Australian Journal of Education

Article Title

The failure of progressive classroom reform : lessons from the Curriculum Reform Implementation Project in Papua New Guinea


Gerard Guthrie


Progressive education has been an article of educational faith in Papua New Guinea during the last 50 years but the best available evidence indicates that major reforms to formalistic curriculum and teaching in primary and secondary classrooms have failed during this period despite large-scale professional, administrative and financial support. In particular, project evaluations from AusAID’s 2000–06 Curriculum Reform Implementation Project (CRIP) were unaware historically and culturally. They provide no compelling evidence that CRIP’s progressive curriculum reform had the intended classroom effects. Official evaluations predominantly attribute CRIP’s failure to change teaching styles to technical input issues. More fundamentally, CRIP was embedded in the ‘progressive education fallacy’—confusing the teaching process (enquiry learning) with the educational product (enquiry skills). One result was inappropriate efforts to reform teacher-centred classroom methods. The opportunity was lost to develop a culturally intuitive formalistic teaching style, rather than trying unproductively to have teachers adopt counter-intuitive progressive methods. In PNG, as in many other contexts, the lessons learned from CRIP include a need to treat formalism as a deep-rooted cultural behaviour capable of adaptation and of performing important educational functions now and in the foreseeable future.