Pidgin is the most widely spoken Pacific language, with more than
two million speakers in three countries: Papua New Guinea (PNG),
where it is known as Tok Pisin; Solomon Islands, where it is known
as Pijin; and Vanuatu, where it is called Bislama. As the most common
lingua franca in each of these linguistically diverse countries,
Melanesian Pidgin would seem to be a natural language of education.
Yet it has been given only a minor role mainly because of lingering
colonial attitudes, left- over pre-independence policies emphasizing
English or French, and fears that using a pidgin language would
interfere with the acquisition of these favoured language. In recent
years, however, more use is being made in education of all three
varieties of Melanesian Pidgin. This special report outlines this
use, including some information previously given in earlier issues
of the PACE Newsletter. It also describes some research
showing that educators’ fears of interference are unfounded.
1955 W.C. Groves, then the Director of Education in the Territory
of Papua and New Guinea, wrote a report entitled: The Problem
of Language: Paper no 1: “Pidgin,” recom-mending
the use of Melanesian Pidgin in formal instruction as a way of achieving
“accelerated development of the Native people”. [Detailed
quotations from the report appeared in PACE Newsletter 1 (1990),
p.7.] However, Groves’ recommendations were never implemented,
even after independence in 1975, and until very recently, Tok Pisin
was not used officially in government schools.
On the other hand, Tok Pisin has been used for years as a medium
of instruction in many church-run schools, which provide a large
proportion of primary education in the country. With regard to adult
education, there have been several programs using Tok Pisin. The
Kisim Save Tok Pisin Literacy program has been operating since 1970,
teaching reading, writing and numeracy. The program has produced
the Kisim Save [literally ‘get knowledge’]
series of four primers and also a Teachers’ Guide
with a training section and 74 lessons. Literacy teachers are trained
in 3-4 week sessions and then they go to remote villages to teach
[PACE Newsletter 3 (1992), p.2].
project using Tok Pisin was the mass adult literacy campaign conducted
in the Southern Highlands in the late 1970s and 1980s. It is estimated
that over 60,000 students were involved in the project (Apelis 1988),
with those taught by the Christian Brethren Church learning literacy
in Tok Pisin. (The other two churches involved used different local
to Ray (1994), in 1994, there were 330 adult literacy programs with
449 teachers and 7,543 students. Many of these teach literacy in
Tok Pisin, but exact figures are not available.
in the area of non-formal education, a community-based movement
started in PNG to teach initial literacy in the local vernacular
(or “Tok Ples”) in preschools, in spite of the government
policy of English-only in community schools. The first Vernacular
Prep School (VPS) or Tok Ples Preschool (TPPS) began in the North
Solomons Province in 1980 and the idea spread to the East New Britain
and Milne Bay Provinces in 1983 and to Enga and Oro Province in
1985. Largely because of the success of these programs, one of the
recommendations of the Ministerial Committee Report, A Philosophy
of Education for Papua New Guinea. (Matane et al 1986:48) was:
“That the vernacular language be used as the medium of instruction
in the early years of schooling and English be used in later years.”
have been revolutionary changes in educational policy since the
appearance of this report. The national Literacy and Awareness Programme
(NLAP) was established in 1988, and the National Department of Education
(NDOE) policy followed which outlined the responsibilities and strategies
for raising the level of literacy in the country. In 1989 the National
Literacy and Awareness Council was established, the English Section
of the Curriculum Development Division of NDOE was renamed the Language
and Literacy Section, and the Literacy and Awareness Secretariat
(LAS) was set up to provide technical assistance and coordination
for implementing the NDOE policy. The preamble to this policy is
as follows (quoted in Faraclas 1989:4):
order to improve the quality of education, to strengthen traditional
cultures and values, to facilitate participation by citizens in
national life, to promote national unity and to raise the level
of literacy in Tok Ples, Tok Pisin, Hiri Motu and English, we
recommend the development of educational programmes to ensure
that children, out of school youth and adults become literate
in Tok Ples, transfer their skills to Tok Pisin, Hiri Motu or
English and maintain their literacy skills in these languages.
the TPPS model, the policy encouraged communities to set up preparatory
classes (or preschools) to teach initial literacy in Tok Ples before
children enter Grade 1. It is up to each community to decide what
Tok Ples is to be used. “Tok Ples” usually refers to
indigenous vernacular languages, but in the policy it is defined
to also include lingua francas, such as Tok Pisin.
training of teachers for these vernacular preschools (and also for
adult programs) has been carried out over the years largely by the
Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), the Language and Literacy
Consul-tancy Group of the University of Papua New Guinea, and the
Papua New Guinea Integral Human Development Trust (PNG Trust), established
in 1990. Over 2000 trainers, coordinators, supervisors, materials
writers and teachers have been trained at over 32 National Literacy
and Awareness Training Courses conducted since 1989 by UPNG and
the PNG Trust alone (PNG Trust 1994). As part of these courses,
relevant literacy materials were produced in a variety of languages,
including Tok Pisin. Some of the courses held in PNG have had participants
from the Solomons Islands and Vanuatu, and materials were also in
the other dialects of Melanesian Pidgin: Pijin and Bislama.
1991 PNG had TPPSs operating in at least 91 languages. According
to information sent to the Literacy and Awareness Secretariat, Tok
Pisin was third in the number of students in classes from a single
language, with over 1600 students, and there were probably even
more who were not reported [PACE Newsletter 3 (1992), p.3].
of the largest and most successful TPPS programs is the Tok Pisin
Prep-school program in the Ambunti District of the East Sepik Province,
run by Papua New Guineans working for Pacific Islands Ministries
(PIM). [This program has been described in several issues of the
PACE Newsletter.] It is mainly a two year preschool “bridging”
or transitional program which teaches initial literacy in Tok Pisin
to children six or seven years old before they go on to English-medium
community schools. Instruction is entirely in Tok Pisin, and besides
basic reading and writing, includes basic mathematics, health and
hygiene, cultural activities, religious instruction, social studies,
and physical education.
program was started in the district centre, Ambunti, in 1985 with
two schools and 150 students in 4 classes. In 1994 there were 32
schools with 916 students in 39 classes, supported by dozens of
different villages throughout the area. [See the report in this
issue for the latest figures.]
other TPPSs, the Prep-school Pro-gram is a community based one.
A village asks for a Prep-school to be set up by forming a committee
and sending a represent-ative to PIM who then do a feasibility study.
If the village is found suitable, the committee must then get permission
from the head teacher of the local community school, provide one
or two people with some primary education to be trained as teachers,
provide land for the school and build the classroom. PIM trains
the teachers and provides basic equipment and teaching materials,
usually cyclostyled or screen-printed in Ambunti.
like the ones in the Ambunti District have spread like wildfire.
According to figures from LAS, in 1993 there were 1,560 classes
with 49,691 students using 227 languages. In some areas (such as
the East Sepik Province and National Capital District) extensive
use of Tok Pisin is noted, but the exact numbers are not available.
According to figures given by Ray (1994), there were 2,309 TPPS
programs with 79,445 students in 1994.
support from the national government, these programs are still outside
the formal education system, and run by local communities and non-government
organiza-tions (NGOs) such as various church groups, Women’s
Councils, the YWCA and environ-mental groups. However, according
to the educational reform recommended by the 1991 Education
Sector Review (PNG Department of Education 1991), the system
is being restructured to include vernacular education in the first
three years of formal schooling: “the reform removes the first
two years of schooling out of the current Community Schools and
into a new village based Elementary School with a programme that
resembles some of the vernacular schools that are currently operating
outside of the formal system” (Curriculum Reform Office 1994:4).
These two years will be preceded by one preparatory year, modelled
on the current TPPSs.
have been many criticisms of the proposed educational reform, and
there will be massive funding and organizational constraints on
its implementation. But the biggest obstacle is in trying to convert
a successful grass-roots, community owned movement into a top-down,
government-controlled system. At any rate, if it is successful,
many of the Community Schools will be using Tok Pisin as the language
of education, and Groves’ recommendation will be partially
implemented after all.
government of the Solomon Islands took over the formal education
sector in 1974, and since then, as in PNG, the educational policy
has revolved around the attainment of literacy in English –
even after independence in 1978. There has been no attempt in the
formal sector to use other languages to teach literacy, including
Pijin. Jourdan (1990) points out that “despite the fact that
Pijin is the most widely spread language of the archipelago, and
certainly the main language of the urban centres, it is not recognized
as being an asset in the education process” (p.169). However,
she describes the widespread use of Pijin among school children
and its unofficial use by teachers in the classroom (p.170).
observation was backed up by a large-scale national survey of literacy
and language, conducted in 1991 (Solomon Islands National Literacy
Committee 1992). The objectives of the survey were to determine
usage of languages throughout the country, attitudes to languages,
and literacy levels. [The results were described in the PACE
Newsletter 4 (1993), p.8.] With regard to formal education,
the survey found that while English is the official language of
instruction in the education system, Pijin is the de facto medium
of instruction in most schools (p.28). In the communities surveyed:
“78% of schools use a mixture of English and Pijin, with or
without a vernacular, as the medium of instruction” (p.43).
The report makes the following suggestion (p.43):
less confused learning environment for students could be created
by the adoption of a single language as the medium of instruction.
In view of the large numbers of people who understand Pijin, the
most effective language in this respect should be Pijin on a national
basis…English should be taught as a subject using tried
methods of TESL teaching.
report contains three important recommendations with regard to the
use of Pijin in education:
Recommendation No.3 (p.3): “Pijin should be adopted as the
national language of the Solomon Islands.”
• Recommendation No.4 (p.4): “Instruction in educational
institutions should be in Pijin or a vernacular.”
• Recommendation No.6 (p.5): “All educational establishments
should examine the possibility of offering courses in vernaculars
and Pijin. The medium of instruction at all levels should be that
language which offers maximum understanding, ie Pijin.”
or not these recommendations would be acceptable to the general
population is another matter. Another part of the survey (Tables
11 and 12, pp.28-9) shows that while Pijin is used most in schools,
people still prefer English. This information is summar-ized in
Table 1 below.
1: Reported and preferred language use in Solomon Islands schools:
The only areas in which a clear decision has been made to use Pijin
for instruction are non-formal education programs, mostly for adults.
The first attempt to use Pijin as a medium for teaching literacy
was the Pijin Literacy Project, coordinated by the Solomon Islands
Christian Association (SICA) beginning in 1978. The project produced
a number of readers and a guide book for reading and writing in
Pijin: Hao fo ridim an raetem Pijin. However, the specific
project no longer exists, although SICA is still active in Pijin
literacy with ongoing translation work. Another pioneering organization
in Pijin literacy has been the Nazareth Apostolic Centre (NAC).
They have been teaching initial literacy in Pijin to women for a
number of years and also have trained students to teach reading
and writing skills when they return to their villages. NAC have
also produced several books in Pijin.
1992, the Literacy Association of Solomon Islands (LASI) was formed
and a coordinator appointed. [See the latest report form LASI in
this issue.] LASI has since sponsored several non-formal education
efforts using Pijin. These include the production of new materials
and the reprinting of Buk fo ridim an raetem Pijin (Lee1981).
LASI has also sponsored several training courses, including training
of 50 new literacy teachers at NAC, done by the PNG Trust and UPNG
training team, and 15 one-day workshops to train teachers from the
Honiara Preschool Association to use newly developed Pijin materials.
LASI-supported literacy projects using Pijin include: the Holy Cross
and Valeato Literacy Class, the adult literacy group at Bishop Epalle
Primary School, the Malaita Vernacular Literacy Program (along with
three Malaita languages) and the Mother’s Union of the Church
of Melanesia (Mosley 1992).
Mother’s Union runs at least 60 schools, including 7 in Honiara
with approximately 300 students and about 1000 students outside
Honiara. The classes are held three days a week, taught by volunteer
teachers. Although the program formerly taught literacy in English,
it is now done mostly in Pijin (Dora Ho’ota and Alice Kaua,
1995 LASI embarked on a large-scale adult literacy project, called
“Literacy 2000”. Its goal is to improve the literacy
rate in the Solomons to 95% of the adult population, and to create
a sustainable literacy network with other Melanesian countries that
provides training, follow-up support and literacy materials. Literacy
will be taught mostly in Pijin. As pointed out by the Chairman of
the Management Committee of LASI (Bernie O’Donnell, personal
has been no acceptance of Pidgin teaching in schools, but the
successes of LASI with adults should provide a demonstration of
possibilities. In short, it would be reasonable to say that Pidgin
certainly has acceptance for Adult Learning and is most effective…
Bislama is constitutionally the national language of Vanuatu, it
is not officially recognized as a language of education; English
and French are given this role. Thomas (1990) outlined developments
with regard to the proposed use of Bislama
as the language in education. He reported (p.244):
a debate on the question of Bislama in schools, in April 1982,
a majority of members of parliament favoured introduction of Bislama
as either a medium of instruction or as a subject. Support for
the teaching of Bislama in schools came from government and opposition
also reported a similar point of view from participants at the 1981
Vanuatu Language Planning Conference and from the Vanuatu National
Council of Chiefs (p.245):
final resolution which the Language Planning Conference adopted
showed strong support for the use of Bislama. It recommended that
Bislama should be taught at least as a subject in the first four
years of primary school and used as the medium of instruction
for classes five and six.
nothing came of these recommendations, Bislama does have an unofficial
role within the formal education system. According to the 1987 report
of the Asian Development Bank/Australia Develop-ment Assistance
Bureau Joint Technical Assistance Team on Vocational Training
and the Labour Market in Vanuatu, Bislama is used as the language
of instruction in the Police Training School, the Trade Training
and Testing Scheme, the Marine Training School and 10 different
rural training institutions. The report noted (p. xiii):
Study Team believes that most of the vocational training currently
provided in Vanuatu is at a level where Bislama could be used
far more extensively with no detriment to efficiency.
[See also PACE Newsletter 1 (1990), p.4.]:
is most probably used unofficially as a medium of instruction in
primary education as well, but as with Pijin in the Solomons, its
use is openly recognized only in non-formal education. For example,
the 15-20 Rural Development Training Centres, which provide education
for school leavers in areas such as health and the environment,
are now developing Bislama curricula.
largest adult literacy project in Vanuatu, run by World Vision,
also uses Bislama, and has produced an effective set of literacy
materials in the language. (In some cases, Bislama is taught first,
and then literacy.) It began in 1989 in northeast Malakula, expanded
to Epi, Ambrym and Tanna in 1992, to Santo in 1993 and to Maewo
in 1995. The figures in 1993 were as follows (World Vision Vanuatu
2: The World Vision Adult Literacy Program, 1993
The program is community based, as described below (World Vision
village literacy teachers are supported for the time of their
services to the community, by the community. They receive gifts
of food and labour from their classes, and these classes, often
with the assistance of the communities from which they come, or
from the democratically-run Village Committees, conduct fund-raising
activities such as the production and marketing of vegetables.
Thus established, village based literacy programs, serving the
interests and needs of all in the community, can continue for
as long as the communities wish, and are as sustainable as those
reason Bislama was chosen over other vernaculars is given as follows
(World Vision Australia 1995:12):
[World Vision Vanuatu] has elected to teach literacy in Bislama
because in a country populated by circa 156,000 speaking 105 languages,
Bislama is used by the largest group and has something of a unifying
function amongst a people only recently encouraged to think of
themselves as a nation. More than this, literacy in local language,
whist this certainly does help with the retention of the local
culture, does not facilitate access to information about the changes
in the external world that are impacting on village life, including
their health. For this, knowing Bislama is most important in Vanuatu
because this is the language of the government departments such
as the Ministry of Health, of NGOs and of the radio…
The program has been evaluated in 1992 by Ross McDonald who noted
(World Vision Vanuatu 1993): “The program is filling a need
in Vanuatu for non-formal education. It gives hope to many older
ni-Vanuatu who see the program as offering them a last chance to
become literate as well as giving school dropouts another chance
at literacy and numeracy.”
Vision also receives requests for training and materials in adult
literacy from a range of church groups and non-government organizations,
such as the National Council of Women, and from government departments
as well, including Health, Education, Early Childhood Development,
and Agriculture. In a 1994 evaluation of the program, involving
extensive consultation with these bodies, it was found that “with
the exception of SIL, there was broad agreement with its practice
of teaching Bislama where necessary and then literacy in Bislama”
(World Vision Australia 1995:4).
organization that runs adult literacy programs using Bislama is
the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’i faith. They
began on Tanna in 1977, suspended the program from 1983-9, and started
again in 1990. They now have youth volunteers teaching in five areas
of Tanna and in a very remote area of Santo (Charlie Pierce, interview,
1995). The Baha’is have also developed attractive reading
materials in Bislama. Other groups doing adult literacy work in
Bislama on a smaller scale are the Presbyterian and Anglican churches.
for all these projects has recently been provided by a national
workshop run by visiting trainers from UPNG and the PNG Trust. The
National Kommunity Develop-ment Trust (NKDT) in Vanuatu also provides
training using the PNG Trust model. They have a mobile team of 7
trainers on the islands of Efate and Nguna. In addition to training
teachers for adult literacy, they have trained teachers for preschools
following the PNG TPPS model.
has an active preschool program with approximately 570 schools and
800 teachers. Bislama is often the medium of instruction, and it
is the language used in Kindabuk (Brown and Crowley 1990),
a collection of educational activities for young children, which
is an important resource for preschool teachers. The Vanuatu Preschool
Association is an NGO, although coordin-ators are employees of the
Department of Education. However, the Vanuatu preschools are quite
different from those in PNG. Children are introduced to some basic
reading and writing, but the goal is socialization rather than acquisition
of literacy skills. However in some cases, efforts are being made
to combine the two systems. For example, teachers at Lawa Preschool
at Southwest Bay (Malakula) have attended the PNG Trust training
course held in Port Vila, and are attempting to teach literacy in
Bislama to the preschool children. The progress of these students
in comparison to others will be monitored when they reach the primary
school in 1996.
1993, the Literacy Association of Vanuatu (LAV) was established,
with members from organizations doing literacy work, including SIL,
World Vision, NKDT, the Baha’i Faith, the Preschool Association.
With an increasing interest in literacy in Vanuatu languages, the
use of Bislama in non-formal education will almost certainly increase
argument against using Melanesian Pidgin in education is that it
will interfere with students’ subsequent acquisition of English.
This argument is used by people who may otherwise support the use
of vernacular languages in education, but think that Melanesian
Pidgin is a special case because of its apparently close relationship
to English in terms of vocabulary (or lexicon). For example, Thomas
(1990:245) described reactions to proposals made at the 1981 Vanuatu
Language Planning Conference that Bislama be used in the formal
of the most common fears concerning the introduction of Bislama
as a language of education is that, owing to lexical similarities,
negative transfer occurs when pupils subsequently learn English.
This fear was also expressed at the conference, when it was claimed
that when children learn Bislama at an early age ‘it tends
to interfere with their learning of English.’
reactions occurred at the 1988 Workshop on Vernacular Education
and Bilingual Education in Australia and the South Pacific in response
to suggestions that Melanesian Pidgin be used in bilingual programs
in linguistically heterogeneous urban areas (Siegel 1993:300).
order to test the legitimacy of these fears, an evaluation of the
PIM Tok Pisin Prep-school program in Ambunti PNG (described above)
was started in 1989. The program was evaluated according to both
socio-cultural and educational criteria, using ethnographic, survey
and formal comparative data. The ethnographic research consisted
of unstructured interviews with community school teachers, village
committee members and parents, in which they were asked to give
their general opinions about the program. In light of the predictions
of interference made by senior educators and administrators, teachers
were also asked a specific question about the effect of having learned
initial literacy in Tok Pisin on the English of the former prep-school
students. In addition to this ethnographic research, teachers’
opinions and attitudes were also surveyed by question-naires.
formal comparative research was carried out in the community school
at the district centre of Ambunti (St Joseph’s Community School).
It involved comparing the educational achievement of students who
had gone through the prep-school program and those who had not.
Since the evaluation was interested in finding out whether the community
judged the program as a success or failure, the decision was made
to use locally familiar and accepted criteria: namely community
school term test results. These tests are normally held at the end
of each of the four terms in the school year. Marks are given in
three subject areas: English, Mathematics (“Maths”),
and General Subjects (health, social science, etc.). The term test
results of “ex prep” students (who had gone through
the prep-school program) were compared to those of the “no
prep” students (who had not gone through the program). There
were three research hypotheses:
there is no difference between the marks of the two groups
the marks of the “no prep” students are significantly
higher than those of the “ex prep” students, especially
in English (the prediction according to the “interference”
the marks of the “ex prep” students are significantly
higher than those of the “no prep” students
their one or two years of extra formal education may give ex prep
students an initial advantage, the marks were also examined in upper
as well as lower grades, with the prediction being that any initial
differences between the groups would be neutralized over time.
First of all, interviews and questionnaires showed that community
school teachers think that the “ex prep” students are
well-adjusted, cooperative, more active in participation in class
and have better attendance records than “no prep” students.
With regard to English, the teachers reported that there are no
special problems of interference, and that the influence of Tok
Pisin can be seen only sometimes in spelling and pronunciation.
The “ex prep” students learn English more easily than
the “no prep” students. The same is true for Mathematics
and General Subjects to some extent. Several teachers said that
the Prep-school Program makes their job easier. Of the three head
teachers interviewed, the two from “bush schools” (small
schools outside the district centre) were extremely favourable in
their comments. The head teacher from the Ambunti community school,
however, was not so impressed. He said that the Prep-school Program
helps the students when they first come to school, but after one
or two terms, the other students catch up. Interviews with parents,
committee members and students reveal only favourable attitudes
to the program.
this stage of the research, figures on drop-out rates and term test
results have been analysed for the Ambunti community school only
up to the end of 1992. There are many problems with gathering these
figures because some results have been lost and some teachers have
left the school without leaving their records behind. Sufficient
results are available so far for three “streams” of
community school students:
1: those who began Grade 1 in 1988
Stream 2: those who began Grade 1 in 1989
Stream 3: those who began Grade 1 in 1990
Stream 1, complete records are available only for 1988, 1990 and
1992 (Grades 1, 3 and 5); the 1989 and 1991 records are missing.
For Stream 2, complete records are available for 1989, 1991 and
1992 (Grades 1, 3 and 4); the 1990 records are missing for one of
the two classes. For Stream 3, complete records are available for
1990, 1991 and 1992 (Grades 1, 2 and 3).
statistical analysis of the data on academic achievement involved
the measurement of three dependent variables and two groups of possibly
relevant influencing factors. The dependent measures were final
term test scores for English, Maths and General Subjects, all of
which were standardized. The first groups of factors were whether
the students attended the prep-school program (prep-school) or not
(no prep-school). The second group were measure-ment occasions:
three different grades for each stream.
means for the standardized scores are given in the tables below.
3: Stream 1: Means (standardized scores)
4: Stream 2: Means (standardized scores)
5: Stream 3: Means (standardized scores)
analysis of these results indicates that children who had been involved
in the prep-school program scored significantly higher in term tests
than those who had not been involved. Importantly, the overall higher
achievements were in English, as well as in Maths and General Subjects.
Therefore, both the null hypothesis and H1 (the prediction of the
interference argument) can be rejected. Furthermore, on the basis
of the test scores, the prep-school children showed significantly
higher academic achievement across time in all subjects. The differences
between the groups over time were consistent for all grades, with
the exception of Maths in Grade 4 for Stream 2. There is no explanation
for this anomaly, but it does not alter the overall result that
the effect of two extra years of schooling was not significantly
neutralized over time. This is contrary to the view that students
who have not attended prep-school quickly catch up with the ones
this study clearly refutes arguments that using Melanesian Pidgin
in formal primary education will adversely affect students’
subsequent acquisition of English.
Melanesian Pidgin is now recognized as an important tool for non-formal
education in Papua New Guinea, Solomons Islands and Vanuatu, it
is still not seen as appropriate for formal education. Perhaps word
of the success of the Tok Pisin Prep-school program will begin to
filter through to educational planners in all three countries.
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