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(October 2008) Twenty-seven mother-tongue teachers will graduate from the two-year literacy trainers program during a ceremony on 21 October at Ukarumpa in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea (PNG). Now completing its 12th year, the SIL-developed STEP* course is divided into five modules over two years and equips teachers to serve their own communities. They learn to initiate and sustain mother-tongue education and literacy programs for all ages. SIL provides some of the course instructors and mentors. During its 12-year history, STEP has graduated 215 literacy trainers.
The current class of literacy trainers represents 15 languages from five provinces of PNG: Central, Eastern Highlands, Madang, Morobe and New Ireland. Most hold teaching positions as mother-tongue preschool and elementary teachers, adult literacy instructors and church workers. Many of the communities represented now have literacy boards and committees that formally recognize these STEP graduates as the literacy supervisors of their community-based literacy programs.
PNG is one of the most linguistically complex nations of the world with over 800 languages spoken in this Pacific country.
STEP course participants learn the main components of a successful literacy program. This training equips them to assist their students in reading fluency and creative writing skills. One aspect of an on-going literacy program includes materials production.
The course curriculum consists of five one-month classroom modules. In between each classroom module, the course participants return to their local communities to complete assignments that put into practice the concepts and skills they have learned.
Initially developed by SIL, STEP is now assisted by a local nongovernmental organization, the Bible Translation Association of PNG (BTA). BTA's Vice Principal for this year's course is Mara Iyama. Eleven PNG mentors are involved in this session; five are STEP alumni. SIL PNG also continues to provide staff.
Many STEP alumni become community leaders. Some teach under the national multilingual education system as well as train other mother-tongue teachers. A recent graduate now mentors two current STEP participants from related dialects of the Nankina language. Together, these three men have already established 25 schools in the mountain region of Madang Province. Eager to apply all they are learning at STEP, they have held leadership-training courses in the Nankina area, and the local people have asked for more. With so many schools to administer, the literacy trainers asked for extra help in budgeting and financial accountability, and the STEP staff provided additional individualized coaching.
The next STEP course will begin January 2009.
"STEP helped me rediscover my purpose for life. It gave me the skills to do this and taught me the importance of being a leader in my community."
-Eki Aro, Chuave language
"I am going back to my village a changed man. I have written my own vision statement. I have memorized it, and am committed to live by it and to be a leader of integrity to serve my people."
-Ezekial Judas, Menya language
"I commend the STEP staff and mentors on the good job they have done. STEP is the powerhouse for all literacy programs throughout the country."
-Amos Takon, Angal Heneng language
"The STEP course is committed to the empowerment of Papua New Guineans as competent resource people with a vision to serve their own communities by developing, managing and expanding sustainable vernacular literacy and education programs throughout the country."
* STEP stands for Strengthening Tokples Education in Papua New Guinea; tokples means 'mother tongue' in Melanesian Pidgin.