Literacy in the Pacific: in danger of being sidelined?
By Wendy Jarvie The Pacific is a crowded policy space – inevitable given the wide range of challenges facing Pacific island countries. Most recently, with climate change being on everyone’s mind and the need for massively enhanced infrastructure in the Pacific to help deal with it, it’s difficult to get any oxygen and priority for discussions on education, including literacy.
But there are major education issues in the Pacific. While there are high enrolments of children in primary school, countries are struggling to achieve decent education outcomes. For example, the recently released 2018 Pacific Island Literacy and Numeracy Assessment (PILNA) data shows that only half of children in Year 4 are at the Pacific literacy benchmark for their grade. (Compared to Australia where around 95% of Australian Year 3 students are at or above our literacy benchmarks.)
The literacy problem starts early in a child’s school life.
In Tonga, an Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) done in 2014 found that literacy problems were apparent as early as Year 1 with, for example, 25% of students at the end of their first year of schooling recording “zero” for letter-sound recognition. These children did not know the sound for any letter. That means a basic building block of reading comprehension – understanding the sounds that are associated with letters – is missing for these children. Most Pacific island countries for which EGRA studies have been done show that reading comprehension is very poor for a large proportion of children in Years 1–3.
Part of the problem is that many children are not starting “school ready”. A World Bank study of three Pacific countries in 2013 found that parents did not value early childhood education, or see their role in providing cognitive stimulus. Preschool participation is patchy. While most children have good oral skills, and they have stories …read more