Policy formulation in education

Independence brought with it a rapid process of decentralization and the establishment of nineteen provincial governments and the National Capital District. There were now many more stakeholders than ever before and greater levels of interest in education policy formulation.

Political parties establish policy guidelines and make them known to the electorate. These policies may or may not be adopted. The national government is ultimately responsible for the direction of policy in education and has expressed this in the Medium Term Development Strategy 2005–2010 (MTDS). The National Executive Council (NEC) recommends to the government policy directions that are developed by the Department of Education through a series of internal committees and processes. The annual Conference of Education Ministers’ Council is an important layer of policy making and endorsement of policy decisions in education in Papua New Guinea.

Medium Term Development Strategy (2005–2010)

The MTDS provides ‘an overarching development strategy that will provide the guiding framework for prioritizing the Government’s expenditure program, as expressed in the annual budget’ (MTDS, iii).

It continues to highlight the attainment of universal primary education as its major focus:

A key focus of the MTDS will be to support the continued implementation of reforms aimed at achieving the international goal of Universal Primary Education (UPE). In Papua New Guinea, this goal is reflected in the Government’s objective of Universal Basic Education (UBE) by 2015 (ibid. 38).

The MTDS sets three targets for UBE to achieve by 2015, namely: a gross enrolment rate of 85 per cent at the primary level; a cohort retention rate of 70 per cent at the primary level; and a Youth Literacy rate of 70 per cent. These goals are realistic and are achievable within the timeframe that has been set, as long as adequate funding is provided to support their attainment. The role of the budget process is to ensure that adequate resources are allocated to achieve government policies and targets. Table 8.1 explores the pattern of budget allocations to the Department of Education for 2004 and 2005.

Table 8.1: Percentage Changes in Budget Allocations between 2004 and 2005






Percentage change

Policy and general admin




Education standards




Primary education




Literacy and awareness




Secondary education




Vocational education




Technical education




Teacher education




Library services




Govt. records and archives








Budget priorities are not always consistent with government policies. UBE is the foremost priority of the national government, however the budget appropriation for 2005 was some 4.6 per cent less than expenditure in 2004. The reform has increased access to education, but it is also necessary to ensure that adequate standards of education in classrooms are met. Table 8.1 indicates that there has been a reduction in the appropriated amount for education standards of more than 28 per cent.

The MTDS points out other priority areas such skills acquisition and adult literacy. The Department of Education has made vocational and technical education its second highest priority. Table 8.1 indicates an increase in expenditure on vocational education of some 28.3 per cent, but a decline in expenditure on technical education of 20.2 per cent. The allocation for literacy and awareness activities has also decreased over the period.

National Education Board

The National Education Board (NEB) has a primary role in policy formulation in education. It is chaired by the secretary of Education and has the responsibility, as defined by the Education Act, 1995 (S. 17(1) (d)), ‘to advise and make recommendations to the Minister on such matters relating to education as he refers to it, and on such other matters relating to education as seem proper’.

The Department of Education is organized on the basis of four divisions, one of which is known as the Policy, Planning, Research and Communications Division (PPRC). One of the objectives of PPRC is ‘To advise and assist the Minister in the development of relevant policies in accordance with the legislative requirements and national education objectives’ (Department of Education 2001, 38). The activities of the PPRC in relation to policy involve:

  • provision of executive services to meetings of NEB, Top Management Team (TMT), and Senior Staff Meetings (SSM);

  • provision of executive services to annual Senior Education Officer and Education Ministers Council meetings; and

  • co-ordination of policy submissions to NEC and assist in drafting ministerial policy statements, secretary’s circulars and ministerial statements to parliament (ibid.).

The Division is not a policy think tank as such, but rather a service unit of the department.

How is policy formulated? The Top Management Team (TMT) is the central unit in the policy formulation process. It has steered several major policy initiatives through NEC in recent years, including: TechVoc Corporate Plan (1999–2004); Literacy Policy (2000); National Skills Policy (2000); Self-reliance Policy (2001), and Gender Policy (2002). Ministerial policy statements and secretary’s circulars are forwarded to key Education personnel at the national, provincial and district levels and to head teachers of schools and higher education institutions, to advise them of new and revised policy initiatives.

A recent Review of Organisational Capacity (ROC) noted, ‘the policy capacity within the PRC Division was not as strong as it had been previously’ (ECBP 2005, 24). The ROC review has proposed a separate Policy Development, Review and Co-ordination Branch with the following roles:

  • provision of executive support to the key policy and decision making committees in the Department of Education;

  • coordination of policy development and policy advice to the Minister, Secretary and NEB when the matter crosses more than one division;

  • advice to divisions on the policy development process and establishing a common framework for policy statements;

  • monitoring and evaluating the collective policy across all divisions of the department;

  • monitoring and evaluating the implementation of policy across the department; and

  • provision of an annual report on the status of Department of Education policy to the SSM (ibid. 24).