High tech high school


When the tropical rains hit, the dirt roads to Mount Diamond Adventist school turn into rivers. It’s hard to know whether you’d have better luck getting to the school in a monster truck or a little boat. But today it’s hot, dry and every shade of green is so bright the terrain looks almost surreal as we bounce along the heavily rutted road.

We’re on our way to Mount Diamond, Papua New Guinea, to see the nation’s first online exam system in action. Indeed, it looks like the kind of place where you may be treated to some cultural dancing or woodcarving, not cutting-edge technology. But I’ve been assured by Darren Yorio, ADRA PNG program director, that we are about to see something special.

The National Research Institute is evaluating its effectiveness, and so far it is going well. In fact, it looks like they’ll roll it out nationally.

The internet doesn’t come to Mount Diamond over fibre optic cables; it comes through a large dish connected with a satellite spinning high above the planet. So a place that can be hard to get to physically when it rains, may have better internet access than many locations in Australia. That’s the power of technology.

But disruption has come to PNG’s national exam process in the form of cheating. In fact cheating is such a serious problem that results of entire areas were recently discarded. And cheating isn’t the only problem. The national government has put great emphasis and funding into universal education. That led to a spike in enrolments. Resources naturally lagged, so today teachers are struggling to cope with the larger student loads. Marking is falling behind, students lack timely feedback, impeding academic progress, and tracking and analysing student data is not happening effectively.

In response to the problem, ADRA funded the development and implementation of a pilot online exam system at Mount Diamond through the Church Partnership Program. It’s much harder to cheat using online exams. Grading is automatic and feedback immediate. And tracking and analysing data is simple. But could online exams really work in a place like this?

Sitting in the school’s computer lab, principal Jeff Kombil said, “Results so far have been very promising. The secretary of the national department of education, Dr Michael Tapo, came to the school for the official launch in August. The Australian Government’s aid program also sent officials to the school to see the online exam program in action. The National Research Institute is evaluating its effectiveness, and so far it is going well. In fact, it looks like they’ll roll it out nationally. It’s not that we don’t face challenges. For example, power supply can be an issue for us. So we’re putting in a backup generator and we’re upgrading our electrical system. Progress is never simple, but the results we’re seeing are very encouraging.”

Science department head David James said another obstacle was that not all teachers have kept up with technology.

“Spending time training our team was necessary before beginning,” he said. “About three-quarters of our teachers now are regularly using technology. Our students are faster learners—they just love it! They take to it naturally.” Is it possible the best selling app in the world will be created by Mount Diamond students? “Of course it is!”

Mr Kombil said ADRA training in grant writing has also proven very helpful. “Do you see the construction site over there?” He points past mango trees heavy with fruit to the far side of the large, well-kept campus. “We’re building a new dorm for 50 girls with a grant we received from the New Zealand government,” he said. 

“Other Adventist schools trained by ADRA have also had success in writing and managing grants. We have grown from 560 students to 720 students in just the past couple of years. The ADRA grant writing training has proven extremely valuable as we struggle to increase our facilities to keep up with demand. The Church is also adding resources for new dormitories. With all these resources combined, we are starting to catch up—but we still have a long way to go.

“We want this to be a place where tithe payers can see tangible returns,” Mr Kombil said. “That means quality Christian education that incorporates the latest technological innovations. Our new buildings will be very modern. We also want to expand our computer lab from 25 terminals to 100. We want to match our aspirations with reality.”

James Standish is editor of RECORD.