Literacy in Papua New Guinea

Adult Literacy has a long history in PNG and started some 125 years when missionaries come to the country. PNG is now changing from a rural traditional agriculture based society to a modern democratic society. In view of this, the country is facing major development challenges of poverty that demands appropriate intervention by
the Government and major international partners to promote development as a peaceful venture and inclusive
of all citizens.

Like other developing countries PNG’s developmental challenges are huge. With the current population of 7.3
million growing at more than 2 percent annually the population is expected to reach 11 million by 2050. Further,
85 percent of the population live in hard to reach isolated rural areas, health indicators are below neibouring
countries the country has 800 plus languages and cultures. In view of the challenges, providing literacy is at
the heart of human development and lifelong learning to alleviate poverty by building and
empowering capacities of individuals and communities to achieve many development goals.

The Government of PNG is informed by the National Goals and Directives, as established in the Constitution
therefore, the government is committed to both international policy gaols reflected in the Millennium
Development Goals (MDG) and Education for All (EFA); and the specific targets set down within Vision 2050
and the Medium Term Development Plan (MTDP) and National Education Plan (NEP). This is the overarching
policy framework that encompasses the strategic direction for development for PNG.

Overall, education has expanded rapidly over the years however, the expansion has taken place unevenly
between sub-sectors. In the formal education sector, significant progress have been made in expanding pupil
access opportunities at all levels of schooling due to the implementation of education restructure and free
education policy. However, with regards to the non-formal education sector, very little progress has been made
to improve the adult literacy rates over the years.

PNG’s adult literacy situation is in dire strait. Literacy situation analysis conducted by the NLAS in 2008
showed adult literacy rates recorded at 56 percent (2000 Census). When compared to other countries, PNG’s
adult literacy rate is regarded as one of the lowest in Asia and Pacific. This is the reason why PNG was
identified by UNESCO as one of the 35 countries that required urgent attention to improve its adult literacy
rates. PNG’s poor literacy rate coupled with the challenges faced by NLAS mandated by Government to
implement the literacy policy, prompted UNESCO funded CapEFA Project to undertake a desk review of
literacy and NFE policy framework and; to propose a way forward to address the 70% literacy target by 2015
according to EFA goals and the UN Literacy Decade -2003-2012, to alleviate poverty.

The goal of EFA is to improve the 56% literacy rate to 70% by 2015. The vision for literacy in PNG, consistent
with the National Literacy Policy (NLP) is that education should not exclusively be perceived as a passport to
a paid job. It is about empowerment for life so that learners acquire cognitive and practical skills to be
self-reliant and to give them skills to open new opportunities to live useful and productive lives. The main
providers in adult literacy in PNG are civil society organizations including international partners. The
Government plays a supportive role through the National Department of Education (NDOE) via National
Literacy and Awareness Secretariat (NLAS).