Schooling in Papua New Guinea

In the summer of 2014, I did fieldwork with Geoffrey Saxe in a remote region of Papa New Guinea—the Oksapmin area (see map).We are currently in the process of publishing our results from this research.

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One focus of this work was a One Laptop Per Child program pilot program, which was implemented in three local schools several years ago and has since fallen into abeyance. Our intere
st was to understand how local conditions, institutional ideology, educational reform, national politics, and the agency of individual actors all contributed to this outcome.

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Our second focus was to build on prior research Saxe conducted in this area on the evolution of the indigenous body-part-counting system. (Words for numbers are the same as words for specific body parts, starting at the thumb on one side, progressing up the arm, over the face and down the other side–see figure.) To this end, we conducted an interview study with elementary school teachers to understand how the system is being taught to young students, alongside “Western” mathematics. For more information, see Geoff Saxe’s excellent website,

Oksapmin Body Counting System
Oksapmin Body Counting System

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