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By Phil Yombon

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (July 16, 1998 - The National)---Papua New Guinea, a resource-rich country, has one of the lowest literacy rates in the South Pacific, according to a situation analysis report compiled by the Government and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

The report, which was published in 1996, said only 45.1 per cent of the population aged ten years and above were literate compared to an average of 85 per cent in other Pacific Island countries.

The literacy rates vary widely throughout the country, and are considerably lower in less developed provinces, it said.

In another report, the World Bank defined PNG as a middle income country, yet the education status of the population is much lower than that of most low income countries.

The PNG Government-UNICEF report said formal education was only reaching 70 per cent of primary school aged children, and less than 20 per cent of secondary school aged children. Less than two per cent of students who start grade one will complete 12 years of schooling.

"Education is a vital key to ensuring equal opportunity and participation for women in the development of PNG, yet it is widely acknowledged that participation rates of females in education are disturbingly low compared to other countries in the Asia-Pacific region," it said.

The report also stated that although education reform was a measure in the right direction, problems still exist - like the pool of twelfth graders who cannot gain entry to the universities and colleges is increasing, and there is a shortage of teachers to teach in the reformed schools.

The report said while the dual nature of PNG's educational requirement involves producing high-level professionals and trained specialists for the country's development while providing basic knowledge to improve the quality of living, the trend of education tends to alienate the children from their culture and community; it does not adequately equip them with the knowledge and skills relevant to community development.

It said the Government had seen the problem and had introduced a major structural reform in the education system.

The reform calls for initial literacy in the vernacular, and places emphasis on the importance of elementary education.

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