A day in the life of ... Maria John

28th June 2013 at 01:00
In remote Papua New Guinea, an inclusive education teacher helps children with special needs to communicate - and worries about the bride price she will attract at her upcoming wedding

I have worked as an inclusive education teacher at the special needs centre at Sacred Heart Faniufa Primary School since 2006. I originally joined the school as a mainstream teacher after qualifying, but moved to my present role six months later.

The school, for children aged 7-16, has recently been designated as a "target school" for supporting deaf children - the third such institution in Papua New Guinea - as part of a policy to direct scarce resources into regional centres to have as much impact as possible.

Faniufa is in a remote and poor area of Papua New Guinea, in Goroka in the Eastern Highlands Province, and this makes our work even more important.

My day at school begins at 8.30am, doing preparation. From 9am, I spend time in different classes working with mainstream teachers and with children who have special needs. I liaise with the teachers about what topics they are covering and the vocabulary and concepts. I also give them training.

I work with some children in their classes but I spend a lot of time in the school's special needs base with younger children who are hearing impaired. Many of them come to school with limited communication skills as there is very little in the way of early intervention for children who are born deaf in Papua New Guinea. A new child might spend six months in the base with me and we work hard to develop useful communication skills in Melanesian Sign Language - a very intensive experience. The younger children find it easier than the ones who join in their early teens, who take a long time to acquire good face-to-face language skills.

School finishes for the children at 3pm. After the students have gone, I work for the rest of the day on resources, individual education plans, records, targets and reinforcement activities.

I leave school at around 4pm and go home on a public motor vehicle, which is a kind of local bus service that uses second-hand minibuses imported from overseas. For leisure, I like to read. I also read anything I can find about special needs to try to keep up to date. This isn't easy because it's hard to access such material here in Papua New Guinea.

But I have other stuff on my mind, too. We have our two-week mid-year school break in July and I am getting married. I will have a traditional tribal wedding first and then I'll have my church wedding. My fiance's family will be paying a bride price to my parents. Because I have a good education and a good job, the bride price is quite high: 20,000 kina (around pound;6,000) and 30 pigs. In the highlands, pigs are very important and are a symbol of status.

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