Hundreds of students in a remote Papua New Guinean school have been stuck repeating the same grade for eight years because teachers are not showing up to work.
Cedric Agurope is a former student of the state-run Jangit Primary School, located in PNG’s East Sepik Province, but he did not make it past year three.
Now the 25-year-old can do little more than count and write his name.
“We didn’t learn anything,” he said.
“Now I am a grown man and should be married. I don’t know how to read or write.”
Mr Agurope enrolled in year three in 2014 when he was 17 years old but was unable to continue studying when teachers stopped showing up to class.
New teachers were not brought in to replace them, so students spent the remainder of the year at home, often fishing, gardening or hunting for their families.
Mr Agurope re-enrolled in the same grade for five years in a row, but each time the same thing happened.
Despite being interested and engaged in learning, Mr Agurope was never able to move forward with his schooling, and in 2019 he dropped out.
PNG’s Teaching Service Commission, which employs public school teachers across the country, is now investigating the school and others in the area.
The school’s headmaster, Noah Agregum, paints a different picture, although he agreed that staff shortages had been a chronic issue and children were being held back.
He said violence and tribal fighting had forced teachers to flee the village each year since 2018 and not return until the next year out of fear for their safety.
“They leave the place and they have to go and get shelter. That’s the normal way of doing things,” he said.
Prior to 2018, Mr Agregum said teachers were appointed to the school but some did not show up because the village was remote.
Those who did take up their positions usually left within a few months, Mr Agregum alleges, because they were not being paid properly and were concerned about being “poisoned” from sorcery.