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 | Doctor Katrina Barker

Dr Katrina Barker is the Director of Academic Program for the Master of Teaching (Primary) course.  She received her PhD in Education from Western Sydney University in 2007. She is a multi-award-winning educator who she has taught undergraduate and postgraduate students since 2003 in Educational Psychology across the primary and secondary programs and has coordinated the research methods and design unit for the Honours students. Katrina's research focus links well to her teaching as it relates to student motivation, self-concept, classroom management, inclusive education, and school retention. Most of her research employs a mixed methods approach drawing upon sophisticated quantitative and qualitative analyses. Prior to being employed at Western Sydney University, Katrina completed a teaching degree and worked as a primary school teacher. Katrina is a member of the Marketing and Communications Technical Advisory Network for beyondblue’s NationalEducation Initiative.

Meet the Academic | Associate Professor Danielle Tracey

Danielle is an Associate Professor in Educational and Developmental Psychology and Disability Studies, and a Senior Researcher in the Centre for Educational Research, Western Sydney University. In 2018 she was appointed as the University-wide Research Theme Champion for Education and Work where she applies her research and leadership expertise to foster high quality interdisciplinary research across the University within this substantive area. 

Her career objective is to advance the psychosocial wellbeing of children and young people, with a particular focus on individuals with intellectual disabilities. She achieves this through the synergies between her research, teaching and leadership, HDR supervision, and consultancy in the field. Her work adopts an ecological approach to understand and shift the influential factors at individual, systemic practice, and community policy levels.

As an accomplished researcher winning over $3.1 million in national and international research grants she collaborates with scholars in Canada, USA, Germany, Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea, and Hong Kong.  She is widely authored in high-impact journals and is the co-editor of two international volumes on inclusive education. She is a mixed-method researcher conducting rigorous program evaluations and longitudinal designs to identify developmental trends and practices that optimise psychosocial development.

Most notably, she works closely with industry and end-users of research as a consultant and researcher. These partnerships are strengthened by her experience as an Educational and Developmental Psychologist and Service Manager within the community sector for 15 years prior to entering academia.


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.