Fr Tony Young msc sends a report from Hope Academy
In spite of ending last year in a rather grim position at both centres (Nimowa and Alotau), this year was one of renewed growth and achievement towards our goal of offering education that is both affordable and of excellent quality, at all levels, to those who desire it, and especially those who have no other way of getting it.
At Nimowa, students had suffered from having little or no access to their web school for more than two years since cyclone Ita destroyed all the network equipment. The tutors were providing the missing classes as best they could.
In March this year it was decided to wait no longer for promises, made after the cyclone to replace the destroyed equipment, to be kept. Thanks to the generosity of the Melbourne Overseas Mission, and with help from Infocom, a satellite dish was installed that was able to give Nimowa Academy direct access to the internet.
To the frustration of tutors, students, and parents, there were initial technical problems with the operation of the new system that lasted the rest of the year. These were dealt with during the Christmas break so that students will have full access to their web school in 2017.
At Alotau, we were able to build a new Hope Academy centre, thanks to the generosity of the MSC Mission Office and again the Melbourne Overseas Mission.
The land for the new centre was made available to the Academy by the Catholic Diocese of Alotau, through Bishop Rolando Santos. We are grateful to him.
The new centre was built by Milne Bay Resources. As you can see, an excellent job was done. We thank Con Holland and his staff of Milne Bay Resources.
From March to July, while the building was being erected, we hired a large room in the Eliata premises at Goilanai and set up there the computer equipment for our students that we had taken from our abandoned classrooms in 2015.
In July we moved everything again to our new building and began the big task of installing all the networking equipment and wiring. This is a work in still in progress.
At present students are able to use only about half of our computers, because power limitation and the cost of cabling and equipment restricts us to purchasing what is needed bit by bit when we can afford it.
We began the year with about 162 students at Nimowa. In Alotau, at the Eliata rented room, we had 167 students; later in the year after July we had 135 students.
At Nimowa the number of students declined to 92 at the end of the year. The decline was largely due to dissatisfaction with the poor quality of internet access during the year
At Alotau, although the number of registered students did not decline much, there was a decrease in the number of registered students coming to study in the centre. The principal reason for this was lack of money for study fees.
Worldwide statistics show that only 16 – 20% of students who begin an online course of studies working alone persevere to complete the course. To date there is little sign of this happening at Hope Academy. We attribute this to the availability of tutors and opportunities for student interaction at our Hope Academy centres.
There are four tutorial and three technical staff with one secretary at Nimowa Academy centre.
There are two tutorial and two technical staff at Alotau Academy centre with one secretary and two security guards.
The dedication of all the staff to the work of the Academy can only be described as extraordinary. They often work long hours, sometimes without pay, and yet display a willingness and general equanimity that is rare indeed.
It is, however, one of our most urgent tasks to ensure normal working conditions and regular pay for our staff. The first step in doing that is to ensure that the income from fees and other sources is sufficient for the needs of the Academy, with something to spare, since there are other staff needs, including transport, that must be catered for.
Our policy is to set our fees at a level that is affordable for students from low income families. Unfortunately, we have not been able to do this yet in a way that makes online education affordable for students from very low income families who are always the most disadvantaged.
In the latter part of the year we adopted a fee of K5 per day. This allows students to organise their study programs in a more flexible way, allowing them to allocate days for study, and days for working to get money for their fees.
At present the students deposit their fee money at a local store and take the receipt to be entered manually into the server that controls student access to their web school. Our IT department is working on an mobile app that will record the amount that a student deposits in fees using a barcode system, and transmit this information automatically to the Academy server. This will enable students to go straight to their computers and log in at their school without delays caused by the current manual entry system.
Most of our students want to complete their Grades 9-12 high school education.
We recommend they enroll at Alison, a web school based in Ireland, for their basic courses, as it is easy to put together a program of Alison courses that parallels the PNG high school curriculum.
For years we have been trying, at every level, to get official recognition that the Alison certificate of completion of grade 12 studies is equivalent, in terms of accreditation, to the PNG Grade 12 certificate issued to students who complete Grade 12 at the regular PNG secondary colleges.
Alison certificates are recognised in many countries, but not yet in PNG. Because of this, Hope Academy Grade 12 graduates are not assured of being accepted to apply for places at PNG tertiary institutions.
Some of these institutions, like Sacred Heart Teachers' College and DBTI have accepted Hope Academy students, a number of whom have now graduated from both .
Uncertainty, however, remains, and there needs urgently to be a resolution of the matter for the peace of mind of our students and their parents, not forgetting also the other 9000 + Alison students in PNG. If nothing is done, we may have to consider other options , including offshore accreditation. (cf below: Association with MSC Colleges)
ASSOCIATION WITH OTHER INSTITUTIONS
MSC Colleges in Australia At the end of October this the Academy received a visit from three representatives of MSC Colleges in Australia. Hope Academy is an MSC initiative, and the visitors wanted to inform themselves of the work of the Academy and its staff with a view to determining what assistance the Australian Colleges might give, and what kind of association with Hope Academy might be possible.
The main matters discussed were:
Financial Assistance: The Australian Colleges are willing to assist.
Accreditation: The possibility of Hope Academy becoming PNG campus of one of the MSC Australian Colleges (Daramalan, Canberra, was mentioned). That would make it easier for for the Academy to seek accreditation for its courses in Australia.
Staff & Student Formation: Hope Academy is an MSC initiative. It is MSC policy that in their schools staff, students, and parents be aware of MSC ethos and spirit, and receive formation in them if they so desire.
The possibility of professional staff from Australian Colleges visiting PNG to work with Academy staff and provide training where appropriate was discussed.
The possibility of MSC Colleges in Australia helping to facilitate professional training for our staff at TAFE and other institutions in Australia was also discussed.
Massachussetts Institute of Technology (USA): Hope Academy now has an agreement with MIT for MIT to provide a mirror server containing all of its free online courses (including high school courses) to the Academy. Infocom has agreed to house this server in its satellite hub at Hong Kong so that it can be accessed by Hope Academy students anywhere, using the Infocom network.
The Academy is also in contact with MIT regarding the possibility of accreditation for its free courses.
Alison: the web school in which most of our students are enrolled has agreed that Hope Academy may have a proxy server (based, like the MIT server, in Hong Kong). This will eventually mean that Hope Academy students can access their web school without using the internet, resulting in a large cost savings.
University of New Hampshire (USA): has a program in Nigeria supporting a new University (named Kepler after a famous astronomer) which uses free courses from the internet to educate students in its degree programs.
Hope Academy is asking about the possibility of this initiative being repeated in PNG (Milne Bay).
University of the Peoples (USA): is the first, web based, free tuition university. It has a campus in Jamaica. We have contact asking if they would consider setting up a campus in PNG (Milne Bay}.
University of PNG: Mr Brian Brunton will be discussing accreditation of Hope Academy students seeking admission to UNPNG with the Registrar.
EXTENSIONS: There have been requests from within Milne Bay Province to extend its services to Woodlark Is., Goodenough Is., Fergusson Is., and communities around Daio, Milne Bay.
There is a need to complete a Hope Academy centre at Jinjo, Rossel Is., so that students who now go from Rossel to study at Nimowa can remain on their island to study, thus reducing their costs and those of Nimowa Academy centre
There are 5 other classrooms around Sudest and the East Calvados islands whose network contact with Hope Academy was destroyed by cyclone or not yet installed. These centres need to be completed for the sake of students on those remote islands.
The Academy has been been invited to consider the need of young people in Moresby for its services, and has an offer of funding.
There have been students from the Sepik attending Nimowa Academy for years, and there have been requests to open a Hope Academy centre in the West Sepik.
At best we can do only a little in answer to these requests, because we do not have the resources of staff or money to meet them. We have the offer of a freely installed satellite dish at Guasopa, Woodlark Is.; Rossel Is. already has students studying at Nimowa, and an existing classroom at Jinjo; there is an offer of funding that would help begin Hope Academy in Moresby. So it would seem that these are the places we should concentrate on in 2017.
Hope Academy ended the year in debt, still owing money to Milne Bay Hardware for materials used in the renovation of the classrooms abandoned in 2015.
The Academy in also had to borrow K20,000 to see it through to the end of 2016.
The cost of the new building in Alotau, and money to assist in setting it up, were provided by the MSC Mission Office.
Other financial assistance was provided during the year by the Melbourne Overseas Mission (Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne), and two private donors who channel their financial assistance for the Academy through MOM.
So far, the Academy policy of setting fees to an affordable level for at least some families who have a low cash income has been difficult to implement without making a loss. The reason for this is simply that a significant number of students in the past have paid nothing, or only a part, of their fees. We hope this problem will be solved by making it possible to pay a daily fee, and not granting access to the internet to those students who do not pay (cf. # FEES above).
It is Hope Academy policy to become financially self supporting as soon as possible in its day to day operations. A good beginning has been made.