Lae schools face closure

TWO large Lae primary schools will have their classes suspended on April 30 – which is a week away – at the start of Term 2 because of lack of funds, the heads of the two schools warned yesterday.

The head teachers of Haikost and Gantom Primary Schools told the Post-Courier they have no money in their school accounts to continue operating. Willie Vilakiva, headmaster of the Haikost Primary School at 3-Mile Settlement, said the school had no money to continue operating. The school has about 800 children.

“ We have no money for public utilities like water and electricity, we cannot pay our security and our suppliers are after us to pay outstanding bills we accumulated since January,” Mr Vilakiva said. Mr Vilakiva said parents had also not paid the K150 compulsory project fee because they say that education is free and the National Government was paying for everything.

Gantom school headmistress Patricia Pere Kagai said her school would suspend classes from the beginning of Term 2 due to lack of funds. Ms Kagai said the Government’s free education had not arrived and parents had not paid any project fee saying the Government was paying for the fees. Gantom Primary School is located at West Taraka and has a student population of 1016.

Ms Kagai said the school had to absorb additional children when settlers were forced to vacate land around the mouth of the Markham River for the Lae port development as well as around Speedway area. This week, the 28 teachers from Gantom Primary School came close to not having their in-service training course due to lack of funds.

Thanks to the Rotary Club of Lae which donated supplies to them as well as refreshments the training program is now underway. The much politicised free education money from the National Government maybe helping children across Papua New Guinea but it is also making some parents turn away from helping their schools. The policy is also diverting attention away from the basic needs of the schools. The basic needs are desks, tables, reading books, sporting equipment among many more.

For some schools that are well supported, the situation may not be so serious but for many it is a far worse situation. Outside the boundaries of Lae City there are 11 primary schools in a category labelled by education authorities as ‘Category C’ schools. Most if not all are located in the large squatter settlements that are sprawled right around the outskirts of the city.

The children who attend these schools come from families that live either just above or under the United Nation’s scale of “poverty line.” Their weekly income is grossly insufficient even to pay for a new set of uniforms for one child, let alone buy a packet of rice and a tinned fish for the family dinner.

Since the beginning of this year the Rotary Club of Lae has been donating books, desks and tables, sporting equipment among other materials to some of the schools to help them start the school year. The club has committed itself to helping all 11 schools in this category. It has sent word out to its sister clubs in Australia who generously donate goods in kind to the club for help. Then shipping containers started arriving at the Lae wharf and the Rotary wheel started spinning.

Now, visitors to the Haikost Primary School, Bowali Primary School, Ganton Primary School and others will notice a difference. Ms Kagai said yesterday that without the help of the Rotary Club of Lae she could not run the in-service training for her teachers this week. She said in-service training for this week was focusing on language and literature for primary schools.

The club donated eight boxes of primary school literacy books , including song books, stationery and refreshments for in-service training. “Thanks to Rotary we have more than enough for our teachers,” Ms Kagai said. At Haikost Primary School the club donated two classrooms of tables and chairs, whiteboards, 43 boxes of literacy books, exercise books and pens and pencils and netballs and footballs. At Bowali primary School the club donated 45 boxes of literacy books, pens and penscils. Help has arrived, thanks to the Rotary Club of Lae and its workholic members.

This week the flying super-star of the Rotary Club of Lae – Mark Flewin – made the special delivery to Gantom Primary School in West Taraka. This is his impression: “Now this is both sad and uplifting again as to how the managers of community places care so much about their community. The three schools in West Taraka have no money in the bank to run their offices and they desperately wanted to run their in service to learn and prepare for teaching their children in the coming year. Most other schools gave up and just had an extra week’s holiday but the three West Taraka schools had theirs at Gantom with no resources but a will in their heart to learn for their children. So Patricia Kagai the headmistress walked the business house streets trying to get some donation in kind for materials and refreshments for their in service. Only the Rotary Club of Lae came through and put some amazing smiles on the teachers by supplying enough stationery supplies and tea and coffee for them to complete their in service effectively.”

Ms Kagai sent a message to Mr Flewin to say: “Good morning Mark, my girls are enjoying use of items Rotary gave yesterday, they say thank you for saving us from sinking- may God bless you and we Love you Big One” Such is the picture around Lae for these schools. In order to get help headmasters and headmistresses must physically walk from door to door begging business houses for help.

Rotary is helping out but that alone – as much as it is welcome – will not be sufficient to sustain these schools. Free education or not, the schools have so many daily needs which need to be attended to in order to ensure children receive quality education.

The cargo cult mentality now planted in the heads of parents that the national government is paying for their children’s education has turned them away from their parental responsibilities towards their schools.

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