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The colonial administration education system and a number of church run systems that started in the 1940's ran independently until the early 1970's when the current national education system was established.

In 1973, the Papua New Guinea education system had approximately 1,050 institutions, 9,060 teachers, and 254,000 students. By 2003, the system had grown to one employing around 33,000 teachers, and almost one million students in 4,000 elementary schools, 3,300 primary schools, 170 secondary schools and 140 vocational schools. Today there are six prominent church agencies apart from the government operating the schools, which are governed by 20 provincial education boards and managed by 20 provincial education divisions. There is also a small yet growing number of privately run autonomous schools throughout the country.

Papua New Guinea has a highly decentralized education system following the establishment of the provincial government system in 1978. The decentralized laws have given the provinces responsibilities including planning, financing, staffing and maintaining general education institutions up to Grade 12. This includes pre-school, elementary, primary, secondary and vocational schools.