Teaching in paradise – the first teacher at the first school on an island

Located at the eastern tip of PNG, Milne Bay Province is a region of breathtaking beauty.  Where the mountains meet the sea, it is home to over 600 islands dotted among 250,000 square kilometres of the most biodiverse coral reef systems in the world.

Milne Bay’s population of 270,000 sparsely inhabits 160 of these islands. Island living means self-sufficiency and cultural diversity for communities - 48 languages are spoken in this area, with variations of traditions between groups of islands, and even from island to island.

On a remote island that lies 12 hours by boat from the coast lives Daniel Mitei.

Daniel’s island had never had a school, nor a qualified teacher.

When KTF’s Teach for Tomorrow elementary teacher training program commenced in Milne Bay’s mainland capital of Alotau, we asked the island community to nominate a participant. Daniel was selected to become the island’s first ever teacher.

After 6 months of training, Daniel proudly graduated as an elementary teacher in December 2018 and returned to his island equipped with the skills to teach the children of his community. He worked with the community to build the first ever school on the island out of locally-available materials and is now the Head Teacher of a school that now has 23 elementary students enrolled.

The government is currently processing certification of all teachers trained which will allow them to transfer to official payroll. Until then, Daniel is not paid a salary and relies on donations from members of his supportive community to assist him, his wife and three children while he teaches the island’s young children. As funds are tight to purchase materials for the school, Daniel uses the skills he learned to creatively teach his students without any exercise books, pens or other resources. He looks forward to the day he can use his salary to purchase materials for the school and invest in further professional development. To assist with resourcing, KTF have also recently approved Daniel’s school to be part of our PNG Schools project, the first school outside the Kokoda Track catchment area.

On our recent field trip to Milne Bay, Rachel Mason Nunn from Good Will Hunters joined us to undertake an independent evaluation of our Teach for Tomorrow project, which trained Daniel and 3,684 more elementary teachers like him across 14 provinces of PNG.

When interviewed by Rachel, Daniel shared his pride in being a teacher. Since he began teaching his students, he has seen improvements in their English skills. He reflected that he is “somebody in the community now” and regards himself as “one of the fortunate ones” given the majority of adults on the island are unable to read and write. Daniel stated that without KTF he “would not be a teacher and there would be no school” on his island.

There are now 23 students on this little slice of paradise receiving a life-changing education thanks to Head Teacher Daniel.

For more stories like Daniel’s and the impact to date of the Teach for Tomorrow project, see the full report here.

Anita Russell