Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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Coastal region and small island papers 10
Chapter 5

Education and the Motu Koitabu society

by Lady Carol Kidu, MP

There are many urgent issues concerning the future of traditional landowners in all urban areas that must be addressed in the next five years or it will be too late. I have written to the Motu Koitabu Council on some issues and am genuine in my desire to help at the national level. As a mother and grandmother of Motu Koitabu children, I genuinely care about the future of the Motu Koitabu people.

I have asked for a select Parliamentary Committee on Urbanization and Social Development to be established with myself as the Chairperson. This would be an effective way to address some of the urgent problems facing landowners in urban areas at a national level. If this happens, I hope that theMotu Koitabu Council will work closely with me to establish policies that will benefit not only the Motu Koitabu people, but all the people of PNG.

Children playing at Hanuabada village

While researching this paper, one thing that became very apparent was the lack of information on education specific to the Motu Koitabu. This also is undoubtedly true for most ethnic groups in the nation, and it is something that needs to be addressed. If we are to comprehend fully the present day issues and problems concerning education and the Motu Koitabu then we need to collect and analyse data as a basis for planning strategies to address the problems. We need quantitative data such as enrolment and retention rates at varying levels of education, literacy rates, tracer studies of upper secondary and tertiary students, and also qualitative data to assess changing attitudes, perceived needs, constraining factors. This could be addressed in partnership with the council and the NCDC Education Committee.

Every human society has its own system to prepare their young to move into adulthood and acquire the knowledge and skills that they need to survive. Over the years, traditional education has been mostly informal representing true life-long learning by example. In some areas more formal types of instruction would occur particularly for specific knowledge or skills that may have been the property of a particular person or group.

In the traditional situation, the village community was the classroom, the teachers were the elders, both male and female, and the main medium of instruction was by doing. Theory was taught mainly through legends and stories. The first step in this education was the introduction of self-discipline or ‘helaga’. Self-discipline is also the first step in Western education. The Motu Koitabu society had a very functional education system that served their needs at a particular time. But times have now changed.

‘Vaigana’, the Motu Koitabu hunting ground, has been transformed into a ‘concrete jungle’ of government offices. There are no Hiri3 or Tabu ceremonies except as show pieces during Hiri Maole (the Hiri Cultural Festival). Our villages are now an integral part of the cash economy and our children must acquire new skills to survive and prosper in this changed environment. This is not going to be easy because our children in the NCD are now facing open competition with children from other parts of the nation, whereas children from Tubusereia, Boera or Porebada and Motu Koitabu villages outside the city are protected because they belong to another province. Who is going to shield us and protect us? Is it the Motu Koitabu Council? Is it the NCDC? Is it the United Church?

On arrival here in 1966, although I was educated at a tertiary level in my own society, I was completely uneducated in the Motu Koitabu society. I was acutely aware of the fact that I did not have the knowledge nor practical and social skills to survive in the Motu society. I knew I had a lot to learn and that I would have to make a special effort because I had missed the years of childhood learning that would have socialized me to be part of Motu society. My classroom was the society. There have been many changes over the past 30 years and many of the things that I had to learn are no longer being learnt by the children in Pari. This is a matter of concern for the future of the Motu Koitabu people and society.

Identity and pride in one’s heritage are a basic foundation to true integral human development and social harmony. With the introduction of foreign education through religious missions and government, people began to compartmentalize their thinking on education. Education came to be seen as ‘mission ena gaukara’ (the work of the church) or ‘gavamani ena gaukara’ (the work of the government). This attitude had a negative impact on the development of education in the villages because it removed the feeling of responsibility from the people. The Education Reform attempts to turn this around and bring the responsibility for education back to a partnership between the community and the government. As yet the reform has had limited effect in this regard, but it is an area that has a lot of potential for positive development particularly in the area of community-based curriculum development.

Development of a Motu Koitabu curriculum, integrated with the formal curriculum at both elementary and primary levels, is an area that I would like to address next year both at policy level and in planning and implementation strategies in the NCD. There is plenty of expertise in our villages, in our schools and in the curriculum division. This expertise, with the necessary funding, could make this a reality and a model for many other ethnic groups throughout the nation.

As with all former colonial nations, the introduction of formal education had both positive and negative impacts. The Motu Koitabu, by their geographical location, were advantaged in terms of access to education because they were centrally located in relation to the early settlement of both the missions and the colonial government.

The first contact with foreign education was made in 1872 at Redscar Bay when the London Missionary Society (LMS) installed teachers at Manumanu. From this time until World War II, education of the Motu Koitabu was provided by the LMS. The Administration, in Papua, provided a small grant-in-aid to mission schools that taught English but beyond that took no responsibility for education and, in fact, regarded education of the ‘native’ population as unimportant or even dangerous.

With minimal resources, missions did what they could to provide school facilities as they saw education as an integral part of their work of evangelization. At no time did any form of education become generally available, as each mission operated independently, establishing schools only in villages where their influence was strongest.

Sponsored by the missions, the local catechist, barely literate himself and lacking training and equipment, struggled to provide village children with basic literacy and numeracy skills as well as elements of hygiene in a vernacular. No thought was given to wider educational horizons. However, it must be acknowledged that without any element of professional leadership in education, the hard work and dedication of these early missions contributed to an improvement of village life in some ways. Since then, the education theory has gone a full circle and returned to the concept of early education and literacy being presented in a vernacular familiar to the children. These early limited advances made in education by the missionaries were swept away in the havoc of the war years. After the war, there was a change in attitude towards social development. The two territories were united by the Australian Government under a single administration and a Department of Education was established, headed by the anthropologist educator,W. C. Groves, to carry out a policy of educational expansion.

Groves defined the role of government in education and established a working relationship with the missions. Mission schools would continue to enrol the majority of pupils but it was established that the government would set and maintain acceptable standards. The first territory-wide curriculum was established; teacher-training programmes were instituted; a language policy, establishing English as the language of instruction was adopted; and a system of grants-in-aid and other forms of assistance to the missions planned.

In many ways, the Motu Koitabu and the Rabaul areas led the way by the very fact that the first LLGs were established in those areas. The establishment of the Fairfax LLG in 1950 paved the way for the advancement of the education process. This early political development heightened awareness of the need for education so that people could operate more effectively in the changing political and social environment. The late Toua Kapena and Mahuru Mahuru Rarua were pioneers in establishing the relationship between politics and education and the late Mahuru Mahuru Rarua passionately promoted the concept of ‘free education’ well before the Wingti Government and the Port Moresby City Administration led by Mr Phillip Taku.

Motu Koitabu people can also be proud of the late Oala Oala Rarua who was a real ‘trail blazer’ in the field of professional teaching. In the early days, he was the only Papua New Guinean allowed to teach with the Australian teachers, while he climbed the ladder as a professional high school teacher, and while the late Vincent Eri climbed the inspectoral and administrative ladder.

Education at that time was guided by the idea to blend cultures in line with the Assimilation Policy of Australian society. This policy resulted in a certain amount of cultural alienation. I remember my concerns about identity, facing the Papua New Guinean students, particularly the Motu Koitabu, when I first started teaching here in the early 1970s. Among the students I sensed a feeling of rejection and shame about their own culture, and a deference to what was at the time presented as a ‘superior’ culture. I remember how happy I was to see their eyes light up when they realized that I could identify with their cultural environment and that I was proud of it and wanted my children to learn from it. It is very pleasing to know that these attitudes have turned around completely nowadays – perhaps even too much, and there is a need to develop attitudes of respect for all cultures.

It is important for all groups, not only the Motu Koitabu, to find a way to strike a good balance between pride in one’s own culture and understanding of other cultures so that they can interact successfully with them. It is particularly important for the urban Motu Koitabu because they are trapped in a rapidly growing cosmopolitan city and must learn to operate and interact in that city.

Old lady of the Vahoi clan with ‘babu’,
Hanuabada village

I believe there is an urgent need to bring a political dimension into education for the Motu Koitabu in NCD. They must be given the knowledge, skills and affirmative confidence (not aggression) to fight for their rights in their own land. I am concerned by my observation that the Motu Koitabu society seems to be becoming more introverted and insular, while the city races ahead around them. If we do not address this issue our future generations will become increasingly marginalized in their own land. We need to ask ourselves ‘What is the classroom for Motu Koitabu students, particularly in NCD?’ The classroom must not be seen as just inside the four walls of their school. The city surrounding them must be seen as part of their classroom. They must learn how to survive as a part of that city and seize opportunities offered by the city without being intimidated by outsiders and without losing their own identity.

Reversing this process of marginalization must be addressed from many angles. I said earlier that geographical location gave the Motu Koitabu an advantage in terms of access to education during missionary and colonial times. This factor of location, however, has now turned against our children in terms of access to higher levels of education. The Motu Koitabu villages do have the potential to achieve Universal Primary Education and some probably have achieved it within their villages. However, post-primary access rates are of major concern. This is an area where data need to be compiled. Personal impressions indicate that postprimary access rates are very low for Motu Koitabu students who are forced to compete with the urban elite for the limited positions from Grade 9 to 12. How can access rates be improved?

Alternatives include a political approach with a minimum quota of places as a right for the indigenous city residents, or an approach of academic enrichment and tutoring to ensure that the top Motu Koitabu Grade 8 students can compete on a level playing field. How do we develop and implement such a programme? The Education Reform aims to equip Grade 8 students to become productive in their villages and needs a strong vocational emphasis. Again it becomes a balancing act – how do we achieve the vocational needs without sacrificing the academic standards that are needed to gain entry to Grade 9? Can the systems used in missionary times be reintroduced to encourage and assist our students? Can interested parents organize structured study time each night for interested students with a roster of adult supervision the way it used to be done by the missionaries? It is very hard for students to concentrate on homework and study in crowded Motu households where so many things happen most nights.

The picture of entry rates to tertiary education is worse. There seems to be just a handful of Motu Koitabu students at the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG) and other tertiary institutions throughout the country. Data on the entry rates are needed. Strategies must be developed to produce a solid cadre of Motu Koitabu academics, professional and business people. In the early days after independence, Motu Koitabu administrators and professionals dominated the public service and were a driving force in post-independence development; things have certainly changed nowadays.

What are some of the constraining factors influencing the lowered access and retention rates in higher levels of education?

Social inequality is a major constraining factor; this relates to a person’s socio-economic status. If a family is richer, their children will not only go to school but will stay longer in the system and are more likely to reach tertiary levels of education. The fact that large numbers of village people are unemployed, or employed at a basic wage, disadvantages their children from birth.

Another factor relates to gender, which affects education and occupational mobility. The chances of girls succeeding in these areas are much less than for boys. In general, PNG societies, including that of the Motu Koitabu society, are male dominated and girls are disadvantaged. There are no legal or institutional impediments to hinder the progress of girls through the education system. In fact many donor-funded education projects actually favour the advancement of females. However, cultural attitudes still place emphasis on the male child. It is argued that this is the Melanesian way, but to me this is not an acceptable argument.

To be part of modern society, ways of thinking must change. To ignore or waste the talents of half the population is an enormous waste of human resources. Factors that cause attrition of females at upper secondary and tertiary levels include the fact that women and girls carry a heavy burden of domestic commitment, a load that is not shared by the males. Marriage also disadvantages the females – it is assumed that a woman should sacrifice her education for the man even though she may be the more intelligent. Unplanned pregnancy also disadvantages female students – the girls have to take the full blame and may be expelled from upper secondary school. In reality, it is too great a waste of years of expenditure on education of that individual.

It is internationally accepted that educating girls has a great impact on improving the quality of life of society. Long-term research studies overseas have established the relationship between female education and improved health statistics. Future Motu Koitabu education policy should place strong emphasis on education for girls.

Formal education systems cannot cater to all the educational needs of society and there is a need for informal education, e.g. a Motu Koitabu vocational school, and an affordable and modular system of community adult education. This could help diversify people’s skills to provide them with income-generating opportunities. Making the community the focus of education for our children and our adults should involve the churches, NGOs and existing institutions.


  1. A Motu Koitabu Education Policy should be developed in line with national and NCD policy and also address issues specific to Motu Koitabu people and society.

  2. A system to gather qualitative and quantitative data relevant to education and future education planning should be introduced in all villages.

  3. A co-ordinated effort should be made to develop a common Motu Koitabu community-based curriculum for elementary and primary schools.

  4. A strong emphasis should be given to the political dimension of education to assist the Motu Koitabu Council and individual villages in establishing and achieving what should be their right as the indigenous people of the capital city.

  5. A workshop should be held next year to develop strategies to help remove or modify the constraints faced by many Motu Koitabu students in their attempt to climb the educational ladder.

  6. A co-ordinated programme should be developed to bring the responsibility for education back to where it belonged traditionally – at the very heart of society.

They are our children. They are our people. They are our future.

3 Hiri represents the traditional trade between the Motuans and the Elema people of the neighbouring Gulf Province.


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