Preparation for Social Action in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands


The challenge

In consultation with the Bahá'í International Community's Office of Social and Economic Development (OSED) and the founders of the Rays of Light Foundation the programme was introduced to help combat some of the difficulties in the region with educating a population which is sparsely inhabited, which contains many remote communities and one where education is often regarded as a privilege, not a priority.

In Papua New Guinea the shortage of school places for those entering the high school system leaves many Year 8 students (the last grade in primary school) without an option to continue their education.  School fees, too, can also prevent some students from such an opportunity as can the remoteness of some students from high school facilities.  Such circumstances limit the future of an individual and bring a premature end to their education at a stage so vital in their development as a human being.

Preparation for Social Action is one educational alternative for Year 8 students who wish to continue learning and who have a desire to contribute to their community's well-being.  PSA has been introduced, piloted and made available to areas desperate for such opportunities.  Gradually it will spread to other areas in need of such solutions to the difficulty of educating their youth.  The programme is administered in a way that can overcome some of the challenges faced in this region.  It also has scope to make deep impacting positive changes to society starting at its grass roots.  Some of the facets which The Rays of Light Foundation believes makes this programme successful are explained below.

Tutorial based education system

Preparation for Social Action is a tutorial based system of education, and the importance of the participation of the individual in their own learning is paramount.  Many students have adapted to a passive model of learning where the teacher is the source of all interaction and instruction.  At first unfamiliar with participative learning, the Rays of Light Foundation found the PSA programme helpful in changing an outdated model of teacher-learner interaction with a model corresponding to the advances made in modern educational practice which are more conducive to intellectual progress.

Participants benefit from being "true protagonists" of their own development, learning from their own reflections, participation, experimentation and consultation with others.  The role of the tutor of the PSA programme is one of assisting and guiding the student's learning and they are carefully trained to orient the group and to serve as a role-model for the students.

One other positive of a tutorial based programme is that rather than focusing on the building of infrastructure and requiring large amounts of funding to sustain each school, PSA is flexible and mobile enough to be implemented in very remote locations almost immediately after training of tutors has been completed.  The resources most vital in running PSA are the tutor themselves, the text books which contain the course material and a science kit (donated by the Rays of Light Foundation) which includes the instruments needed for the experiments and projects carried out.  In this sense PSA is run in a decentralised fashion which is appropriate to rural and remote communities.

A better quality of life through service projects

As previously explained the PSA programme is built around an axis of service to the community lending to the transformation of the individual and the collective.  The curriculum equips the participants with the concepts, information and skills needed to make help make this a reality.  Because the curriculum creates a context of learning relevant to the experiences in their everyday lives the service projects are powerful in their potential to improve the lives of the students and the communities they live in.  The following are some examples of the potential positive impact PSA groups will make in their microregion.

One of the first texts studied is "Classification" which engenders in students the capability to classify things.  One of the themes explored in this text is that of 'parasitism', i.e. when one species benefits at the expense of another.  A case study on malaria is presented giving explanation of how the disease is transmitted, how it affects the body and information about how the disease can best be minimised is given to the reader.

The World Health Organization has described malaria as the "leading cause of illness and death in Papua New Guinea" and statistics show over 70000 reported infections for the year 2003.  Many communities in Papua New Guinea are plagued with mosquitoes and are often ill-informed about the disease and have little access to relief from it.  By being able to inform others of the key prevention techniques and by undertaking projects such as draining stagnant water holes the PSA group is able to help lessen the impact of malaria in their microregion.

Training that took place in Lae, Papua New Guinea in 2008 included one such project on the grounds where the training was taking place.  Participants noticed that a ditch dug for a fish pond that was never completed was harbouring thousands of mosquito larvae and was one of the probable causes for sickness of some of the attendees.  By filling in the pond the PSA tutors took one step towards protecting the surrounding inhabitants from malaria.  Draining swampy areas, using protective clothing and mosquito nets, educating community members about the responsible use of anti-malarial medicines, reducing exposure to mosquitoes during the peak hours of transmittance of the disease and other similar steps are all different aspects of this grass roots approach to solving one of the world's most widespread problems.

"Environmental Issues" as the title suggests helps students engage in consultations with the community about the plight of the environment.  Included in engaging in these discussions is the information and strategies that provide solutions to some of the problems which are overlooked or challenging for communities, who don't have access to reliable and affordable waste management, to solve.  During tutor training one group that studied this text implemented a waste management solution including a bin scheme for biodegradable and other waste, a compost system and a garbage pit that stored landfill in an environmentally responsible way until it could be removed by garbage disposal services.  The importance of the environment and our role in using it responsibly was explained in a positive and non-admonishing way.

One of the PSA tutors listening to this presentation for the first time explained that when he was young he would throw his rubbish in the river (a common practice by many people living in close proximity to a water system) and as the water took the waste out of sight he would feel as though his problem was gone.  Now, after hearing this presentation, he realised how his actions caused harm to the environment and he was pleased to have the opportunity to be more environmentally friendly in his actions, a view shared by other participants in this project.

Spiritual and material progress

One of the unique aspects of the PSA programme is that it "addresses both the material and spiritual dimensions of human existence."  A spiritual influence compliments the academic education of youth giving them moral purpose and direction to their activities.  One example which demonstrates how these two aspects go hand-in-hand in the transformation of the individual is exemplified in the text "Properties".

"Properties" is one text which focuses on some of the key concepts in describing with accuracy the physical world around us.  Concepts that can be explored in their physical nature can often give us metaphors for spiritual concepts.  One example is the nature of colour and the scientific concept that the natural colour of an object is a superficial property of an object, which is obscured under different coloured light.  Following this discovery the participants are asked to discuss the statement "Colour is only skin deep", examining a concept which has profound spiritual and moral implications for the students and the society they live in.

Rays of Light is proud to invite all Year 8 leavers regardless of their religious background to the PSA groups.  While the materials address the spiritual nature of man they are not particular to any one religion nor do they endorse the teachings of any sect, church or religious organisation rather the programme promotes principles which are universal and common to people of all creeds.

A short history and a look to the future

PSA was first introduced by the Rays of Light Foundation to the Daga region in Milne Bay Province and to Honiara and West Areare in the Solomon Islands in 2007.  In February 2008 the programme expanded to Madang, Morobe and Western Province.  During the next 3 years the Rays of Light Foundation will focus on maintaining and improving the quality of the existing groups and nurturing the tutors and the students underneath them through a quality education.

Expansion of the programme will naturally take place at the end of these three years when many of the students themselves may continue their service to society by becoming PSA tutors.  A key strategy in the expansion of the groups by the Rays of Light Foundation is to ensure that organic growth can occur without the virtue of the programme being compromised or the number of groups becoming unmanageable for the coordination structure supporting it.

Whilst the ability of the human resources to run this programme is being refined in the initial years of the programme the Rays of Light Foundation will be interested to focus on how the groups are contributing to their communities through service.  A key indicator of success is the ability of the group to assist in the transformation of their microregion, and this focus will be maintained by the coordinators overseeing the PSA groups. 

Expansion in Pacific 

After 5 years of implementing the PSA program in Papua New Guinea, Rays of Light Foundation assited Foundation for the Betterment of Society in Vanuatu to undergo series of seminars to raise understanding and to stimulate conversation. A stratergy that has organically led to establishing the program in Namasmetene community in Tanna Island.