Education seems to be more focused around Tapini quite simply because we have the high school there and capacity in terms of personal (brothers, sisters, priests and lay teachers) and facility which has been gradually built up since I first came to Tapini in 1997. Much of this has happened because of my own entrepreneurial skill, the willingness of various donor agencies, and a very generous contractor (Varokou Construction) to us assist us in the projects works that have been implemented at Tapini over the last 15 years, especially those centered on the high school,.
My own background is education being a trained secondary teacher. When I first came to Tapini in 1997 as parish priest I remember thinking to myself, “What can I do as a priest in this place to help make a difference”? I would step outside the Fathers House at Tapini and look down on the station and the answer was in plain view: there was the high school on the right side of the airstrip with 300+ young people from across the district in need of improvement, and the now largest community school in the district on the left side, which at that time was completely run down with a population of less than a hundred students.
Education is the key to development, and if there is to be any meaningful development in Goilala it must commence with the young. My background in education and my ministry with young people in Australia (mainly through school chaplaincy and retreat work) has put a love for young people and their Christian formation in my heart. And of course my first love in this regard has been the high school at Tapini because of its impact on Goilala society for development and its strategic importance for the formation of young people from across the district .
In this endevour I am only one person with particular skills, remembering that all priests are different with different skills. With God’s grace, and wonderfully supportive co-workers I have been able do what I can do with the Lazarus knocking at my door, given my own human limitations, the constraints of the social situation I am in and coping with factors that are outside my control.
Though centered in Tapini I have been able to extend my sphere of activity to other parts of the diocese, with work I have taken on at Mainohana and outside the diocese in Port Moresby with work at Sacred Heart Teachers College – Bomana, both of which have a major impact on education in the Goilala District.
As well, recently I have been engaged in primary school development with three schools along the highway near Tapini: Koiava, Kone Bridge (Pilitu), and Lilo. However, as I have already pointed out, I am just one man and I cannot do much more that what I am presently doing.
In 1997 nearly all the 37 community schools across the district were operating, with the high school population filled by Goilalas and representative of all areas across the district. Today in the Guari area all 7 seven primary schools were operating, with a good number of Kunimeipa students coming to the high school. Today schools in the Kunimeipa area are closed. Though not as bleak, the same can be said for schools in Aiwarra, Jongai, Sopu, Fane, and Ononge areas. Why is this so?
In 1997, there were two major airlines flying in and out Goilala. There were regular daily passenger flights to POM, and the various Goilala ports were connected by sector flights: Kerau, Kosipe, Kamulai, Guari, Sopu, Jongai, Ononge, Fane, Erume. The fare to POM from Tapini was K82 and a Twin Otter Charter with 1,600Kg uplift was K1,100. Gradually this has diminished over the years since, whereby today there are no passenger flights to Goilala, and the only air service now operating is a light plane with a maximum passenger loading of 9 with an uplift of 750Kg. Charter cost for this plane is K7,000 to Woitape. The only other port it will fly to in Goilala is Tapini at a higher cost, however isn’t much call for it to fly there given the road is open.
In the days when the when the road was closed (2000-2008) and high school operation relied on air charter, the cost for a Twin Otter with 1500Kg uplift in 2006 was K4,400. Today a Twin Otter Charter (if you can get one) with 1200Kg uplift is over K9,000! The cost per charter has more than doubled and the loading has been reduced by 25% on what was allowed for in the past. If the road to Tapini ever closes the high school will not be able to operate on air charter as it did in the past.
Transport (air transport and road accessibility) stands out as the single most determining factor as to why schools (and other services) are not operating in Goilala today. The diminishment of transport correlates with the shrinking of education and health services over the last 15 years. It has resulted also to the urban of much of Goilala’s population to settlements in and around Port Moresby. How do expect teachers (especially teachers from the outside) to take up postings to remote area schools in Goilala if there is not transport for them and school materials. And with a national shortage of teachers, teachers are going to opt for appointments where they have access to goods and services.
This problem of a teacher shortage in Goilala and other remote area districts across the southern region has led to the bishops of the southern region to establish Sacred Heart Teachers College – Bomana in 2009, which specialise in the training of teachers for remote area schools. Goilala played a key role in the establishment of this college, and it is a main beneficiary in terms of the number of Goilala students which are accepted each year and the graduates who have come on to the field since 2011. This teacher college only accepts non-school leavers who are committed to returning to teach in their home area after graduation. This is an initiative of the Church which requires Government support. Already through the supply of new graduates coming out of this college we are starting to see a turn around with the re-opening of schools that were previously closed, however this turn-around will take a number years to be seen across the district.
The re-opening of schools is only possible if the social situation of the area is right. The Guari area is not safe at the moment to send in teachers. Despite the police action last year to track down the killers of Fr Gerry Inau, these people have not been apprehended. There is still no ongoing government/police presence in the area. The threat of payback killings is still real. The diocese hasn’t received a clearance from proper authority and assurance from people on the ground that the situation of lawlessness in the Guari area is now OK. How do you send teachers (or health workers) into such an area when it is not safe? This is not the fault of Church but of Government. The law and order problems in Goilala need to be addressed, and until this is done other services cannot operate.
Over the years there have been law and order problems and social unrest in other areas which has led to the closure of schools. I can think of places close to Tapini like Kileipi, Illuavai, Kerau, Sopu, Maini. Minalu and Koruava. Where peace in the community has been restored, and the situation stabilised we have been able send back in teachers when we have them. For instance we are to send a teacher back to Sopu this year who will hopefully stay and get the school up and running.
Apart from Tolukuma which operates a government school, all the other schools in Goiala operate under the Catholic. ( Tolukuma stands alone as something artificial in the general picture of primary schools in Goilala and it is supported by the mine.) The Government has to come in and do its bit in supporting the delivery of education service in the district. The Catholic Church is the service provider, yet it has sadly received very little funding from successive local Members through their Joint Distict Priority Planning Committee over the years. The Catholic Church has had no input in the formulation of any district education plan over the years. The Catholic Church has had no representation by way of an ‘appointed church rep’ on the JDPPC.
Successive Members have preached how they will work with the Church at election time, but once they have kept the Church at a distance. For the last two year, K2M per year is supposed to be given for education as being one of the 5 key development areas. For the most part the Church – being the service provider for education in the district – has seen practically nothing of this money. So how are we supposed to make a real difference with this sort of ‘partnership’?
Added to this, there has been a number of public servants engaged in district education over the years, who to varying degrees have been caught up in corrupt practices and working in isolation to the Church for their own interest. Again with this sort of ‘partnership’ how are we to properly advance?
Despite the difficulties, the Church is doing what it can do with the limited resources at its disposal, but we cannot do it alone, and Government at its various levels has to do its bit. The recent newspaper articles by Bishop Rochus Tatamai highlights this point.
Fr Brian Cahill msc, EV
Vicar for Education
Diocese of Bereina