Rhodes PNG Builds Gender Equality and Community with Tuhava International Primary School

April 15, 2023
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School days used to begin very early for kids from Roku village, in the Central Province of Papua New Guinea (PNG). They had to endure a half-hour drive on deeply potholed roads to reach this Pacific nation’s capital, Port Moresby, just to get to their classrooms. And in a country where poor road maintenance and crime make road travel dangerous, with carjacking common, journeys like this can often be a source of real worry and concern. 

But life now is better for kids from Roku after Papua New Guinean construction and engineering company Rhodes PNG Limited built Tuhava International Primary School close to their village in the new Tuhava Town township, a larger Rhodes development in the area.  The new school offers quality education, and unusually for PNG, childcare facilities.

“We are happy that this international school is here, so close to our village. We are sending our children here instead of waking up early morning and taking our children or grandchildren into town,” said Daure Gabe Pundi, a local landowner and a great-aunt of many children at the school. “The good thing about this international school is we are preparing the future generation to become good citizens of Roku village and then maybe in future they can do business here or go out, they will have a good education to work for Papua New Guinea,” said Pundi.

Across this Pacific nation, the need for quality childcare and schools is huge. PNG has a young and growing population of almost ten million and faces high levels of institutional and social fragility. Most people live in rural communities and contend with significant challenges in education, health and economic opportunity. Many kids there don’t have access to a good education and quality childcare facilities are few and far between. This is why the Tuhava International Primary School is already seen as a valuable resource by the local community. It is educating kids up to around age 12. With some 80 students currently enrolled, expansion is anticipated as Rhodes builds more housing in Tuhava Town as part of its development plans to create a modern housing estate near Port Moresby.

In fact, the school is now at capacity and more classrooms are being built to host a larger number of students.  Those at the school include some children of Rhodes employees, children of employees of other companies based nearby, and also kids from the local community.

School Born out of Gender Analysis

The origins of the school, which also offers childcare as it takes children from the age of two and a half, stemmed from Rhodes’ commitment to gender equality and an action plan they developed to make good on that commitment. 

Rhodes is the world’s first construction and engineering company to be certified twice with EDGE or Economic Dividends for Gender Equality, the leading global certification for gender equality. With technical support from IFC,  Rhodes initially achieved this landmark result in 2019 and subsequently maintained this important standard which evaluates companies’ workplace gender equality performance against global and industry benchmarks.

Setting up a school and childcare facility was recommended under Rhodes’ EDGE action plan which laid out gender-related activities the company committed to undertake over an agreed period. In a gender-focused analysis of the business, IFC found a lack of childcare support was a barrier to women’s participation at Rhodes.

After initial planning meetings, Rhodes moved quickly to establish the school, funding the facility and engaging an external operator to run it. It has been built as part of a larger Rhodes development in the area. Six months after completing their EDGE action plan, the school was already teaching kids.   

Reflecting on the changes to the local area, David Mackenzie, Rhodes PNG’s Business Development Manager said that as little as ten years ago there was almost no infrastructure, with rapid development since then. He anticipates with PNG’s population growth, and the growth of Port Moresby, development of the area will increase. Providing a quality option for education is a key element of developing the area.

“It’s making it more and more affordable for children in the local community, the costs that we charge here are substantially smaller than international schools in Port Moresby and a really important thing about what we are doing here is it’s in this community,” he said.

Quality childcare doesn’t just benefit children

A lack of quality childcare can be a problem for companies seeking gender equality. When good options are not available, carers, who are often women, need to stay away from work to look after children. This has negative impacts for the business and individuals, including lost earnings and poor performance.

Research conducted in 2019 by IFC in Fiji found that each year businesses and the public sector were losing an average of 12.7 workdays per employee due to the challenges of balancing work and childcare demands.

IFC is now undertaking similar research in PNG, in partnership with the PNG Business Coalition for Women, which seeks to identify challenges experienced by working parents in the country, and to identify and recommend ways companies can support employees, especially women. The findings will assist companies to strengthen their approach to employer-supported childcare.

Access to affordable, quality childcare can improve developmental outcomes for children, expand employment opportunities for employees, especially women, boost productivity and profits for businesses, and enhance socio-economic growth.

“We hope other companies in PNG will follow Rhodes’ lead,” said IFC Resident Representative for Papua New Guinea, Markus Scheuermaier. “Employer-supported childcare and family-friendly policies can bring business benefits in areas including talent acquisition and retention, lowering absenteeism and staff turnover, boosting productivity, increasing employee satisfaction, and conferring status as an employer of choice.”

Reflecting their strong commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment, this IFC gender advisory work was funded by the governments of Australia and New Zealand.  

“The Tuhava International Primary School stands as a clear demonstration of what can be achieved with the support of business, not just in PNG, but also in other nations across the Pacific,” said Judith Green, IFC Country Manager for Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands. “We are delighted to see the school is up and running as it marks a big win for Rhodes PNG, its staff and the local community. As well as providing quality care and education for kids, this childcare facility and school can help drive tangible business gains. We are grateful for the support of  Australia and New Zealand  for our work in Papua New Guinea, which is doing so much to further gender equality, stimulate private sector investment and reduce poverty,” Green said.

Published on 17th April 2023