With almost 40 years of experience as an educator, Philip So’on (pictured above, right) has taught in several high schools across Papua New Guinea.

Starting as a young teacher in 1983 in New Ireland Province, Philip is now an Assistant Secretary at the National Department of Education. Philip oversees the Department’s Guidance and Counselling Division and its operations across 21 provinces.

‘My role really is to lead programs that promote student wellbeing and gender equality, making sure that schools implement the department’s Behaviour Management Policy,’ he explains.

Philip specialised in guidance and counselling during his education degree, and identified a workforce gap in this area. Keen to develop his skills further and share them with his colleagues, Philip applied for an Australia Awards Short Course in Counselling two years ago.

‘Most of my officers are teachers without counselling knowledge. I wanted the knowledge and skills on counselling so I could train them to provide the service to teachers and students and have the right values and attitudes when they visit the schools’, he says.

Philip was one of the 25 participants in the first Australia Awards Short Course counselling cohort at Griffith University in 2019. Participants represented national Departments including Education, Health and Justice and Attorney-General, as well as the private sector and NGOs such as Hargy Oil Palm and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The cohort secured a 100 per cent completion rate and today are sharing their skills across PNG in support of community wellbeing, development and the PNG-Australia Partnership.

In Philip’s case, this has involved developing a training manual for guidance officers and teachers in schools. Philip developed the resource as part of the work-based project that is part of all Australia Awards Short Courses.

Philip successfully implemented his project in 2020 after receiving endorsement from the National Department of Education. He has used the training manual to provide basic counselling training to over 60 staff across the department. He says the training was particularly timely given the challenges of COVID-19.

‘The work of guidance officers during the pandemic is crucial. The emotional aspect of students’ lives is just as important as the academic aspect. If not for the Short Course, I would not have the knowledge, skills and right attitude to deliver these trainings.’

Philip hopes that the importance of guidance and counselling in schools, and the link between emotional wellbeing and teachers’ and students’ performance, remain a priority.

‘Proper guidance and counselling can change the teaching and learning experience of teachers and students in PNG.’