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PNG has 'human capital crisis', says World Bank

Kirsty Needham -

The World Bank is urging Papua New Guinea to address a "human capital crisis" and invest more in educating children, who suffer high rates of stunted growth and illiteracy, as a way to boost economic growth and security.

An annual economic update for Papua New Guinea released on Thursday shows economic growth was a modest 2.7 per cent in 2023, half the previous year, because of delays in the reopening of the Porgera goldmine and lower liquefied natural gas production.

To free PNG from dependence on the resources sector, the report urges more investment in people.

PNG has a "human capital crisis" where nearly half of children show stunted growth that affects brain development, the fifth-highest rate globally, and 70 per cent of year 5 students are not reading at grade level after starting school late, the report says.

It recommends the government provide textbooks and toilets for schools, which lack basic materials, and notes many children are too hungry to learn.

Absenteeism by poorly trained teachers affects classroom learning and could be overcome by providing structured lesson plans.

World Bank education specialist Lars Sondergaard said in an interview with Reuters the same problems were seen in PNG's urban communities and remote villages.

It was hard to build economic growth when children are leaving school too early and are not a productive force, he said.

"The message here is, you've got to get the foundations right and you have to start urgently," he said.

The number of 20-24 year olds would boom from 830,000 to 1.2 million by 2050, he said.

PNG is the largest Pacific island nation and has an official population of nine million.

It experienced riots in the capital Port Moresby in January, which destroyed some businesses.

PNG struck a deal with Australia to fund a boost in police numbers, has a defence pact with the United States to upgrade ports and airports, and also wants to increase trade with China.

"In a society with a high degree of violence and crime, having a 'youth bulge' population, without the stabilising anchor of participating in training, in education, or in employment, would put future development at risk," the report says.

World Bank education specialist Joy Wong said spending per student had fallen 20 per cent in the past decade, as the number of students and schools grew.

"More resources need to be allocated," she said.

Kirsty Needham - AAP

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