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Award-winning academic committed to PNG’s future leaders

Dek with Professor Brian Schmidt, ANU Vice Chancellor and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics.

When it comes to tutoring emerging economists, there are few with a better pedigree than Dek Joe Sum who – despite being a student himself not long ago – has now won three consecutive awards for excellence in teaching.

Dek is the Australian National University (ANU) – University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG) partnership coordinator.

He is one of the five ANU academics based in Port Moresby and who work shoulder-to-shoulder with UPNG staff at the School of Business and Public Policy.

They assist with course development and research agendas, and also teach hundreds of students each year, many of whom will go on to be part of the next generation of economic and public policy experts.

On 12 July, Dek received his third honour in as many years: the ‘Award for Excellence in Tutoring or Demonstrating’ at the 2018 ANU Vice-Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence in Education.

Dek said the award was the highest recognition for teaching at ANU and that UPNG was the ideal place to share his passion for economics.

“Everyone sees me differently and has a high expectation from me,” Dek said. “It enables me to set a higher standard. It’s good for me and for the students because they can get the most out of me,”

“It’s my passion to teach and I’m honoured because there’s no better place than UPNG to put my skills to use.”

“It’s lot of learning experience and a steep learning curve for me. I’ve never been exposed to that before.”

The partnership between UPNG’s School of Business and Public Policy and the ANU has been supported by the Pacific Leadership and Governance Precinct.

It has seen the School renew its focus on producing technically skilled and capable leaders who possess the knowledge and ability to create and implement effective policy in the national interest.

Dek is philosophical about the challenges and opportunities Papua New Guinea is presented with, and believes the ANU academics have a role to play in development of leaders who can mold society.

“I love this job because I am directly mentoring the future leaders of PNG,” he said. “I teach them and let them know what opportunities and challenges this country is facing. They can help their country to move forward; build it to be a better place and reward their communities with their knowledge.”

“Our role as lecturers may not be as significant anymore – they will be the champions.”

In the first semester of 2018, ANU lecturers taught economics and public policy management subjects to 291 undergraduate students, and there are signs the partnership has had a major impact on student performance.

There has been a significant increase in the average marks and percentage of students who passed the annual ANU economics exam, which fourth year UPNG students have the option of sitting in addition to their internal examinations.

Each year the top UPNG economics graduate is awarded a scholarship to study for a Master of International and Development Economics at the ANU.

The ANU also receives UPNG economics and public policy students for summer school, which enables them to further their studies and expand their networks.
“Without the current partnership with the Precinct, we would not have been able to do all this – it has greatly benefited students, staff and future leaders,” Dek said.

“Being here, we are able to expand the teaching, research and students’ exposure to the latest economic literature.”

Dek believes that these types of initiatives are promoting more local experts, who are needed to take Papua New Guinea forward.

“I love being in PNG – it is one of the few countries in the world that’s able to preserve its culture so well,” Dek said.

“The ANU Economics Scholarship recipients are the best products of the partnership; they have first class knowledge and are able to combine it with the local understanding. People like us are expatriates; we do not know the culture as well as the locals. With them coming back, there will be a big impact and a sustainable plan for UPNG.”

“Our role as lecturers may not be as significant anymore – they will be the champions.”