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Delivering the goods : education as cargo in Papua New Guinea

by Colin Swatridge

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Delivering the Goods: Education as Cargo in Papua New Guinea   (2011-03-30)


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by wppalmer

Review of "Delivering the Goods: Education as Cargo in Papua New Guinea".
C. Swatridge.
Melbourne University Press, 1985.
A number of readers at some time might have visited or worked in that huge archipelago to the north of Australia now called Papua New Guinea. They will have a direct interest in this fascinating country. Others will have a general comparative interest in education worldwide.
This book is a short (153 pages) but scholarly work with a wide-ranging bibliography and detailed references. The theme is the gradual change in perspective of Papua New Guineans from conceptualizing education merely as a means of obtaining the "white man's wealth" (a cargoistic view) towards the more sophisticated view of education being worthwhile in itself and for the development of the individual- a view that is far from universal even in developed countries.
Learning about other people's thought processes and how these develop over time is perhaps Part of the appeal of biography and autobiography. I enjoyed Swatridge's book as I enjoyed The Sleepwalkers (Koestler, 1959). There is similarity between the journey in scientific thought in Europe over 2000 years described by Koestler and the journey that Papua New Guineans have had to make in educational thought in less than 100 years.
In The Sleepwalkers, the reader is transported from a geocentric view of the universe epitomized by Aristotle's "harmony of the spheres", through the thought processes of timid Cannon Copernicus who looked perhaps more to the past than the future, to the watershed typified by Tycho Brahe and Kepler and finally to the recognizably modern views of Galileo and Newton or a heliocentric solar system obeying the laws of physics. Koestler's account shows how scientists at the watershed were able to work both in modern scientific mode and also at times believe in the more mystical Aristotelian viewpoint, knowing it to be scientifically incorrect.
Colin Swatridge worked as a teacher at Aiyura National High School in the mid 1970s. His research involved his students' views on a variety of modern topics, such as education, independence and language and also their accounts of their families' viewpoints of these issues. The students' own words arc frequently used. I see one of these students, the mature Louis Peter, described as European in name and dress yet relating stories of magic and mysticism, himself believing them to be true as at the watershed between Western and mystical educational thought. The young man is probably typical of many of his generation.
The students' own words are supplemented by quotations from Papua New Guinean, West Indian and African fiction. The writings of missionaries and anthropologists working in Papua New Guinea are also frequently quoted and a strong case is made that up to the early 1970s many indigenous people saw Western education only as a magical means of obtaining the secrets of European wealth. Other quotations show that Africans too saw Western education in this way. The view of education as an investment (for example Schultz, 1961) has much in common with these views in that the aims or achieving wealth, power and status are similar. This is the point to which Swatridge brings us. His final quotation being from the Ghanaian novelist Armah. "How close are we to the Melanesian Islands? How close is everybody?" As part of an article on higher education I came to a similar conclusion: "Perhaps it is only when learning for personal fulfillment (in Papua New Guinea) is widespread that the ghosts or cargo cultism will be banished forever" (Palmer, 1986).
Reviews of this book in Papua New Guinea have not generally been favorable (e.g. Crossley & Sukiawomb, 1986) and have criticized the lack of recent references, minor inaccuracies and pessimistic conclusions. I would add to these criticisms that the style. though entertaining does make considerable demands on the reader's background knowledge as the narrative can move in the course of a few paragraphs between several different locations in Papua New Guinea and then perhaps to Africa all at different periods of history. In spite of these criticisms, I still conclude that it is a useful and original work. especially relevant lo those with interests in comparative education,
Crossley & Sukiawomb, 1986 Review of "Delivering the Goods: Education as Cargo in Papua New Guinea, Papua New Guinea Journal of Education, 22, 198-200
Koestler, A. (1959). The sleepwalkers. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Palmer, W. P. (1986). Education/Higher Education as a Commodity in Papua New Guinea - Some Conflicting Cross Cultural Perspectives". Education as an International Commodity, Volume II, (editors) R.R. Gillespie and C.B. Collins, ANZCIES, Queensland, Australia, pp.406-418.
Schultz. T. W. (1961). Investment in human capital. American Economic Review, 51, 1-17.

W. P. Palmer (originally written for South Pacific Journal for Teacher Education, Vol 16, No 1, April 1988, pp.109-110.)

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