Here is a speech I presented at the graduation of Grade 8 students at North Goroka Demonstration Primary School on Wednesday 5th December, 2007.
It is an honour and a privilege for me to say a few things at this 8th Grade 8 Graduation Ceremony of the North Goroka Demonstration Primary School.
Graduating students, teachers, ladies and gentlemen, the reality in the country as far as the education of our young people goes is as follows:
• Out of every 100 students in Grade 8 throughout the country, an average of 50 drop out every year. At NGDS I understand that the majority of students go onto Grade 9, but in many other schools, half of the students do not make it.
• Out of the 50 who make it to secondary school, 25 drop out at the end of Grade 10.
• Out of the 25 that make it to Grade 12, about 12 make it to college or university.
• And out of these 12, only about 3 get paid jobs straight after graduation, while the rest spend months and years searching for jobs.
If you have followed these statistics, what I am saying is that out of every 100 students graduating throughout the country at Grade 8 level, only 12 are likely to go as far as college and university level, and out of that, only 3 are likely to get jobs upon graduating with certificates, diplomas, and degrees. Many of us here today know of several people who have been to college and university – even in Australia – but are today without jobs.
That is the reality in the country today. It has come to the point where getting an education is just to gain knowledge, not to get jobs. Our country is therefore being filled with thousands of educated young people on the streets who are disappointed and angry at the rest of society. They feel cheated. They feel that they have been promised the world but given nothing. The education system has become like a dead-end road which does not go anywhere, so people who travel on it have to retrace their steps.
The main reason for students not making it up the hierarchy is that secondary schools, colleges and universities lack capacity to accommodate them all. They do not have enough classrooms, dormitories, laboratories and teachers. It is not that the students are stupid or lack intelligence. Papua New Guineans are very brainy people who have the potential to compete with the rest of the world, but our government has not invested enough in educational infrastructure, with the result that we have a very high attrition or drop-out rate.
The reason why only 25% of college and university graduates get jobs, is simply that there aren’t enough jobs around. The education system produces graduates faster than our economy can generate jobs for them.
Given this scenario, is there hope for our young people? Fortunately, yes. If your child does not make it to Grade 9 next year, or Grade 12 and college/university in the following years, I want to encourage you not to give up on them. You can help them to upgrade their marks through CODE or other avenues. This is what many parents have been doing.
But I would like to suggest to you that as there are not many jobs for office workers in the country, your child stands a better chance if you send him or her to a Technical College or a Vocational School to learn technical trades. As our country develops, the need for architects, mechanics, heavy equipment fitters, boiler makers, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, brick layers, welders, etc will increase.
We have so many mining companies already in existence, and many more are going to come on stream. These companies will need people with the above trades more than office workers. And competition increases among these companies for trades people, salaries and other terms and conditions will increase, such that technical college and vocational school graduates earn more than Business College and University graduates. It is in fact already happening.
The other option, and to me this is the best in the long-term, is for parents to help your children who drop out at Grades 8, 10 and 12, and even college or university, to become self-employed. Instead of spending a lot of money on school fees, put the money in your child’s hands and help him or her to start a small business. In PNG, the opportunities for self-employment are just so many. The sad thing though is that we the locals are mentally and physically blind to these opportunities but other people like the Asians can see them, so they are flooding the country to take advantages of those opportunities.
PNG is a young developing country with a great future. It is a land of opportunities. As somebody has said, it is "a business man’s paradise". Anything you touch in PNG can literally turn into gold. Look at ice block, buai, egg sellers etc. They have more money than university graduates.
If you empower your child to get into business when he leaves Grade 8, 10 or 12, by the time his mates who have been to college or university start looking for jobs, he should be many steps ahead of them financially. I really believe what I am saying, because I have observed many self-made successful business people in this country and read about so many in other countries who dropped out of school but went on to becoming financially successful through self-employment. The striking thing is that most of these people dropped out of school or never went to school at all!
If you want your child to get some basic instruction in starting a business on the land, there is a new school here in Goroka which teaches agriculture business. It is called the Goroka Agribusiness Training Institute (GATI) which the National Training Council has recognized as a unique institute which teaches people to start a business on their own land. It is not a school where you get a certificate and look for a job; it is a school where you get a certificate to go back and work on your land. I was among 11 other people who graduated with a Certificate in Agribusiness just yesterday. The school is located opposite the Blind Centre, and will be offering both general and specific courses in various areas of agriculture business next year.
I have concentrated most of my talk so far on drop-outs, simply because the majority of students graduating with Grade 8 certificates today from this school and others throughout the country will not make it up the ladder, and for those that do, the majority will not get paid jobs.
For students who will be going onto to Grade 9 next year, my only advice is this: study hard. You must be serious about your future. Your parents will do their part by sacrificing financially. Some of them will be working hard physically to pay your fees, while most working parents will be going into debt to ensure that you are in school. You must do you part by working hard at school. Here are several things you must do:
• You must attend all the classes.
• You must pay attention.
• You must do all your home work.
• You must read a lot of books.
• You must be careful about the people you associate with.
• You must not give in to peer pressure.
• And you must avoid friendships (boy-girl relationships).
Most of this advice is contained in my book titled “Achieving Academic Excellence”, which will be published next year. I hope that every parent can buy this book for their child because it covers a lot of areas related to doing well in school.
In summary, my message to us today is that:
• The drop-out rate is very high.
• Jobs are scarce.
• Unemployment is high in this country.
• Parents are better off sending your children to technical and vocational schools as demand for technical skills will increase compared to office jobs.
• Parents can also consider helping your children to go into business both in town and in the village rather than spending more money on getting them educated without any promise for paid jobs.
• Finally, to students who go to Grade 9 next year, you must strive to succeed academically.
To all graduating students, I note that North Goroka Demonstration School’s motto is Striving For Success. Whether you go on to secondary school or not, you must believe in yourself and do your best. All of us who have come to witness your graduation today can wish you the best, but you must strive for success in whatever you do with the rest of you life from here on. May God bless you on this special day and guide you towards success.
Once again I thank the Board of Management, Staff members and the Graduation Committee for giving me the privilege of speaking at this graduation. And I thank you ladies and gentlemen for giving me your ears.
Thank you and God bless!