Hindrances to girls’ education in PNG
Hindrances to girls’ education
By Dr THOMAS WEBSTER
Even when schools are available, many girls still do not enroll. And when they do enroll, they drop out for various reasons.
This article discusses some of the common factors which hinder participation of girls.
The most dominant factors are socio-cultural and the effect this has on the way girls see their opportunities in life.
For many girls, their perceptions are shaped by what their parents and the community see as important.
For instance, if the future of a girl is seen to be of a domestic nature as a housewife, or mother and bearer of children, that is the role they will see as important in their lives. The family and community within which girls live shape this perception.
Many Papua New Guineans, even those who are well educated, place a low value on women and do not respect them as equals who can just be as intelligent as men. There is often a perception that women will not achieve.
This perception may also shape the way women see their role in their families and communities. Under-challenged and not supported, their potential for higher intellectual and professional responsibilities are not fully developed.
At one of our provincial workshops, we were told some parents tell daughters they should not bother about schooling and doing homework because their husbands will take responsibility for their future. It is the boys (future husbands) who should be studying hard.
The school textbooks and teachers in the classroom may reinforce those gender-bias values. Children read about girls doing a certain classification of jobs while others are known as men’s jobs.
Female-biased jobs are often those which are not academically challenging.
Such distorted values are sometimes reinforced by government and non-government agencies in well-intended projects which support domesticated education such as sewing and cooking training for women and business training for men.
Girls vocational schools curriculums focus on cooking and cleaning. Rarely are courses offered in bookkeeping, business management etc.
This is sad, because there is evidence from analysis of exam results, that when girls do get the opportunity, they excel and do better than boys. In the 1999 national Grade 6 exams, girls on average performed just as well as the boys and in eight provinces, outperformed the boys. At the University of Papua New Guinea for instance, I am told that girls on average get a higher GPA than the boys in many of the courses.
We just need to provide the opportunity for girls to believe in their potential to succeed and they will do the rest.
The home is the first place to start. Fathers and mothers need to change their behaviour and values. Being supportive and challenging girls to be what they want to be and not necessarily target female gender-biased jobs is the first step. Parents also need to give equal support to both girls and boys in their education.
This includes paying school fees and supporting their education on a day-to-day basis. Often, the girl child is burdened with household domestic chores after school while boys are left free to play and do what they want. Girls end up being too tired to do homework and sometimes even too tired to concentrate on school work the next day.
In urban communities, there are instances of successful women in society who can act as role models. Even if the home environment is not supportive, girls can be motivated from reading about or seeing successful women who may challenge them to continue their education.
Unfortunately, there are not many such role models for girls in most rural communities. Girls in rural contexts also suffer from other disadvantages.
Most parents in rural communities do not send girls to school because of the fear that a girl educated in school will not have acquired the pre-requisite skills of gardening, looking after domesticated animals, having babies and looking after children.
They let the girls stay at home so they learn these basic skills and knowledge as well as the values of being a good wife or mother in the rural community. They see schooling as inadequate preparation for this role.
This is a challenge for curriculum planners to develop a curriculum which is seen as contextually relevant for living in the local community.
Schools do not have to have lessons that take the whole day. They can leave half the day for girls and boys to help their parents and learn other skills and values not taught at school.
Girls travelling to and from school are frequently subjected to sexual advances from men. Far worse are the sugar daddies, men with cars and money who prey on young, innocent girls and lead them astray.
Although there are strict laws in PNG about child abuse, these are unfortunately not strictly enforced. Often, such cases are sorted out of court in what is termed "traditional settlement".
Compensation is paid, the parents and relatives of the girl receive some money but the future of the girl is often very sad, not valued and of no worth.
Even the code of conduct of teachers is not observed, with many teachers reported to be having sexual relations with school children on a more frequent basis now.
Teachers are not disciplined when that happens because the disciplinary process is not working. In most instances, teachers are charged in village courts and the matter settled under "traditional settlements".
The Teaching Service Commission needs to ensure established disciplinary procedures are followed and teachers dismissed from the teaching service when found guilty.
The Papua New Guinea Teachers Association could also ensure that teachers observe the professional code of conduct.
If the current practices continue, parents of girls will be even more reluctant to allow their girl child to enrol and attend school.
In the patrilineal societies of the Highlands and Mamose regions where low participation of girls is predominant, parents place a low value on girls’ education because the girls will marry out of the community and any value in education which accrues from it will benefit the husband’s tribe.
In difficult economic times, boys’ education will be a priority for payment of fees and support in further education because their education is seen as an investment for the parents and the community.
Supporting daughters to get a good education and giving them a foundation for their future is the best gift a parent can provide for their child.
Empowered with knowledge and skills, girls given the opportunity create opportunities to improve the quality of their life. They can use it to help increase family incomes.
If the girl with a good education marries, that education can be used to provide an independent income for the girl.
Often the dependency on the husband’s salary creates a situation of dependency.
This often leads to situations of being maltreated by the husband who plays the dominant partner.
A father who respects the mother as an equal will have children adopting those values.
If fathers treat their wives as sub-human, their sons and daughters will grow up accepting that as the norm.
Girls will accept such treatment from their husbands when they grow up. And boys will also grow up accepting that and treat their wives in the same manner.
This obviously will continue to influence the next generation.
We can make a start by changing perceptions in our families.
You can make a difference.
The last article looked at access to schools and the need to locate schools where they are easily accessible for girls. Parents fearing for the safety of their daughters will not send girls to school if it is located some distance from their home. It was argued that education planners need to provide a school in each and every community
The socio-cultural challenges are important to the life of a native but I disagree that the effect this has on the way girls see their opportunities in life. Perception is one thing, opinion is another and the truth is another. A lot of educated people still have links back to their village because that is where they will find peace, to escape the bright city lights.
What I know and believe in is that every person is equal regardless of who they are or what they are. In some society, when there is a gathering of men in the men's house they always ask a question before proceeding to making of a decision (What is the word from those outside? - meaning what do the ladies have to say on the subject matter). Also in some societies, there is a fact that investing in a female secures their long-term care-giver. My sister paid for all my school fees!
There is and will be a role for women to play in the stability of a family unit, a clan, a village, a community, a province and a country. What we fail to understand is that - this power starts at home ( a family unit).
A classic example of this is that of my previous lecturer at UPNG, Uni soccer team mate and a good friend, John Davani and his family. Judge Cathy Davani is down to earth and is a mother. Go to her house and you will see her in the kitchen cooking regardless of what she does at work. She is the mother of her children and wife to John. She is the raw model for this generation. Good things comes to those who work smartly and let their work speak for themselves!
We have changed a lot in our thinking process these days, but have to protect our values as it's what makes who we are and what we are - our identity and uphold our dignity as being equal rather than complete for power.
The beginning of wisdom is fear of the LORD, which is formed with the faithful in the womb. Sirach 1:12- Pro-Life
Last edited by mangitbay; 17-04-2005 at 03:02 PM. Reason: editing
PNG education and female equality
My opinion is that the truth lies somewhere inbetween what MangiTBay asserts and Dr Websters' conclusions.
It should be remembered that at the most recent census at least 80% of PNGeans live rurally.
Thus for those of us living in the city our perception based on experience is that almost everyone has received basic primary education.
This may not be the case in the rural setting and most recently in the Post Courier and The National there has been issues raised over the quality of education (especially primary education) out in the sticks.
Our perceptions and priorities are shaped by our prevailing 'worldview' and the surrounding cultural and social circumstances.
To a villager living in Nomad, a grade 6 education has no application as there is no real or percieved need for it.
Contrast this with a person living in a town or city where literacy and numeracy skills are a neccessity for procurring a job in a cash economy.
Humans as a species are motivated by drives such as the need for food, shelter and security.
In a rural society these needs are met through toiling the ground and developing skills such as hunting and community bonds.
Once these needs are met secondary impulses are satisfied such as the ultimate need to reproduce.
In the city, food, shelter and security are paid for and as such to satisfy these needs one places a greater emphasis on skills such as literacy and numeracy in order to get a job and survive in a cash economy.
Formal education is an extension of the need to satisfy basic drives in a cash economy. It is therefore percieved as being of less importance out in the rural areas where survival and the meeting of basic needs is different from city living.
A rural parent with no concept of a cash economy or how to survive in a city will have no grounds on which to encourage his/her sons or daughters if they do not recognise the value of education in a cash economy.
For them the ability to farm, hunt and abide by their cultural norms and values may be of a higher significance.
Having said that there is an ever increasing population drift into the urban areas and more PNGeans are becoming aware of the need to have at least a secondary education in order to get jobs.
In terms of gender equality which was the other issue addressed here I do believe that our woman are still not given the equality that they deserve and indeed opportunites have been limited. However many areas are now opening up to them.
There are woman, doctors,lawyers, managers, pilots, fitter and turners, ship wrights and the list goes on.
They are as competent as their male counterparts however a major impediment to their progress has been the traditional expectation of their continued role as childbearer, mother and housewife.
Until there is equality both in the home and at work females will continue to face the hardships placed on them by expectations of family and society - educational excellence and achievement often sacrificed for motherhood and domestication.
Last edited by possum; 15-04-2005 at 08:58 AM. Reason: reproofing
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