SCHOOL HEALTH PROBLEMS NEED ATTENTION

Editorial

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National) - Sogeri National High School has been home to many of Papua New Guinea's most illustrious leaders.

But in recent years the school has been beset with a number of major problems.

The reputation of Sogeri as one of this country's leading educational institutions has been put at risk. 

Last week's report from Sogeri indicated a school under threat of a disease outbreak.

It seems that Sogeri has had a large number of students suffering from diahorrhea, and that a student has died from what is believed to have been typhoid at neighboring Iarowari High School.

A medical examination of the Sogeri students resulted in 109 of them being advised to attend Port Moresby's clinics and hospitals for further examination and treatment.

Blame has been placed on low rainfall and poor water supplies, leading to possibly contaminated water at the schools.

Blaming the school administration for such a situation will do nothing to resolve the threat to students' health.

Agreed, those working in an administrative and supervisory capacity at Sogeri should have been aware of the threat to students and faculty members posed by poor supplies of water.

And one would imagine that a boarding school of the size of Sogeri would have an ongoing system designed to monitor the potability of water, and that such a system should have given the school adequate time to solve the problem, or create alternative water supplies.

It seems that no such system exists.

And this is the crunch of the problem.

For despite the tens of millions of kina allocated by the National Government each year, such problems as inadequate water supplies, collapsed sanitation systems and archaic food preparation facilities, plus a host of other potential ancillary threats, tend to be swamped by the avalanche of demands for text books, classrooms, teachers houses and more and better qualified teachers. 

This year has seen a sharp decline in the amount of money available for educational institutions and in particular their running costs.

Many tertiary institutions have unfairly borne the blame for the last-minute removal of most end-of-year fares for students to return to their home provinces.

The National accepts that there was simply no government money available for the purpose.

We do not accept the fact that the Office of Higher Education chose to keep tertiary administrations and thousands of students hanging in mid-air until the very last moment.

The inevitable result was many stranded students, and the impression that the OHE had been less than competent over the affair. 

Universities and colleges were unable to financially assist their own students to return home, in large part because promised government educational funding had not materialized during the year.

Two sets of circumstances, one affecting the health of our students, and the other their welfare and well being - and both caused by the same problems that currently affects all sections of the community, lack of funding.

Obviously there are no easy solutions.

Each section of the government feels that its own needs should be pre-eminent.

Health, education, agriculture, fisheries, foreign affairs, trade and industry, home affairs and welfare, and of course the police, CIS and courts can all make out convincing cases for the pressing priority of their claims.

We have no wish to add unnecessarily to that impossible list.

But it seems to us that the education, health and well being of the coming generation must rank very close to the top of any thinking person's priorities.

We urge the government to plan ahead with greater realism than has been shown this year.

Parents of students should be fully re-assured that accommodation, acceptable food and water supplies, basic return fares and the ready availability of medical help are in place before they farewell their offspring en-route to boarding school.

That list should be non-negotiable, and should form a minimum guarantee for both students and their parents.

We trust that the Sogeri water supply problem is solved well before the intake of new students in 2004, and that all other students are made aware of the terms and conditions under which they will study at secondary and tertiary institutions next year.

And, of course, that the goal posts will not change during the year. 

November 3, 2003

The National: www.thenational.com.pg/

 

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