Education for All

An Australian-led research project is helping teacher-educators in Papua New Guinea promote inclusive education for students with disabilities.

The ‘UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).’ recognises the universal right to inclusive education. This can be difficult to facilitate, especially in countries like Papua New Guinea, where 85% of the population lives in remote and rural areas.

“Children with disabilities in these areas are often refused entry to formal schooling,” says Genevieve Nelson, the chief executive officer of Kokoda Track Foundation (KTF). “Sometimes teachers and schools are the ones who refuse entry because they do not have the specialist skills to support children with disabilities to engage meaningfully in learning. Sometimes it’s the parents who refuse to send them to school.”

KTF, a not-for-profit organisation that aims to establish the right to “an inclusive, equitable and quality education” for all, was a major partner in a project led by Western Sydney University researchers, Danielle Tracey and Katrina Barker.

The project provided specialist training to 10 teacher-educators to develop their capabilities to promote inclusive education at Papua New Guinea teacher colleges.

“We wanted to explore the level of understanding among officials within the National Department of Education, the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Education Institute, and various teachers’ colleges, and to support them to strengthen policy and practices related to inclusive education, especially in remote and rural areas,” says Nelson.

Research Skills

The teacher-educator fellows received four weeks of training at Western followed by a week of further training, several months later, back in Papua New Guinea. At the end of the project, they reported that one of the most highly valued outcomes of their training was learning to conduct ‘action research’. In other words, the fellows learned how to use research methodologies to critique and improve specific areas of teaching practice.

One of the fellows, Cathy Sowi, a curriculum officer of inclusive education at Papua New Guinea’s National Inclusive Education Unit, used focus group interviews and surveys to investigate the inclusive education program carried out in a school in the National Capital District of Port Moresby. Her research aimed at understanding the program’s context, effectiveness, and the implications for teaching and learning. After the project conclusion, she expanded her research to cover schools in three other provinces. “The recommendations that emerged from the fellows’ action research will contribute significantly to the developments of inclusive education in Papua New Guinea,” says Sowi.

The fellows presented their findings to the directors of Papua New Guinea’s Department of Education, which is in the process of restructuring the country’s schooling system. “We have an exciting opportunity to ensure that inclusive education and education for all is front and centre of this new agenda,” says KTF’s Nelson.

Need to know

  • Children with disabilities in rural areas of Papua New Guinea (PNG) have trouble accessing inclusive education.
  • Researchers from Western led a project that helped PNG teacher-educator fellows promote inclusive education.
  • The fellows’ experiences will help inform PNG education policy.
Continuous learning and training

The fellows also helped put together a manual that provides teachers in remote and rural areas with practical strategies, skills and techniques to engage parents and communities with the aim of improving access to education for children with disabilities.

They also learned how to improve curricula, assess students’ learning needs, use assistive technologies, and received teaching on the sociocultural construct of disability and on models of leadership.

Tracey and Barker, along with the ten fellows, are working collaboratively to disseminate the results of the research project. “Disseminating the results in collaboration with the Fellows is important to developing their capacity and ensuring the findings are meaningful to educators in Papua New Guinea,” says Tracey. Additionally, following Tracey and Barker’s initiative of offering Western’s Master of Inclusive Education internationally, several fellows and their institutes have already expressed interest in joining the program. They have also hosted shorter training sessions at Western for 26 Papua New Guinea teacher-educators in collaboration with KTF.

“It has been amazing for our trainers and educators to experience first-hand the professional university life at Western and to have access to their resources,” says Nelson.

Meet the Academic | Associate Professor Katrina Barker

Katrina is an Associate Professor in Educational Psychology at the Centre for Educational Research in the School of Education and a multi-award-winning educator. She fuses research and teaching to transform curriculum, assessments, and pedagogical approaches with the goal to inspire future teachers and improve their work. She has been nationally recognised for her expertise and innovations through an Australian Learning and Teaching Council citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning, was awarded UniJobs Top 10 Lecturer of the Year, and won the Vice Chancellor’s Excellence in Teaching Award.

Katrina has established a research agenda of national and international significance which is committed to improve attainment of those most vulnerable and marginalised in society, thereby providing new pathways to transition between school, tertiary education, and employment. Investing in partnerships characterised by co-design and participatory research, Katrina is working with industry partners to improve the quality of education in Papua New Guinea (PNG). These projects address teacher shortages, whilst simultaneously working to improve the knowledge, skills, and pedagogy of in-service and pre-service teachers in PNG.

Meet the Academic | Professor Danielle Tracey

Danielle Tracey is a Professor in the School of Education and the Translational Health Research Institute at Western Sydney University. Professor Tracey has a strong international reputation in the fields of educational and developmental psychology, disability studies and evaluation.

Her career objective is to understand and advance the physical, psychological and social wellbeing of vulnerable people and communities, especially people with disabilities.

Professor Tracey has held national and international competitive grants from the Australian Research Council and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. She works in partnership with communities to construct and complete meaningful research that fosters real-world impact. This expertise is underpinned by her substantial experience as an Educational and Developmental Psychologist and program manager in the community sector.

Her most recent project sees her partnering with scholars in Papua New Guinea to enhance the pre-service and in-service teacher training in Papua New Guinea to achieve inclusion and participation for vulnerable children and communities.


This research was supported by an Australia Awards Fellowship funded by the Australian Government.

© Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images ©  Cathy Sowi
Future-Makers is published for Western Sydney University by Nature Research Custom Media, part of Springer Nature.