A brief history of the International Education Agency in Papua New Guinea
Although several Churches established Mission Schools in New Guinea as early as 1873, it wasn’t until after World War II that the colonial powers realised that a determined effort was needed to establish universal education in PNG. In 1947, the first Australian Director of Education for PNG embarked on a vigorous reorganization of education across the country.
At the same time, growing economic and administrative activity meant that increasing numbers of expatriate families were coming to PNG. These families wanted an education that was similar to what they had left behind in their home country. To allow for this, the Australian administrators introduced the system of ‘A’ (for Australian) and ‘T’ (for Territory) schools in 1958. Such an approach ensured that expatriate children would receive an education similar to that provided in Australia, while the local population could be sure to have their literacy and numeracy skills developed.
In theory, the intention was to slowly integrate or upgrade the ‘T’ schools until they, too, could offer the same curriculum as ‘A’ schools. However, by 1970, Papua New Guineans contributed only about ten per cent of enrolments in ‘A’ schools, and by Independence in 1975 this had grown to only 15 per cent.
The 'A' and 'T' systems both passed to the new PNG Government in 1975 and it quickly became obvious that the cost of running the ‘A’ system, which served predominantly non-Citizens and employed solely expatriate teachers was an expense which could not be justified.
In early 1976, the Government announced the 'A' schools would need to charge fees in order to generate the extra funds needed to pay the expatriate teachers. This was very controversial, and several court cases were held to challenge the decision but eventually the Government won the argument and asked the 'A' schools to form an association which could coordinate the fee gathering across the schools.
In July 1976, a meeting was held at Korobosea school of representatives from around 50 'A' schools. The meeting agreed to form an association and on 23 August the Government provided formal recognition to the International Education Agency. This is regarded as the birth date of the IEA. The IEA began to operate at the beginning of 1977 and in February appointed Roger Dixon as its first Secretary (the position later became Executive Director and later still CEO). He had just one clerical assistant and set up office above the canteen at Port Moresby International School.
In the first few years, the IEA found most of its attention was taken by problems concerned with finances. Now that the schools received very little Government support, there was no real source of funds for capital works, resources or maintenance on buildings, many of which were getting rather old. Over time, the fee, initially charged to top up teachers’ wages, was increased to help cover other expenses.
At the beginning of 1978, the IEA opened its first new school – a high school in Lae funded largely from community contributions. At the beginning of 1979, June Kroonenberg became the second IEA Secretary. She, in turn, was replaced in 1981 by Steve Mead, who had previously been Deputy Principal at Port Moresby International High School.
Up until 1986, the IEA remained under direct Government control. IEA schools were inspected by PNG Education Department staff and the Department was also responsible for providing professional development. In practice, however, this just meant that IEA schools received very little in the way of services but had to approach the Department for permission in many areas of operation.
In mid-1986 the Government agreed to let the IEA become a private system and sever all ties with the Department. This led to the establishment of the Professional Support Unit, now the Centre for Professional Development (CPD), a Teachers’ Resource Centre, and in 1989, the first IEA curriculum. System wide approaches were also put in place to manage teachers’ terms and conditions and capital works.
Some difficult economic circumstances across PNG around 1990 and the Bougainville Crisis led to a major exodus of expatriates from the country. At first, the expatriate children who left tended to be replaced by wealthy PNG families. However, by 1991 it became clear that, for the IEA to survive, it would need to lower fees. The only effective way to do this was to replace expatriate teachers with Citizens.
Gordon in Port Moresby and Coronation in Lae were converted to low-fee schools with predominantly Citizen staff assisted by expatriate principals and Development Officers. Over the following few years, the teachers who began their careers in these schools began to find positions in other IEA schools. By the end of 1994, 20% of teachers in IEA schools were Citizens.
During the remainder of the 1990s, a revised curriculum was produced, teachers’ employment conditions were completely revised, and the Teacher Induction Program was established to ensure a supply of Citizen teachers. This activity expanded in the new century with TAFE opening in 2000, new schools in Vanimo (2001) and Buka (2004) and involvement in providing services to a range of Aid Projects. In 2005, the IEA moved from Boroko East to its current location at Ela Beach. The Ela Beach School amalgamated with Murray on its site in Gordons, and this made room for the new IEA offices. The Early Learning Centre remained at Ela Beach. Later the unused classrooms at Ela Beach accommodated the IEA College of TAFE, the IEA's vocational training section.
In 2010, after 30 years as Secretary and then Executive Director, Steve Mead’s health failed, and he was replaced by Joe Lalie in an acting capacity at first, and then permanently as Executive Director. Steve passed away in mid-2012. With the departure of Joe Lalie at the end of 2017, Les Roai, a long serving IEA principal and who was then a consulting principal took the acting CEO position for a short while. Les retired from the IEA in 2020.
In 2018, Anthony Morgan joined the IEA as Chief Operating Officer (CEO), the title and functions of Executive Director having been removed as a director of the company at the end of 2017. Anthony left at the end of 2019 and in his place, Neal Mather was appointed acting CEO. Neal took the position permanently in 2022. Neal had previously been a principal of three IEA schools from 1998 to 2007. He returned to PNG in 2017, acting for a short time as principal of Ela Murray International School and then as the Director of Education.
During the period 2019 to 2022 the IEA constitution underwent a thorough review. This review tied-up a number of clauses that had become outdated or required clarification. Extensive consultation with shareholders, the IEA School Associations, took place, and the new constitution was approved by the shareholders in 2023. A major change enacted was the reinstatement of the CEO as an Executive Director and board member starting in 2024.
Much more change has occurred over the past forty-plus years and no doubt this will continue into the future. PNG, like most developing countries, will continue to struggle with social upheaval and rapid change and the challenges these provide. Health, education, law and order, equity and governance all need to be addressed with clear, well-considered plans. If the IEA is to continue to be successful in educating tomorrow’s leaders, it will need to continue to focus on more than just the knowledge and skills, those leaders will need. And it will continue to model the values and beliefs, the morals and the ethics on which a strong society can be built. The past nearly 50 years have shown it can do this.
Original by Greg Whiddon, 2016
Additions and updates, 2023
Stephen Michael Mead, OBE
Steve Mead was a founding board member of the IEA and Secretary (later Executive Director) from 1981 to 2011.
Michael Somare, Prime Minister of PNG
Michael (later Sir Michael) Somare, Prime Minister of PNG from 1982 to 1985 (as well as several other periods), addressing a student assembly at Port Moresby High (POMIS) in 1985.