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Papua New Guinea: Education closures extended to confine COVID-19 to single case

While all schools and universities have been closed since 23 March as part of the country’s measures to deter the spread of COVID-19, the Papua New Guinea Teachers' Association discusses with their government ways to ensure quality education and safe return to schools for children and educators.

On 2 April, the government of Papua New Guinea extended the shutdown and closure of educational settings for another two months, extending its original 14-day state of emergency declared on 23 March. The government’s measures, declared as a response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, included a curfew imposed on the country’s approximately eight million residents, a restriction of travel within the country, and the closure of all schools and universities. 

The country recorded its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on 20 March, an imported case of a foreign mine worker sent to Australia for treatment. 

Even so, public health specialists and development workers warn that the country’s high rates of poverty, poor nutrition, poor health services, and pre-existing health problems such as tuberculosis make the population highly vulnerable to the disease.

However, because there has been only one case of infection, there could be some easing of restrictions, suggested the General Secretary of the Papua New Guinea Teachers' Association (PNGTA), Ugwalubu Mowana.

“We are in favour of schools reopening to some extent and, given that all necessary precautions are taken, to allow for some degree of teaching and learning to take place for the benefit of students,” he explained.

The PNGTA will send a letter to the government proposing ways to allow for some level of teaching and learning in schools. 

It has already urged public authorities to allocate an adequate amount of financial means to the Department of Education to ensure that teaching and learning, resource and curriculum development are sustained.

“My union highlights that teachers should be used more to raise awareness within their communities.” Mowana stressed. “It is especially important to educate rural populations on COVID-19.”