AS far as schools of Port Moresby go, Butuka Primary School has never really shone – either physically or academically.
Situated in the city’s peripheral southern district of Sabama, once home to notorious criminal gangs, the school’s physical state was a ghost of a shell, all deteriorated classrooms, blocked ablution, rotten walls, and rusted posts.
And even though Butuka boasts more than 1500 students on its roll, 39 grades, and 40 teachers to its name, its performance has always been mediocre. Last year 2016 results placed Butuka 28th out of 40 schools in the Nation’s Capital and the previous years, it was even lower.
Butuka’s Headmaster Jerrick Ranna sees a direct correlation between the state of the school and the lackluster performance by his students.
“Except for one classroom that was built by a donor company, all our facilities were totally worn down. We had only three teachers houses, meaning our 37 other teachers have to live outside the school somewhere and commute to work every morning,” says Rana.
“The condition of the school would have contributed to the drop in learning, yes. Who knows how much better our children would have done if our facilities were better, or if our teachers lived on the school and concentrated more on their work.”
But things are about to change for Butuka. Since August this year, the deteriorated school is no more. The old buildings, first opened in 1986 when the school was established, have been pulled down and the land bulldozed to make way for what is expected to be the best secondary school campus in the country.
The student population of 1679 are now distributed among the Moresby South sister schools – Elementary (Prep, Grade 1 and 2), Grades 4 and 5 to Kilakila Primary School; Grade 3 to Kaugere Primary School; Grades 6 and 7 to Koki Primary School; and Grade 8 to Kilakila Secondary School. Respective teachers and desks followed their students to these schools.
On the site, Shenzhen SEZ Construction and Development Group Co. Ltd and its contractor China State Construction Engineering Corporation Ltd Steel Structure Company (CSCEC Steel), have moved in since August this year to construct a ‘world-class, modern facility’ that will provide the opportunity for Butuka to set the standard in education facilities and resources in the country, change its level from primary to secondary becoming a ‘three-in-one’ school, and work at improving its academic output.
When completed, the new ‘Butuka Campus’ will assist to heighten education levels and the general outlook for this backwater part of Port Moresby made up of two local villages and mostly settlements – Kirakira and Mahuru, Sabama, Joyce Bay, Horse Camp, Kogeva 1 and 2, Bundi Camp and Ebukorosi, all of which numbers to more than 50,000 people.
The new school will include a 1-storey elementary school consisting of 10 classrooms, 2-storey primary school comprising 26 classrooms, 2-storey secondary school consisting of 16 classrooms and six technical rooms (containing computer rooms and science labs), a modern multi-function hall, a standard rugby field, two basketball courts, two volleyball courts, and 12 apartments for the teachers. Altogether, the new school will take up to 2700 students with high-end facilities and equipment.
The project will cost some K70 million and is fully funded by the People’s Municipal Government of Shenzhen City, People’s Republic of China. It is one of the first projects to come about as a result of the sister-city relationship between Port Moresby and Shenzhen, initiated in May 2016 and linked to China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative.
National Capital District Governor Powes Parkop, who has been pushing for the sister-city relationship between Port Moresby and the Chinese super city, said he was “happy” with the development and Shenzhen’s decision to invest in education.
“This gift will give us another perspective; boost the morale of teachers and students. Who wouldn’t want to learn in an environment that is clean with proper facilities, sports and recreational places that will create a teaching and learning environment that is conducive and safe in the city,” says Governor Parkop.
“Education is very important for our children in the country but it is particularly more significant for our capital city. Port Moresby has no cash crops, minerals, trees or marine products. We don’t have a big manufacturing sector and tourism is still a small part of our economy. Education therefore is vital for our people; we must take education to the highest level possible here.
“I look forward to the facilities contributing to changing the landscape of the surrounding communities and inspiring the communities themselves to play a role in maintaining their livelihoods in their own communities.”
CSCEC Steel’s head of the project, Tony Ma said work was progressing and that he was looking forward to the project kicking into its full pace once internal logistics issues such as the issuance of aid visas have been cleared for his staff and the inclusion of additional specialist workers from Shenzhen.
Ma said he was grateful for the support being given by Governor Parkop and local MP Justin Tkatchenko who, he said, were doing all they could to set the processes in place so the project could continue to meet the set deadline.
Ma added he was confident of the product that CSCEC Steel PNG Ltd will deliver because of the company’s experience and award-winning performances over its 30-year period. Like many state-owned private enterprises in China, CSCEC Steel has operations worldwide and covers building construction, international contracting, real estate development, infrastructure construction, and prospecting and design.
Considering the logistical hurdles are ironed out in time, the new Butuka Secondary School will be completed in time for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders’ Summit next year in November, where it is hoped the visiting Chinese delegation will hand the gift over to the PNG Government, through the NCD Commission, for the benefit of PNG’s next generation.
This is all part of an intricate and gigantic national strategy called the ‘One Belt, One Road’ by the Chinese government for world trade, cultural exchange and mutual interaction which would span Europe, Asia and the Pacific.
Governor Parkop says of this: “I look forward to growing the relationship between Shenzhen and Port Moresby especially utilizing the Silk Road corridor. Let us harness this potential. We have been invited by the People's Municipal Government of Shenzhen to establish office and built a capacity there to promote trade, investment and social exchange between the two cities and I look forward to taking advantage of this invite soon.”
In August, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill once more reaffirmed Papua New Guinea’s bilateral relations with China, saying he was looking forward to receiving President Xi Jinping in 2018 and acknowledged the various projects currently underway by China as part of this relationship.
In the meantime, students of Butuka cannot wait to access their new school.
“The kids are very excited. Many afternoons on the way from school, you can see them in their brown uniforms standing at the site trying to see how work is coming along. I think they are quite impatient; they want to return as quickly as possible to their new school,” says Headmaster Ranna.
That seems more like it. Butuka’s motto is, after all, ‘Learning for Life’.