PNG government and education department would have realised that a large portion of teenagers is missing out on higher education. Stats are indicating a sad situation where over 96% of primary school students are pushed out of the system just 4 years before they could have had a chance to get a tertiary education. 

The point here is not about Grade 12 students entering colleges or universities, but to have a plan for MOST of the Year 8s to get a tertiary education. It is important to take them on board the education train, then to leave them on their own to fend for themselves when it comes to education at such an early age.

The  Acting Education Secretary, Dr Kombra, in a newspaper report revealed that this year 120 000 Grade 8, 59 000 Grade 10 and 23 200 Grade 12 students would be taking national examinations. But, there are fewer than 4500 spaces at tertiary institutions.

Take a look at the table showing numbers of students at grades 8, 10 and 12 compared to spaces available to them after leaving school at the age of 18 years.

Retention is the problem, not drop out: students do drop out at will sometimes but those pushed out are more than those leaving. So, the government has the responsibility to do something- anything it can- to increase spaces at tertiary level. If this trend is left unchecked, government's plan to give younger generation a proper education would not be realised.

Primary and secondary schools (then community and high schools) mushroomed whereas spaces at tertiary institutions remain low since structural changes took place. Number of students entering lower and upper secondary schools increases proportionately, too.

One can also argue that number of students is further growing as a result of government's free education policy. Go back to the village and you'll find youngsters are going back to classroom after years outside. This not a bad thing. The point is where else do they go after they are given this second chance, or what can be done to improve their chance of getting into universities and colleges. 

If the government is really serious about educating the younger generations, it has to start putting its money where the mouth is - increase retention within the system, especially at higher level of education.

This does not mean only creating new institutions if it needs to, but also expanding number of spaces available to students at existing higher learning institutions. This is surely not a lot to ask. Why giving Year 8 students false hope - hope that one day they could be entering a university or college when 96% are bound for the villages or streets?

Any goals in our National education plans, medium or long term, would not be of any meaning if only 4% of 15 and 16 year olds will enter higher learning institutions. It would be BETTER if 96% make it through, wouldn’t it? The onus is now on the government and leaders in education circles to see through the problem and find an immediate solution.  

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