By Elias Wranga, Papua New Guinea
Advocating for real-world STEM Education
I am one of the recipients of the Graduate Certificate in STEM Education at Queensland University of Technology in 2020-2021, funded by the Australian Government through Australia Awards PNG. Prior to this short course, I was a secondary school science teacher but decided to quit and established an early learning center in 2016 to teach children through STEM Education.
My specific goal as a teacher was to transform teaching and learning of theory-based science education into a real-world STEM education after realizing that the kind of education we provide to the children has to connect to the real world. Seeing secondary school students’ incompetence in practical science, I conducted more practical science lessons. However, doing this in an established public school with its set timetable, school program and weekly activities with limited time was very challenging. The school bureaucratic processes, exam focused teaching and learning, monotonous rote learning in the classroom were a real challenge. The stringent school assessment policy and bureaucratic processes were the limiting factors for this 21st century STEM education learning concept. I realized that the more I remain teaching in public schools, the less chances I will get in fully implementing the STEM education concept, which schools in other countries are implementing. I therefore decided to start my own school.
The next journey out from the comfort zone to the challenging unknown zone was another test of time ahead and I had to plan strategically to face it head-on. My dedication and work showed that children exhibit natural curiosity in science. These results confirmed that STEM education content and methodology are the way forward but continue to be a missing link in our national education system. The evidence of my preliminary work paved way for the government to advocate for STEM education.
Financial challenges overcome through cocoa farming
We raised and sold more than 4,000 seedlings and this income was used to build a permanent four-in-one classroom.
A major challenge I faced in setting up the school was financial constraint, as no external donor agencies and local governments were willing to support the school because the idea was in its infancy. Parents also faced financial constraints to support the learning of their children in this school in response to this challenge.
I then realized that parents have land and labor! All I need to do is to introduce cocoa seedlings and they can do cocoa farming to earn money and support their children’s learning. The idea was a success and parents and community members took ownership. We raised and sold more than 4,000 seedlings and this income was used to build a permanent four-in-one classroom.
My passion is to help people learn new ideas and skills and generate income to sustain their livelihood. Whilst I teach, I also learn from them. More than being a classroom teacher, I find fulfilment and joy amongst ordinary people of all ages in remote communities in Papua New Guinea. That passion propelled me out of the classroom teaching and earn formal income to start my own school and teach children real life skills that help them in their lifetime.
Embarking on a novel project
One impact project I am currently embarking on is the cocoa industry in the Western Province of Papua New Guinea where it has never been grown before. I came from East Sepik Province of Papua New Guinea where cocoa is grown for more than 45 years now. I conducted an action research in the local communities only to find that cocoa trees have been growing well as fruit and ornament trees. Adamantly, I had to engage school children, parents and local communities to initiate cocoa project in the local community.
Training at QUT through Australia Awards
My graduate certificate training at QUT made possible by the funding and leading of Australia Awards PNG, particularly on the 21st century skills of creative thinking, critical thinking, communication and collaboration has just put me on the right spot to organize the people. Besides, the training helped me further the skills of leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship. People have so far attested to the initiative as foolproof workable solution for sustainability through cocoa revolution and are now carrying out field expansion on cocoa hectares. The local community has taken the initiative to nurse and plant their cocoa hectares. The next challenge will be conducting training on fermentation and quality control, before training the local community and looking for an export market so the project remains sustainable.
The best benefit in the near future is the income earning and enabling of their children to access quality STEM education which they may not have without the cocoa revolution. And that is the primary reason for sustainability.
The impact has opened the door that will never be closed.
Prepared for COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a demand on many aspects of life as we were not prepared for such calamity. Due to government restriction on travel within the local township and sub-urban centers, it has caused a stagnant cash flow in the community. During the lockdown periods, my studies at QUT campus were also disrupted and I had to travel back to my country, Papua New Guinea.
However, the course was delivered remotely. This has enabled me to do my course and also attend to the people in the community. I capitalized on the pandemic lockdowns to organize people to working on the cocoa plots. Based on my training, my plan shifted to teaching people on pandemic-prevention measures and being resilient.
My graduate certificate training has also given confidence to the wider community members, the donor agencies and the local government and politicians to support this idea of STEM education and the 21st century skills for adult population. It has further solidified the importance of STEM education and the cocoa projects amongst many other self-help supplementary school projects for learning and earning.
I am now formulating a policy document for the local government to support STEM education as well as the cocoa revolution. The tailored training has further helped me customize training and leadership to the children, parents and the people in my community.
The impact has opened the door that will never be closed.