By ENNIO KUBLE in Gumine
“Yalkuna (best of friend in Golin dialect), I am doing one of my runs to visit schools at the back of the mountains and headwaters,” he said with his infectious smile looking towards the westerly direction where he was to walk that day.
He is Michael Sipa, the stockily built school inspector for basic education, Gumine Inspectorate of the Education Department. By the end of term two this year, Michael ended his third round of visits to each elementary and primary schools in Gumine of Simbu province.
There are 67 elementary and primary schools located in three local level government areas, home to 10 ethnic groups with a population of almost 60,000 people squatting on the 708 square kilometres that pop up rugged mountains and deep gullies, taking the Whagi river gorge as its shield and the Au-Abane plains as its bed.
Michael from the Mian ethnic group that hosts the district headquarters proved to be full of energy as he walked through the hinterlands on foot, earning himself a name, visiting 44 elementary schools and 23 primary schools that spread across Dom to Yuri, Sa-Mian, Dimaku, the two Golins, Sa-Simalin, and the two Eras.
Michael has produced a half-year operational report to the Education Department reflecting on the challenges, the achievements, and the need to strengthen education services in the district.
“My schools visits report reflects on the successes and failures through thick and thin circumstances. I have gone into places where political indifferences arising from the past elections remained raw, rocky and sliding tracks I walked, but for Gumine my endurance still stands undivided and ongoing,” he stated.
The Department of Education may not be wrong in appointing Mr Sipa as the School Inspector to basic education in November 2016, as he is young at age of 48, full of vitality to strengthen education as the foremost pillar of development.
His appointment came too soon, a year after he graduated with a Bachelor in Education at Divine Word University. He started teaching in 1999 after graduating from Holy Trinity Teachers’ College.
Mr Sipa said he remains whole to deliver quality education services each day with distinction in the district at the primary education level.
“The paramount purpose of paying visits to both elementary and primary schools are to ensure that standards must be met by all schools located in the district,” he said.
In order to attain quality education for the children enrolled schools must adhere to standards approved by the Government.
The standards supervised by the Standard Office at Fin Corp building in Waigani ensure
qualified teachers are engaged in every school to teach, teachers are applying correct strategies and methods in teaching, teachers and students are using correct national prescribed Curriculum materials and resources, and the head teachers must possess qualified management skills to administer the schools.
In areas of school infrastructures, the classrooms, library, staff houses, sports fields, and other learning facilities are conducive for both students and teachers, the school health and hygiene includes clean water and toilets must be in order, and the school boards, the parents and other stakeholders must contribute their support in the school infrastructural development and students learning.
Mr Sipa said the second purpose of the school visit is to inspect teachers’ performance to be promoted if the performance is proven quality, and demoted or terminated if the performance is below average.
While on this warpath to attain quality education Michael Sipa made three visits to each school in term one and two. In the coming remaining two terms, the same frequency of visits is planned.
“In retrospective of my school visits itinerary I planned for 3 visits per term in each school is my annual targets. This includes 44 Elementary schools and 23 Primary Schools. I achieved my target plan at the maximum average,” he stated.
“Relatively, spot checks and routine advisory visits on overall operation status of every school in Gumine is an integral part of my core functions that was maintained to date.
I am now done with all my advisory visits and inspections covering every school, even into the remotest schools includes Amia, Nondri, Olegain, Degepaume, Pildimina, Genabona, Kalewere, Kuabala, Goroma and Omdara by foot and not by vehicles,” he added.
Not by wheels but by foot to strengthen education services, Mr Sipa walked more than 132 kilometres of road, starting from Kundiawa, the provincial headquarters of Simbu, to the remotest Olegain, Omdara, and Amia primary schools in Gumine in terms one and two.
In his school visits Mr Sipa noted and brought to the attention of the administration issues affecting schools.
“Our schools currently operating are generally fine according to the nature of its status. Performance is fine and on its retrieving process.”
He noted that Korokoa Primary School will not reopen this year and the Dia-Yuri Primary school with its feeder elementary schools were affected by on-going tribal warfare ensued by the surrounding communities in April.
Mr Sipa also noted that infrastructure development increased at the fastest rate over the last three years.
He said learning materials and learning facilities are the basis to master quality education for all, alongside with adequate infrastructure facilities.
“These are the enabling factors in achieving quality teaching and learning. Gumine schools are satisfactorily versed with available curriculum materials.”
Along those areas he noted with concern that both primary and elementary schools are yet to be provided with library buildings.
Mr Sipa stated in his report to Education Department that there is a need to affix each school with a library.
“I also asses the physical environment to be healthy and friendly. Water sources are of concern, as most schools do not have safe drinking water sources. I am sure school boards with their communities should ensure that their schools have safe drinking water systems,” he added.
Mr Sipa also highlighted that capacity building aspects are needed to enhance teachers’ qualification.
He said teachers quality control was proposed this year in Gumine to ensure teachers are versed with the right and required qualifications, knowledge and skills to impart to their students.
“I have come to realise that sense of quality teacher for quality education has gradually begun in the district.”
He said he also identified new schools to be established in the remotest part of the district to realise the slogan of ‘universal basic education for all’ and stated the identified areas in his operational report.
The walking school inspector is only faced with a challenge, and that is for him to have a mode of transportation, a horse, a bicycle, motor bike or a vehicle to cover 67 schools covering the with and breath of Gumine.
“I have come to confront an unresolved battle of need for a vehicle or a motor bike to enhance my operations mobility to effectively meet standard requirements. My foot patrol is proven too risky walking through volatile social and political settings. The ruggedness of the terrain remains a big pain to the lower part of my body,” Michael Sipa concluded.