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Friday 12 June 2015 | Published in Regional


PORT MORESBY – There are not too many people in Papua New Guinea who are not rugby league fans.

Be they Maroons or Blues, many will be following the 2015 State of Origin series in Australia closely.

So when it comes to addressing the issues surrounding public school education in PNG, it’s not surprising that the NRL’s League Bilong Laif – League for Life – programme, which marries rugby league with classroom activities, has taken off in a big way.

In contrast to the name of the programme and public opinion, the programme, funded by the Australian government, is not a tool for recruiting rugby league converts.

Rather, it uses the country’s most popular national sport as a motivational catalyst to tackle issues in providing education in the fast developing nation.

And all the signs seem to show that it is working very well.

Since it was launched in PNG a year ago, the programme has expanded out from the capital Port Moresby into schools in Kokapo, the Eastern Highlands, and most recently, Bougainville.

The programme’s PNG lead development officer, Richard Ora, told Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat the scheme was having a significant impact.

“They really enjoy our presence at the schools, and it has really improved student attendance,” Ora said.

“They love us being there to teach them rugby league skills, which makes tying the reading and classroom aspects of education much easier, because without the rugby aspect, most of the kids wouldn’t even come.”

Using the kids’ rugby league heroes and NRL dreams as a focal point, one of the key messages that the programme strives to instil in the students is the importance of being educated and a contributing member of society.

Timaima Elius, principal at the Zion Zeal school in Port Moresby, is in her first year in the post, and said League Bilong Laif was making her job and those of her staff noticeably easier.

“They seem to love books now, and they’re always in the library,” Elius said.

“But what I’ve also noticed is the changes in attitude – many voluntarily say things like ‘please’ or ‘excuse me’, unlike before. They seem to respect themselves as well as the others in a much bigger way.”

Some students explained how reading books had opened up doors, allowing them to better understand things in life, offering valuable knowledge that they could share with their siblings at home.

And the effect of the programme appears to be far reaching.

“The books that they are reading have been very useful in helping us integrate education into all aspects of their lives, such as morals and interpersonal manners,” Elius said.

“The fact that the student is reading in the first place, that in itself opens up other subject areas while improving their individual skills.”