Monash University
ShawBradPhDThesis26August2017.pdf (2.54 MB)

REFRAMING TECHNICAL VOCATIONAL EDUCATION AND TRAINING IN PAPUA NEW GUINEA An Autoethnographic Investigation into the Commercialisation of a Mining Town Technical College

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Version 2 2017-08-29, 04:10
Version 1 2017-06-27, 05:05
posted on 2017-08-29, 04:10 authored by BRAD DAMIEN SHAW
The research landscape for this study was situated in a mining town called Tabubil in the Star Mountains of the Western Province in Papua New Guinea (PNG). The Papua New Guinea Sustainable Development Program (PNGSDP) established the Star Mountains Institute of Technology to address the educational needs of mine-impacted areas in the Tabubil region and the wider Western Province. It was established by the global resources company BHP Billiton as a result of an historic out-of-court legal settlement involving 30,000 Indigenous plaintiffs following environmental damage to the Ok Tedi and Fly rivers (Kirsch, 1996).

This research project explored the impacts on technical vocational education and training (TVET) in PNG as a result of the transformation of the Ok Tedi Mine Limited (OTML) Training Centre into the Star Mountains Institute of Technology (SMIT) Technical College in preparation for mine closure. SMIT was a major player in PNGSDP’s sustainability planning for Tabubil and the Western Province in a post-mine environment.

An autoethnographic approach was used as the research methodology with the context based on personal work and social experiences within SMIT, the township of Tabubil and the general OTML communities located in the Western Province of PNG. As an insider and outsider in this study, personal experiences were recorded through narrative-style writing, which were combined with articulating participants’ stories told during individual and focus group interviews through a series of vignettes to help explain the associated impacts. Third Generation Activity Theory (Engeström, 2001) was used as the analytic framework for this study.

The findings highlighted the importance of appropriate management of donor funding and technical vocational education and training public–private partnerships, and the positive impact such management could have on the potential reform of the PNG TVET system. From an education and training perspective, the study revealed that more innovative teaching and learning approaches could be embedded into the TVET sector. This included the implementation of an e-learning strategy, the development of a trade teacher mentor program for all technical colleges and the review and update of all TVET curricula. This could potentially help standardise best practices across the whole PNG TVET sector.

A number of recommendations were made in light of the findings including a suggestion that the PNG Government establish a technical college similar to the SMIT Technical College. A further suggestion was that the PNGSDP-commissioned Tabubil Futures project, initiated to define the future and existence of Tabubil in a post-mine environment (PNGSDP, 2012b), be revived to prepare Tabubil and the surrounding regions for life after the possible closure of the Ok Tedi mine. The Tabubil Futures project was discontinued when the PNGSDP Board made the decision to cease operations due to the PNG Government takeover of the Ok Tedi mine.

The significance of this research related to the adoption of a sustainable approach to TVET in preparation for a post-mine environment through the commercialisation of the SMIT Technical College. The potential of this commercialisation of the college to reframe TVET in PNG through initiating public–private partnerships was a strong theme in the data. The research also uncovered a number of deficiencies with the PNG national technical colleges. These included TVET funding, teaching and learning resources, infrastructure and teachers’ skills. The research revealed that these deficiencies could be addressed in partnership with PNG government bodies and divisions such as the National Training Council (NTC), National Apprenticeship and Trade Testing Board (NATTB) and the TVET Division. The lessons learnt and the associated recommendations that stem from this research are particularly valuable for the current context, but could be readily transferrable to any similar community facing a comparably challenging situation that requires management of change at a number of levels. The emergent Commercialisation Impacts Framework, while developed specifically for the SMIT Technical College, could be adapted to suit the needs of many other communities facing similar challenges as Tabubil.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Margaret Plunkett

Additional supervisor 1

Michael Dyson

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Education