This month our team has been on the ground in Papua New Guinea delivering sets of tablets, pre-loaded with over 200 titles from our digital library, into the hands of children and teachers.
In 2018/19 Library For All has worked with partner organisations to roll out these unique class sets to 12 carefully selected schools in the region. This program, combined with free access to our app for anyone with an Android device, means over 50,000 children are now reading with Library For All!
The school pilot program has been a tremendous success so far, with early data captured by our devices showing steady reading results in classrooms. Getting these kits into the field is not without its challenges, but is as rewarding for our teams as it is for the schools themselves!
On the road with LFA
Each school ‘deployment’ involves months of coordination to pull together a day when school staff, parents and community leaders are available to take delivery of the tablet kits and undergo training. There is also considerable planning around safe transport of the kits - and our teams - into hazardous regions. Most PNG people are truly some of the friendliest folk you’ll ever meet, but political turmoil and poverty means there are also very real security concerns for our staff as they travel.
As one might expect, the schools we work with are not in urban centres. Our most recent deployment saw one team take a rough 4WD journey 4 hours out of Port Moresby to reach a small village community. Roads are rugged, with potholes aplenty, fallen trees and wandering animals for drivers to dodge. Other teams flew north to Madang and Morobe, taking our books to coastal towns. The landing strip at Madang airport runs right along the river, where locals wash and play. Staff are greeted by children waving as they run alongside the descending aircraft!
An instant library for grateful schools
On arrival at each school, the warm welcome is quite overwhelming. It’s hard to overstate the gratitude we witness as teachers are handed an ‘instant library’ that will directly benefit their literacy instruction. Staff have no sooner stretched their way out of our transport vehicles than they’re in the midst of community celebrations. Students prepare traditional dances, parents provide celebratory food and the region’s significant elders and councillors take the stage to remind everyone of the significance of our program.
Imagine trying to learn, or teach, in a school with very few books. Now go a little further… imagine using ripped up cardboard boxes for lesson planning, conserving chalk for essential use only, or relying on outdated, culturally-irrelevant, weather-damaged text books to teach a class of over 50 excitable 8 year olds in a classroom with no walls! This is the reality of life in many PNG communities, which is why our teams have walked our kit box through a guard of honour, and been thanked with gifts of everything from handmade bilums to livestock. A school deployment can be very moving for all involved, and leaves us in no doubt of the benefits of working collaboratively with communities to reach our mutual literacy goals.
Training and future planning with teachers and students
When the ceremonies are over, LFA staff move into groups with teachers and students to provide training on the use of our tablets, and maintenance of our kit boxes. For teachers, it’s important that they are empowered to offer the tablets for regular class use. We understand that in communities where educational resources are extremely scarce, our tablets are a precious resource. But we supply our tablets in sturdy cases, with tough storage boxes and charging options to ensure they can go the distance with curious kids! Teachers also receive information about entering student profiles into the tablets, which allows us to track crucial data we can then feed back to schools around student performance.
For students, our training is all about the joy of reading! Although mobile phones are increasingly common, we are working in communities with no running water let alone bookstores. The few books that are available in these schools are often generously donated, but are stories about ‘other’ kids. Our staff are always thrilled by the wide eyes of children when they get their first glimpse of our brightly coloured, interactive stories featuring kids who look like them, living lives a lot like theirs. We engage the kids in shared reading activities (these schools may never have owned a class set of books before!) and invite them to talk to us about their favourite stories. This can’t help but benefit their interest in reading!
While some PNG classrooms are worlds away from a mainstream classroom in Australia in terms of resources, it’s funny how some things never change. It seems every classroom, the world over, has its cheeky class clowns, studious crowd pleasers, and a quiet but inquisitive back row. Kids are kids, and they all equally deserve the opportunities that literacy can bring.
Every child deserves the benefits of literacy education
It was never our desire to host a ceremonious ‘launch’ for every kit in a new school. In fact, we originally intended to quietly slip into schools to hand over the devices to key staff. In many ways it is OUR privilege to do what we do. But it has become apparent that these events have benefits for everyone involved. Speeches and traditional ceremonial elements elevate the importance of our kits - and thus, the importance of reading - in the community. They encourage parents to get onboard, supporting teachers and finding ways to reinforce their children’s learning experiences at home.
After each deployment series, our local PNG teams will return to the schools regularly to provide support and monitoring. Our Australian-based team members will return home, equipped with research and reflections we can use to keep improving our product and its delivery.