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1. Keynote Address - The Value of Traditional Knowledge in the 21st Century (from 1997 Wagani Seminar)

By:  Hon. Professor John Waiko, PhD,
MP, Vice Minister for Education,
Independent State of Papua New Guinea

| Personal ObservationsStruggle for supremacyLiving material & human treasuresLanguage the key to cultureVernacular Schools and Indigenous EducationFailure of formal Western based educationThe Arrival of New Technology in Papua New GuineaConclusion |

There are several parts to my paper. I start with my personal observations on some aspects of the theme of the Seminar: Information and Nation. The second part relates to traditional knowledge in order to provide an insight into and an example of cultural diversity in Papua New Guinea. This leads to the third part that contends with the apparent tension between traditions and modern education: how it is possible to adapt to change without turning one's back on the cultural diversity; how can cultural competence be acquired to complement new skills and how can scientific progress be assimilated? This is the context in which the challenges of the new information technologies must be integrated into the national education system in the next millennium. The paper ends with a conclusion.

I have been asked to speak on "Traditional Knowledge" but I have adjusted it to be: The Value of Traditional Knowledge in the 21st Century. I ask your patience for me to indulge myself in the area of knowledge derived from oral traditions including cultural values as they might apply or become relevant or even determine or at least influence and shape our nation in the next millennium. I am convinced more than ever that the diversity of cultures and ethnic tolerance among, within and between nations of the world are likely to be the major characteristics that may determine the human behaviour in the next century. I advocate that we celebrate cultural diversity and human tolerance as assets rather than liabilities. Before I proceed, however, allow me to make the following observations.

Personal Observations

Dr. Robin Thurman, director of the Summer Institute of Linguistics tells me that the total number of languages in Papua New Guinea is 837 but 20 are dead though their spirits are still with us! This leaves us with 817 living languages. Assuming that 20 have become extinct in the last 100 years it is highly unlikely that 800 will disappear in the next century. There are 359 of the 817 languages that have orthography; 282 by S.I.L. and 77 by other organisations including churches. Perhaps about 400 of our languages will have orthographies by the year 3000. The small rural language community was, still and will be the basic social unit and the source of collective consciousness in the next millennium.

My second observation is that Papua New Guinea had less than a century of direct colonial rule beginning in 1884 and ending in 1975 when the country gained independence from Australia. This relatively brief association with colonialism left many of our diverse indigenous cultures almost intact. Without doubt one dynamic culture has to do with our traditional customary land tenure, the knowledge and the practice directly associated with the land. The point is that the land is held by hundreds of kinship groups; but the land is also used by thousands of family units. On this premise lies the most fundamental Melanesian distinction between the customary land on the one hand and the land use on the other with underlying intrinsic principle of collective and interlocking concept of ownership by both land groups and families.

The customary ownership under the control of the household has hardly changed since 1975. Indeed the small portion around 3% of the land which had been alienated by the Australian Administration has reverted to customary ownership so much so that by 1997 the modem state controls only 1% or 600,000 hectares. Where else in the world, may I ask, do the people of-a country still control 99% of their land? How can Papua New Guinea preserve and protect some of its traditional values including customary land tenure and knowledge essential to its cultural conditions to improve the living standards and quality of fife of its people? I have no answers for the second question which is extremely complex. My response to the first question is relatively simple one that the majority of Papua New Guineans are extremely reluctant to part with the land owned according to dynamic customs which are by no means static but changing all the time. Perhaps the 1% of the land whose title is held by the modern state may be returned conditionally or otherwise to the customary landowners in the next century. Who knows?

Struggle for Supremacy

The modern state has features which have evolved between 1884 and 1997. Whereas the distinct ethnic land groups have particular ethical concern for the resources within the confines of the groups, the new state has ethical principles and rules by constitutional statute law that embrace all the people within its national borders. In terms of maturity the various land groups have been weathered by hundreds of years and have a very stable character, whereas the modern state has existed for only twenty years, and the modem institutions as well as the system of government are still changing.

The most important feature to point out is that since 1990 Papua New Guinea has been on the threshold between traditional and modem ways of life. When we examine closely individual members of the land groups or clans throughout the country, they have been obliged, by custom, to retain their identity with the village groups, and at the same time, the same individuals have become citizens of the modern state. New personal and groups identities have been forged in order to relate to the new institutions established in different places; political groupings including provincial and local level governments, trade unions, associations and so on.

Many people are caught between the traditional clan based and modem societies, and in some cases people have difficulty in coping with the demands and the obligations of the receding traditional society and the demands and expectations of the emerging society. This creates a situation of divided loyalties. Many people find it difficult to continue to identify with village society and at the same time become members of modem institutions. These interactions between tides of modem changes and the ancient customs pose challenges; they have also created stresses which have resulted in a struggle to establish the legitimacy of the new groups including the state itself

Individual Papua New Guineans, as ethnic members of the land groups, have struggled to have their identities recognised as skilled and competent citizens by the state; and at the same time the independent state of Papua New Guinea is also starting to have its identity and authority recognised and accepted by its own citizens.

Very strong district and provincial identities have also emerged that have undermined the identity of the village land groups which, in many cases, have been weakened. And the village people are often unable to resist the state's attempt to use their land and other natural resources in the name of development.

In the last decade the most important single distinction between the people in the villages and the modern state of Papua New Guinea concerns the land and the resource use. Conflicts between the two parties arise because traditional and modem societies have different concepts of land ownership and a different concept of what is an appropriate investment for resources. Whereas the members of the land groups accept that land and the resources of the land are owned by clans, the modern state refuses to recognise collective ownership, even despite the 1987 legislation attempting to change the direction, but seeks to impose individual ownership. The state also refuses to accept that resources such as minerals which lies below the surface of the land belong to the people who own the land. This has been the major reason for the disputes between the villagers and the state in recent years. Nowadays the conflict is also over the ownership of the terrestrial and marine resources and the monetary benefits deriving from them.

Amongst the most tragic and the most publicised example is the Bougainville Copper Mine at Panguna in the Bougainville Province. The main causes of the Bougainville crisis revolves around the alienation of Panguna land and a rift between the older and the younger generations of Panguna landowners concerning the distribution of the financial benefits generated from the mine, and over the compensation for the environmental damage. The Bougainville crisis is a vivid example of the nature of the difficulties in the interface between the land groups in the villages and the modern state.

In 1975 majority of the land groups hoped to exercise the democratic rights gained at independence to enjoy the fruits of economic growth, cultural dignity and social security arising from the land. The giving of compensation in the form of money - the exchange medium of the incoming economy - for removal of land which is the base of both the traditional economy and the only possible source of capital in the new economy creates a terminally poor society regardless of the amount of money paid. In the last twenty years, however, the minority elite, in the name of the state, used independence as a licence to exploit the resources including land of the majority of our people.

Living Human and Material Treasures

What have these observations got to do with traditional knowledge? My answers are two-fold: Indigenous knowledge is a living treasure both in the immediate past such as oral and written history and antiquity or the ancient past.

Papua New Guinea must learn to accept, preserve and promote the traditional knowledge we have inherited from our ancestors. In particular the cultural diversity vis-a-vis the more than 6,000 autonomous ethnic groups spread across the country with more than 800 languages. In addition, the genetic diversity has a great potential source of scientific research recently identified through the Hagahai people in the central highlands.

Papua New Guinea's indigenous knowledge includes the cultural heritage. The major elements that constitute our knowledge include tangible or behavioural and less tangible past. The 6,000 living ethnic communities have expressions so intricately bound up or interwoven with music, songs and dances, decorations or expressive arts in material forms through the ancient stone and wooden artifacts. The less tangible domain of knowledge is evident in our socio cultural landscape especially oral history. They are material traces of our current social practices to do with ancestral sites, cult houses and sacred sites. These are integral part of our national heritage. The area of history or physical traces of our historical contact with the outside world. These include material records of the old House of Assembly, World War 11 wreckage, mining sites, shipwrecks and so on. In other words, I am placing emphasis on the importance of the promotion and preservation of cultural resources: particularly the human records that go beyond written and oral history and archeological records begin with the moveable and permanent features on the cultural landscape.

You may ask: Why preserve and promote the tangible and intangible traditional knowledge? The immediate answer is that they are an integral part of our national treasure: we must learn to understand the past that will guide and help us to determine and sustain the source of our common identity. We must recognise now than later that the destruction of traditional and archeological sites is not only irreversible but also non-renewable cultural properties. They contain intrinsic value which can provide important information. They are also very important cultural resource, which could be developed for eco-tourism to raise revenue for the country.

I now turn to the traditional knowledge of the deep past or antiquity. Time constraints prevent me from detail discussion. However, Dr. John Muke for this University provides 'points for me. Firstly, Papua New Guinea has been the longest and continuous record of human occupation than anywhere in the world stretching over 50,000 years. The people came across the sea immediately out of the islands of eastern Indonesia. This in fact constitutes the first over water colonisation in human history. The isolated Manus Island always posed a big problem for anybody sailing without instruments. This is because to get there requires sailing for many hours out of sight of any land. Yet people had successfully colonised the island 14,000 years ago. Thus, Papua New Guinea has the world's first seafarers when our ancestors crossed the Great Wallacea Line: the biogeological divide that separates Asian placental mammals from Australasian Marsupials. Papua New Guinea holds the oldest site for human settlement in the Pacific at Huon Peninsula in the Morobe Province with 43,000 years.

Secondly, Papua New Guineans were among the first agriculturalists in the world. Our forebears had been experimenting with crops in the swamplands about 9,000 years ago. The early settlers were hunter-gatherers who nevertheless managed their resources, moving plants, animals and raw materials around the landscape and promoting the growth of useful plants by clearing vegetation and opening up the rainforest canopy. By 6000-7000 years ago, it not earlier, systematic gardening had begun on the New Guinea mainland. It is possible to argue that this resulted from the indigenous development and elaboration of the practices of the first settlers rather than being an introduction from elsewhere. Native varieties of taro, yam and banana would have been available for cultivation. Such an early and independent establishment of agriculture in New Guinea could explain why the great changes that affected the Western Pacific between 5000 and 3000 years ago seem to have had a more limited impact on New Guinea itself The changes in question involved the spread of Austronesian language speakers through the archipelagoes of islands Southeast Asia and out into the Southwest Pacific, where it represents the first colonisation of islands beyond the Solomons. On the New Guinea mainland, in contrast to elsewhere, Austronesian languages have a scattered distribution largely confined to the coast and they are obviously intrusive into the domain of resident language relies that have proved resistant to their further expansion. One of these, the Trans-New Guinea family completely dominates the central highlands as well as covering large parts of northern and southern New Guinea and it is likely that this was the language family of the early New Guinea agriculturalists.

New Guinea agriculture was, however, enriched as a result of the advent of the Austronesians, who introduced chicken, dog and pig, as well as a number of innovations in material culture, including pottery. At the same time their arrival involved New Guinea in a wider world of trade and exchange. We begin to see Southeast Asian influence in the form of pottery and bronze objects. This may have been a byproduct of trade in natural products that accompanied the rise of early states in mainland Southeast Asia and western Indonesia around 2000 years ago.

The focus of this trade came to be the islands immediately west of New Guinea, with their spices, aromatic woods and barks, resins, sea slugs, shells and pearls. Before the colonial era in the 19th century the direct effects on New Guinea itself were essential restricted to the western extremities of the island, which entered the commerce mainly as the source of bird of paradise plumes and slaves. Some things ran well ahead of colonial rule, however. One of these was the sweet potato, a tropical American plant introduced into eastern Indonesia no earlier than the 16th century. This quickly took over as the agricultural staple throughout highland New Guinea, where it proved more productive than existing root crops and laid the basis for the populous cultures that so impressed the first outsiders to see them, 70 and less years ago. Now the Kuk prehistoric site near Mt Hagen is under threat through gardening activities.

Having highlighted the major areas of our traditional knowledge I now turn to what we are doing in the Ministry of Education. Papua New Guinea must protect, promote and harness our living treasures inherent in the indigenous cultural diversity. The national education reforms are directed to integrate our traditional knowledge into the national curriculum. In 1995, for instance, Papua New Guinea has declared by legislation all of its 817 extant languages to be used as official medium of instruction at the elementary level. We are the first in this world to establish vernacular education for the first three years of a child's education. Papua New Guinea has also become the first in the world to install solar lighting kits in the most remotest primary schools. The significance and the potential are enormous when you consider our rugged terrain is suitable to connect our rural schools to anywhere in the world through the Internet. The alternate current transmitted through satellite communication sends our local knowledge based on our cultural diversity to other parts of globe. I want to turn to the Reforms in our education that the national government is re-engineering between 1993 and the year 2004.

Education Reforms Being Re-engineered Now

Necessary Changes

The progression of vernacular to the second language:-

  1. The mother tongue is used in teaching which enable the children to acquire literacy in it, learning oral traditions, learning ever widening vocabularies and rhetorical forms - throughout primary school.
  2. The mother tongue is used as the medium for teaching throughout the first 3 years.
  3. The second language is introduced at Grade 3 and beyond. The second language becomes the main medium of instruction only in high school and beyond.
  4. Vernacular language teaching promotes the maintenance of our cultures.

Why is Vernacular language teaching central to a program of education? Language is the vehicle through which culture is transmitted. Any loss of language is a loss of culture. Culture transmission is dependent on language in a variety of ways.

Vernacular Education as a Basis for Change

Vernacular teaching begins schooling and then be maintained as English is introduced. Curriculum Materials will be produced by the Department of Education. The aim will be to enable children to learn about their own culture and community so that the child does not become a misfit in its own community. While increasing community involvement it will also prepare for further education. This will effectively join the traditional education of children to the formal one so that the two maximise resource use. Vernacular teaching of traditional know how will be by locally chosen teachers.

Vernacular schooling is based on active parental and community participation in the education of children. This has been the on going procedure for informal education of children which makes it easier to develop it into the formal sector. The development of Village-School Associations that are a vibrant and essential core to the school program is a comer stone of this model. This is a two way process in which parents and relatives are the teachers bringing oral traditions, vernacular knowledge and language skills into the classroom. At the same time the school materials and school resources are available to the community and the introduction of the second language as a subject and other curriculum items includes the teacher-parents as well as the children.

It takes a village to raise a child and, under the current education reforms, it takes a village to educate our children. This makes all the village resources to be an integral part of the school resources. Villages' projects can be integrated into the school curriculum. Valuing diversity and relating it to national and global issues will be a comer stone theme of the vernacular education. The development of materials that can be used across different vernacular schools increases a sharing of views and a valuing of diversity.

Education for Diversity and Diverse Education for Unity

Vernacular education and the acquiring of competence in diversity is the destiny of our education. The issue is a need to strike a balance between 'education for diversity' and 'diverse education for change'. Our view is that these two are in no way separate. Differences in culture in no way divide a country any more than a group of brothers and sisters having different talents divides a family. Differences in culture is no way decrease a country's viability in the same way as having different dishes in buffet dinner doesn't decrease the pleasure of the meal. The differences that divide a country are differences in power, differences in access to resources, difference in wealth. Cultural variety is our identity, respect for each other's cultures, joy in the variety, are our national characteristics. Papua New Guineans have always taken a joy in being tri- and even more multi-lingual, and pride in knowing how others do things - in travel, trade and friendship within cultural variety. This is who we are. There is no need to water down our rich cultural heritage to suit some created common culture. There is enough that we genuinely share for us to work together as members of one nation. The developed countries have not felt the need to deny their provincial variation and why should we? Europe and India are both continents growing power out of the bonding multi lingual peoples, this is the way of the future. I now look at the details of the basic steps to have access to vernacular education.

Language the Key to Culture

Access to Myths and Legends

Although, it is possible to translate stories the cultural impact of the story cannot be translated. The message of myths is often not in the overt plot of the story but in the repeated language forms, the list of place names and other elements. The underlying concepts and the relations between them are deeply embedded in the vernacular tongue. Such stories are a vital part of teaching the next generation the meaning of their world. Where there is no opportunity for these stories to be taught to the young - a process that requires repetition - the subtle elements of the culture will decline. Such a decline effects the very fabric of the life of the community. The story lines of myths and legends are not static archives they are a living method of dealing with social issues and culture change. In the transmission of these stories ties the transmission of deep-seated values - the very core of social cohesion and identity. Where there is a break in this creation and transmission you have youth without an anchor - with all the resultant social problems. The empowerment of adults in the communities to continue to mould the values and transmit them hinges on the respect for and competence in the vernacular language.

Access to Historical Accounts

The capacity to become an adult in a culture depends in part on having an understanding of the immediate past and the social and political ramifications of the past. The subtleties of interactions and historical accounts or relations between kin networks, friends and foe are encapsulated in historical dialogue and expressed in the rhetoric of leaders. The ability to understand this dialogue and to take part in it, is an essential part of becoming an adult in a community. The social fabric and the social control of the members, an adult in a community depend on the continuity of this dialogue that serves to control and direct relations between people. A loss of the sophistication of language to understand and take part in these accounts is a loss of law making and law following in the community and contributes to the breakdown of law and order.

Access to Scientific Knowledge

Every community has a wealth of knowledge as to its immediate environment. This includes, for example, knowledge of fauna and flora, weather and topographical factors, geological formations, medicinal knowledge, horticulture of all aspects of the material world. This classification is the vernacular tongue and cannot be translated. For example, the flora in a given area are known and classified in the language of that area. When the knowledge of those plant names is lost the ability to identify them is lost and the knowledge of their Uses in whatever area of human endeavour is also lost. This is true of all aspects of the natural scientific knowledge of indigenous people. The loss to the people themselves and the loss to the intellectual property of the country as a whole cannot be overestimated. This area of medicinal uses alone has vast potential. Such potential can only be realised in a partnership between the vernacular masters and the potential world wide market. This requires road of communication from the local to the global.

Culture: the Core of National Strengths

The stability that a vernacular culture gives its members is disrupted only with high risk. This stability arises from a mixture of congruity between child rearing and adult experience and a growing control into adulthood. This adulthood includes ability to deal with the environment and with spiritual and non-secular elements. Vernacular languages are of course not static: the adoption of new beliefs and understanding including Christianity is not at odds with a vernacular base. What leads to lack of stability is a discontinuity between aspects of that cultural control of secular and spiritual environments. Disagreement and conflict within a system, even between pro and anti-development aspects of the system is not dangerous. This is the ordinary change process in cultures. When, however, the new and the old can no longer speak the same language or the dialogue is reduced due to lack of sophistication of language in some of the younger vernacular speakers then stability is threatened.

Language is central to the cultural identity and thereby the stable personal identity of communities. The vernacular language allows the community to define itself and its place in the nation rather than having to accept an externally imposed definition of itself.

Vernacular education within the village base allows universal primary education without the dislocation from the subsistence culture that then leads to a rootless wondering youth population at home in neither world having to create its own lifestyle out of lacking opportunities and often violence.

Vernacular schools would integrate adult and child education in a way that would give the rural sector access to skills and knowledge to enable the people to create viable relations with the outside world based on clear choice and understanding not on exploitation and dependence.

Diversity : the Basis of Resilience and Brilliance

Our greatest national resource is the diversity of cultures in our country. Diversity is the source of strength for everything from gardens to human communities. Diversity means more viewpoints to clarify, more ways of solving problems, more creative ideas, a greater ability to deal with change. There are many examples of the power of harnessing diversity. The modern European community is as strong as its ability to harness its diversity. Where diversity is crushed and fought the nation becomes weak and divided. Where diversity is respected everyone benefits. This leads to social harmony and stability.

Vernacular Schools and Indigenous Education Rights and Freedoms

The 1996 World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education (WIPC:E) has declared that Papua New Guinea has the unique status of being a country with an indigenous population consisting of 817 'minority groups' vis-a-vis its same number of extant languages. This is a country that is ruled by members of those same indigenous communities. As such Papua New Guinea can be a leader in this field, showing how indigenous people themselves deal with cultural diversity amongst themselves. In this context Papua New Guinea is a natural leader in developing an instrument on Indigenous Education rights and freedoms. Ultimately the Education Reforms were are engineering now particularly our policy of vernacular education is the core right to cultural self determination that we espouse for our own people and by extension for all indigenous peoples in the next century.

Almost all indigenous people, and in particular, those who have suffered the impact and effects of colonisation, have struggled to access education that acknowledges respects and promotes the rights of indigenous people to be indigenous. And indeed failed to provide education which are both scholarly and nurturing indigenous cultures.

Status of Vernacular Education in Relation to International Conventions

Our policy in respect to vernacular education and the role of communities in education brings us clearly in line with Article 26 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. This states the following:

I  Education shall be generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

II  Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace. III Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

And 1.2.2 of Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights also states: In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exists, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, and to profess and practice their own language. Provide conditions that are conducive to the use and maintenance of indigenous languages. It is in this context that our vernacular education policy will bring us in line with the highest aim of the United Nations Article 26.

Failure of Formal Western Based Education to Address Indigenous Cultural Needs

The failure of formal education for indigenous minorities are well understood by indigenous peoples all over the world. The so-called drop-out rates and failures of Indigenous people within non-indigenous education systems should be viewed for what they really are - rejection rates. This is true for directly dominated indigenous minorities. It is also true in terms of our own drop out rate. The formal education that ignores vernacular village based education in favour of an English based urban modelled education is rejecting our own cultural and economic Realities in favour of an imposed neo colonial system of education geared only for those who have taken over the colonialists role within our structure. While our indigenous version of this role needs to have a formal education base this is relevant only for a part of the population and only in the late secondary and tertiary phases. To make most of our young people rejects from a system that could not accommodate them if they succeeded has caused a great deal of human and social suffering.

Indigenous people across the world are demanding, and are in fact achieving, the establishment of systems of education which reflect and embrace indigenous cultural values, philosophies and ideologies; the same values, philosophies and ideologies which have shaped, nurtured and sustained indigenous people for tens of thousands of years.

One of the greatest challenges confronting indigenous people in the final years of the twentieth century is how to promote, protect and nurture indigenous cultures in an ever-changing modern society. This is of particular concern for indigenous people who have been forced into cities and away from their homelands.

It is this wish for cultural continuity that we want to reflect in our village based vernacular education and because we are an independent nation with indigenous leader: we are in the best position to solve this problem of the nurture of indigenous cultures in the modem world. The Kari-Oca Declaration entitled "Indigenous Peoples' Earth Charter" (formulated in Brazil in May 1993) includes the following statements on indigenous education.

Elders must be recognised and respected as teacher of the young people. Indigenous wisdom must be recognised and encouraged. The use of existing indigenous languages is our right. These languages must be protected. At local, national and international levels, governments must commit funds to new and existing resources to education and training for indigenous people to achieve their sustainable development, to contribute and to participate in sustainable and equitable development at all levels. Particular attention should be given to indigenous women, children and youth. The United Nations should promote research into indigenous knowledge and develop a network of indigenous sciences. As creators and carriers of civilisations which have given and continue to share knowledge, experience and values with humanity, we require that our right to intellectual and cultural properties be guaranteed and that the mechanism for each implementation be in favour of our people and studies in depth be implemented.

These are principles which we support and which we are able to endorse for ourselves. The accepting our diverse traditions and the inclusion of vernacular language and knowledge in the village based schooling system will be a road to the protection of intellectual and cultural property in the control of our own communities.

Dangers of not Adopting Vernacular Education

Education has a vital role in avoiding linguicide. The death or marginalisation of language does not require an intent to kill it. If the process of teaching a language in its full richness to the next generation is not supported with adequate resources of time and money and with an environment where the younger generation values this learning because of the general place it has in society and in their future then a language will fade due to a policy of unsupported coexistence. The adoption of vernacular languages as the official language of elementary and primary schooling in rural areas would fully support linguistic rights of all Papua New Guineans. It would also be ground breaking for developing countries and world's best practice.

Papua New Guinea has 817 extant languages which have varying numbers of speakers, some are endangered in that young people are not learning them others are safe in that there are numerous speakers and speakers are bilingual and there is continuity of transmission. However, even in these situations there be a break between sophisticated vernacular speakers and young educated members of the community. Our advocating of a cultural study base to all education to be established before it becomes too late for any of our language groups.

Use of State of the Art Technology

The increased avenues of communications are an asset that can be developed. There is no longer a need to feel that we have to stay in some technological backwater. The capacity to bring the world to the village is ever increasing and the hardware base can be varied from optic fibre to wireless. The solutions to communications networking problems are becoming even more creative and flexible. The way the world is developing, we need not, and indeed cannot afford to lag behind. We have an opportunity to go to the fore in this area and create the environment for national unity in diversity and the ability to manage our interface to the world from our base rooted in the stone age cultures which are the source of our national pride and identity.

This communications web that the new education requires will also be the base for the health services, newspaper publishing, business networks, overseas marketing, military and naval security surveillance and indeed every area of endeavour. This is a great of potential sharing the technology of scale. Let me turn to the vernacular education as a basis for change.

Papua New Guinea is required to establish a communications infrastructure and join all our educational centres to the information technology of the future. This is a vital part of all future education initiatives in this country.

We must establish a communications or information technology infrastructure. This is a vital sustainable development for academic programs in the higher education sub sector in PNG. Suitable arrangements by Telikom must allow for such a network to be developed for the higher education institutions.

The proposed network's objective is to provide leading digital communications technologies and network services to the desktops and laboratories of teaching and research staff in the higher education institutions. In addition, it will provide vital infrastructure for national and regional programs operating within higher education institutions including access to national and international database of information. The provision of specialist high performance computing systems and similar programs where access to specialised research tools and resources are required.

It is an essential part of the basic infrastructure required for teaching and research in high education institutions. There is a need for government funds to upgrade this infrastructure to a broadband network so that it can continue to perform this necessary role.

The data network in the higher education sector will also be the base for the use of all relevant technologies at the provincial and local levels. Research will be ongoing into the possible use of wireless and other data transmission techniques. Decentralisation of higher education will make video links available for all levels of education at the provincial level.

Interlinking of elementary with community schools is important. This is because we have to embark upon decentralised course delivery to local primary schools, provincial secondary schools as well as national high schools and tertiary institutions. Teacher training and students contact requires good communication links. This latest technology allows us to deliver and receive school without bricks. It also enables inservice teacher training, wide range of learning experience, and boost quality of education received by rural societies.

The introduction of new technologies will go hand in hand with the relevant training at vocational centres, secondary schools and technical colleges as has been the case with the introduction of solar lighting kits. The linking of the communications developed for school programmes with adult education process and local to global link is an important part of creating and maintaining vital community involvement in school. We have embarked upon these linkages already. Thanks through the Government of Japan the Department of Education has started to install Solar Lighting Kits to 400 remote primary schools throughout Papua New Guinea. The Japanese Government has given KI.5 million for us and by December 1997 320 schools will have solar power. In May this year I had the pleasure of being involved installing 20 solar lighting kits in the Oro Province. I was happy to see eleven most remote rural primary schools receive the solar lighting kits in my own Sohe Electorate. The work was done by DATEC officers and Popondetta Vocational students. Thus we have the skills available locally to install and maintain technology.

The link into the international information technology networks will also enable the technical and vocational training organization to keep in step with international technological developments and benefit from interchange of ideas and joint projects. Practically all 'newly industrialised nations' have achieved their current status in record time through international cooperation. Any nation isolating itself from the global exchange of technology has fallen behind. The way of exchange of information of today and tomorrow is on the information highway of the Internet. The information highway is both the link to the world and hope of true equity within Papua New Guinea. We have already established four additional universities in the strategic regional locations this year. We believe strongly that the development of a number of smaller regional university campuses is an excellent venue to install data, voice and video communication connections to maintain exchange and sharing of teaching resources. We are currently investigating worldwide what can be offered to us based on existing infrastructures and our needs based on our vision.

We must find the best and the cheapest means of delivering education and health service to the majority of our people. So far the College of Distance Education has the least most cost effective way to increase opportunities for Papua New Guinea to gain a high school education and to improve their chances of employment. Human resource development is an important policy of the Government. We must not overlook the services of the Colleges of Distance Education whose future lies in the hand of the people of this country and its survival and the huge potential must be supported by both the central and Provincial Governments.

Universities and Open Learning

Higher Education is very fast changing it identity, and we Papua New Guineans have to change our outlook about what universities and colleges and higher education look like. Our administrators and planners of higher education are going to have to stop thinking of hi-tech delivery of education as a futuristic vision, and are going to have to prepare to use it for the cost-effective delivery of higher education around the nation.

Development Abroad

Abroad, North American, European and Australian universities are getting ready to offer academic programs and nations by using advanced satellite and pay TV technology, CD-ROMS, video-conferencing and the Internet - which have advanced to a stage where they now rival traditional cultures and tutorial in the universities around the world. Private companies are working in parallel with the universities, with many companies offering tertiary programs for their staff over the Internet. In some cases, media companies are beginning to compete directly with established universities by securing accreditation for degrees which they offer in direct competition with the universities.

Already in the United States, Western Europe and Australia communications and pay TV technology there are already preparing and having accredited programs of higher education to be delivered through their proprietary technology. These companies use the technology either to compete with the existing universities or in partnership with them.

There are also increasingly emerging universities that can use cable and satellite network to offer accredited undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. Universities in these countries no longer assume that their traditions and capital investment in physical resources, in building and campuses, will ensure their educational providers. They know that they must make imaginative use of the new technologies.

Implications for the Structure of Higher Education

Twenty or even ten years ago, we could point to a set of buildings in a given campus, and say, "There is a university"

Ten years ago, we could say that an individual was a student or not a student studying at a given university. We could describe the period of time that the person would require to complete a program of studies.

The definition of a "university" now is much more open, and the boundaries of space and time less relevant. A student in Kazakhstan or Mongolia or Cambodia can enlist in an Australian-taught program, using the new technology - and graduate without ever seeing Australia. Higher Education and a university exists where ever there is a telephone connection, a computer, a modem and a student.

With university-style resources available almost anywhere in the world, and with technology rapidly changing, professional education is now no longer pre-service. It is assumed that a mature professional person is also growing in his/her profession continually studying and updating. The mark of a graduate is not that they have all the knowledge they need for their professional life; it is that they can acquire it.

The Arrival of New Technology in Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea is now beginning to take advantage of the new technology. You may now go to almost any hotel and a large percentage of homes in this city, and where-ever there is access to satellite television and tune into university programs from India, Malaysia and Australia. Across Papua New Guinea, you may enrol in professional programs being taught through electronic media. These professional programs stretch from Certificate level to doctorates. Part of the service offered with the professional programs is access to professional and academic libraries which are far superior to any hardcopy library in Papua New Guinea. These libraries in their continually updated versions will be available to graduates through their careers.

Welcome to New Programmes

On the whole, we welcome these expanded opportunities for Papua New Guineans to upgrade their expertise and qualifications. If I may be blunt, however, we have no choice but to welcome and accept them. There is no censorship, no exclusion policy possible which could keep them out of Papua New Guinea. The programs will provide a valuable additional resource for higher education. They offer expanded and alternative modes and programs of study which will enrich and diversify the opportunities in higher education available to Papua New Guinea.

Steps to be taken by the Commission for Higher Education

We need to incorporate these high technology programs into our system of academic awards. We need to assess their relevance to professional status within Papua New Guinea; we need to ensure that awards offered are equivalent to those offered in Papua New Guinea; we need to work to ensure that courses are relevant to national needs. The Commission for Higher Education has already instructed the Office of Higher Education to prepare to do this in set areas.

The Special Value of the New Technology for Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea needs to do more than to react to outside innovations. Papua New Guinea needs to adapt and incorporate the new technology into its own system of higher education.

Papua New Guinea will have some problems in undertaking full use of the new educational technology. Our communications channels in some cases need upgrading. We have yet to develop maintenance infrastructure that will give cost effective and speedy support for the technology. There is much to do. None-the-less, Papua New Guinea is uniquely placed to benefit from the technology. Our population is dispersed in small centres. Transport to the major institutions of higher education is expensive and often beyond our resources. We have many small institution or higher education that may be focuses for use of these technologies. One example where the new technology will be especially relevant is the upgrading of nursing education. The National Health Plan requires strengthening of the ability of nurses to promote health education and to provide medicine where the people live in the rural areas. Many nurses have worked in these dispersed rural centres with no opportunity to upgrade and update their expertise. There are many small Schools of Nursing, located around the country. The staffs of these Schools have given devoted service, but the quality of education has been handicapped by lack of professional books and resources for the educators and complete libraries for the students. These can be provided electronically. The Office of Higher Education is now working with the Department of Health and with the church agencies to provide such opportunities for the nurse educators to upgrade their qualifications and expertise, and for the schools of nursing to develop their resources. Similar programs are being examined for implementation so that business leaders, managers and financial officers may undertake significant studies, in their place of work, and applied to their work.

New Technologies for Rural Use

New Technologies can be used to improve the quality of life in rural areas, strengthen the village communities and also promote national unity. Several examples are sufficient to show the practical value of the sophisticated technology for village purposes. New technologies can be used to enable a village to contact a centre for advice on particular problems such as the repair of a water pump or setting a broken arm. (A camera linked to a computer sends pictures of the broken pump or arm and the user explains the problem and answers questions. The adviser then gives verbal instructions and send graphics or exactly what should be done to mend the pump or set the arm). Audio-tapes and video-tapes can be transmitted and copies on site (as with the domestic VCR) and there is no technical reason why the text of a whole book can't be fed into a computer at a central point and then printed out from computers located in distant rural areas. This would enable students, in classes, to receive basic education in their own environment and individual, mature age students, to pursue advanced courses.

Students in a variety of geographical locations can be linked with their teacher, and each other, through a group video hook-up. (This has been used by some institutions in the US and Australia for extended-campus learning for years). These enable students from various ethnic groups to 'meet' each other, discuss problems and try to establish common solutions. This process would encourage the concept of national unity and understanding of national interest without students having to leave their sometimes very isolated communities.

I am aware that much of the very sophisticated technology may not be available to Papua New Guinea for some years and in the meantime it is necessary to use what is available and financially affordable like the solar electricity in schools. I do not intend to recommend wasting money on highly sophisticated equipment which people haven't been trained to use, and those trained to use it can't repair.

A Private Vision

What I want for my country is cultural continuity; retention of intellectual property, social and personal stability and I see this possible only through the retention of vernacular education. There will always be a place for traditional ways of transmitting knowledge and information. An elder or a person with the most knowledge on plants and animals or the local history must be able to tell his or her people. So far, this education has taken place outside of the formal government funded education system. I want to integrate traditional knowledge that includes cultural diversity into that system.

This is an unfortunate heritage of the colonial policy of Australia in forbidding the use of vernacular in the school environment. A policy it might be added that grew out of the Australian desire to destroy the culture of its own Aboriginal people after physical genocide failed. The transfer to PNG of this policy under the guise of being a better educational policy went against all known information as to the intellectual effects of vernacular language educational bases. Such knowledge was available as close as Rabaul where German nuns taught in Kuanua till ten years of age and produced a level of academic excellence in German by the end of schooling that was never equalled by the Australian run education in PNG since 1949.

It is high time that we shed this overlay from colonial days and embraced our vernacular riches into the formal education system. Many countries are now regretting their treatment of their own vernacular cultures. Language has played an important role in maintaining colonial structures and reproducing neo-colonial structures: it can be an important means for seeking self-determination psychologically, educationally and politically. A Papua New Guinea that is solidly based in the diversity of its own culture and that embraces self determination of its people can never belong to anyone else in any way.

The major concern I have is related particularly to the inculcating of competence and skills to our children the cultural diversity into the education system we wish to develop as well as to the advanced technology we hope to use. For better or for worse I have been married with Ann, my wife, but now I am wedded to the concept of equity and I think for better. Equity between men and women, young and old, rural and urban, equity between provinces, languages, village groups tribes and clans. Equity does not mean being the same. Equity means rejoicing in difference and using our rich heritage to move to a joint and unique future in the 21st Century.


In conclusion I want to return to the introductory observations. Papua New Guinea was settled by people who originated from Southeast Asia over 50,000 years ago. In Western Indonesia states began to evolve about 2,000 before present. I pose a theoretical question: Why is that societies in Papua New Guinea remained an egalitarian communities until a century ago? Leaving this important question to others I want to challenge ourselves as to the fundamental issue of our cultural diversity. Papua New Guinea does not have tradition-bearers or specialists who are set aside, as carriers of traditions, directly responsible to a chief or king, or members of higher class, or even the state. As a result the transmission of the forms and contents of oral tradition are neither supervised nor guarded let alone controlled by someone higher on the social scale. This is a great contrast to formal traditions in the highly graded societies where the historical knowledge are bent towards the yoke of a ruler who has a specialist as the custodian of the chief, king or the state. It is this egalitarian ethos out of which our present wantok culture is evolving. Wantokism is indeed a very good distributive mechanism because it promotes the network of kinship relations, allows the wantoks to redistribute and share their wage earnings with those not working for salaries. This wantok culture goes directly against the argument that the wages in Papua New Guinea are too high.

There is a common thread of this egalitarian ethos that underlies the cultural diversity; it is the basis of the elementary education in the vernacular that the National Government is putting in place. It is exactly 20 years ago that I was awarded an Australian National University Scholarship to do a doctoral dissertation in Canberra. I proposed to write the required thesis in my mother tongue first and translate it into English. The first obvious question was "who is going to examine the work in the vernacular". My simple answer was "That is not my problem!" I produced 270 pages of the study of the Binandere history and translated most of it into English with 478 pages. This, the Binandere version became the "text" and the English translation was the "appendix" as some of you may have viewed the success of this achievement last night in my film - Man Without Pigs. Binanderean Language Family has set this record one down and there are 16 other living languages to go.

Finally, allow me to conclude with a loud call from UNESCO made in October 1993:   that folklore form part of the universal heritage of humanity, is a powerful means of asserting the cultural identity of different peoples and social groups and constitutes the main source of contemporary creation. Given the extreme vulnerability of the forms of traditional culture and folklore, particularly those aspects relating to oral tradition, and the risk they might die out, all countries should fully acknowledge their role and act to safe guard them from danger.

I call on the National Government to set up a Committee of Inquiry into traditional cultures and Folklife in Papua New Guinea.

1. Keynote Address - The Value of Traditional Knowledge in the 21st Century (from 1997 Wagani Seminar)

  By:  Hon. Professor John Waiko, PhD, MP
Vice Minister for Education, Independent State of Papua New Guinea

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