Drone puts PNG Communications students at the cutting edge

FASS CA department drone

Papua New Guinea is a country where reliable access to the internet and digital technology is poor or non-existent for most of the population, and that’s partly why the Communications students at Divine Word University in Madang, have taken to their new drone with such enthusiasm.

The drone, which was funded by a donor, and bought in Australia, places the students at the cutting edge of video filming technology and they are already making the most of it.

Lecturer in the University’s Department of Communication Arts (Journalism), Maria Sagrista, says the arrival of the drone to their department which has traditionally struggled to acquire and maintain good quality cameras and equipment has had a big impact.

“We are so happy we have the drone,” Maria says. “I am extremely happy and I think all the students are extremely excited as well.

“Having a drone was probably not a priority. But I saw a possibility to do some income generating activities, especially here with the tourism industry. We could offer our services as a production company to create commercials for the hotels, the restaurants and maybe some events, that was my original idea.

“It didn’t work out in the beginning but eventually I was talking to someone and they saw the potential and they decided to fund the drone.”

FASS CA department drone2

Maria says the arrival of the drone, brought back from Australia by Fr Philip Gibbs SVD, has ushered in a new era for the Communications students.

“First of all, the drone is a lot of fun,” says Maria. “And I think for the students it makes them feel that they are really out there, because most of our equipment is so basic. We have only two or three cameras and the students have to struggle and be really resourceful. So, having the drone, which is the latest technology, is so cool, and is something that makes them feel really professional and up to date.

“And you can see how excited they are and how enthusiastic they are, and how they are coming up with ideas about how to use it. So, I think it can help them to realise that they are at the same level as anyone else.”

Maria, who used to work in Spanish TV, says the young people studying in the highly sought-after degree come from all around PNG, from the Highlands to the Coast and everywhere in between.

“Most of them, when they start, haven’t touched a computer before, and don’t really know how the Internet works,” she says. “Compared to students in say, Europe, there is a big difference.

“But something that I’ve realised since coming here last year is that as soon as the students have the tools, if you are able to plant the seed that makes them thirsty for knowledge, and they recognise that they can do something that at the beginning would have been very difficult for them, then they can accomplish it and move forward. They feel really proud, and they become so resourceful and they learn extremely quickly.

“So, I think that when they see that they can do all these things they could only dream of before, it really makes them excited and the drone can really help them with that.”

Maria says the BA Communication Studies (Journalism) degree at Divine Word University is a popular course, with many young people in PNG eager to work in the media industry. The course offers both theory and practical units, with a big emphasis on work experience with local TV stations, newspapers and radio, as well as online outlets.

“Social media is also huge here. It’s really interesting, because in a country where access to Internet is so limited and there are obstacles to technology, I think we have 350,000 Facebook users here now,” she says.

“People are really into it, the same as in other places. They have several accounts and they check it continuously and even if they don’t own a phone or a computer they will still manage to post an update and keep themselves connected.

“So, now with Fr Philip Gibbs, we are trying to do a study looking at the digital competency of our students and young people. One of our concerns is how our students engage with social media. Do they go beyond posting their pictures of what happened on the weekend, or are they actually able to network and find out about news and do advocacy and this kind of thing? We’re hoping to find out a little bit more about that in our study.”

PHOTOS by Fr Philip Gibbs SVD