bridging class to help support her eventual return to primary school. © UNICEF PNG/2020/Fred Cook Jnr


Preschool education is at risk of going backwards


Prior to 2020, preschool education did not exist in Papua New Guinea. 

UNICEF has aimed to fill a deep education gap through ongoing advocacy efforts and COVID-19 protection measures to ensure little ones have the opportunity to be in preschool. Early learning primes literacy and psychosocial skills, giving young children the best start to primary school.  

As part of the success of UNICEF’s efforts, early learning became a recognised part of the PNG national education system in 2020.  Primary school student enrollment and retention rates increased in areas of PNG where children had access to early childhood development experience. 

But this progress is now under threat.
 
 
"When we had the lockdown due to COVID-19,
some kids went home and were scared to come back after we closed the school for one month."
The global pandemic created unforeseen challenges and disruptions to a child's access to quality education, health, nutrition, and wellbeing. Rebecca has seen these challenges in her own classroom in PNG. Of her class of 24 children, only 15 came back after the lockdown that forced school closures during the first year of the pandemic. 

"These children have a big interest to come to school," says Rebecca. 

"But when we had the lockdown due to COVID-19, some kids went home and were scared to come back after we closed the school for one month."
UNICEF Education Officer, Cathy Patuvii (in cap) and teacher, Rebecca Daniel supervises a handwashing COVID-19 prevention session at the preschool. © UNICEF PNG/2020/Fred Cook Jnr


The solution?


For teachers like Rebecca and parents like Peter, it is devastating to witness disruptions to their children’s education yet again. By September 2021, an estimated 2.4 million students in PNG had experienced disrupted learning.

Parents are making difficult choices between staying at home with their kids to homeschool or going out to work to provide for their families. 

Teachers are faced with job insecurity due to lockdowns and challenges to keep providing support to other young children without endangering their own families with infection.

Children are the biggest victims. They risk not reaching their full developmental potential, an effect that can last a lifetime. 

 

UNICEF is calling for schools to be the last places to close and the first to reopen.
 
To avoid deepening the learning crisis, UNICEF Australia is continuing to support children in PNG via a three-year program that will implement more early learning centres, support the development of a national curriculum, and provide training to teachers.

Initiatives like this will help ensure that little ones can continue to reach their full potential, no matter the challenge.
 
The program is supported by the Australian Government through the PNGAusPartnership.
 
Preschoolers at play. © UNICEF PNG/2020/Fred Cook Jnr

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