UPNG SHOCK: 90 PERCENT FLUNK LITERACY TEST

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (April 27, 1999 - Post-Courier)---Only 11 percent of first-year university students are literate enough to benefit from tertiary education.

An English test administered to first-year students at the Waigani campus of the University of Papua New Guinea produced these results, according to UPNG Vice Chancellor Rodney Hills.

Dr. Hills, who addressed members of the Papua New Guinea and Australian Business Council meeting, said the test was conducted with first-year students at the campus who studied a course called Foundation English.

He said: "Only 11 percent were judged sufficiently literate to benefit from tertiary education, on an objective test for English language ability." Dr. Hills said 60 percent fell into the fail category and the category just above that. He said the 60 percent group would be struggling. They would probably "be unable to cope with tertiary education unless they are provided with special tuition," the controversial vice-chancellor said.

Dr. Hills suggested that if such a test was done 20 years ago, more than 50 to 60 percent would be in the top category.

Dr. Hills explained that most of the 11 percent who passed the test either attended schools in rural areas, or went to international schools and schools overseas. He, however, did not have a figure for graduating students.

Dr. Hills said: "The danger in this situation is that the bulk of the population coming through the schools is not learning in the sense that many of you and I would use the word.

"They are tending to get through the system by a combination of coping and finding other strategies to get through the examinations."

Dr. Hills said this had profound implications for their ability once they got into the workforce. He said in his view literacy was not only a problem but was a growing problem.

Dr. Hills also spoke on two other points which were related to the literacy problem. He said one of the real problems when discussing education issues in Papua New Guinea was obtaining statistics that told you anything. He said the transfer of so much education funding into the provinces was making it even harder to know what was really going on.

Deputy Education Secretary William Penias supported what Dr. Hills said about literacy in the education system when explaining the education reform system being undertaken by the department.

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