“But do we make a difference?” You sure do!

DSC00245We are often asked by volunteers whether their support of literacy with children in the Cook Islands really makes a difference. We can tell you emphatically – YOU DO!

The Cook Islands culture is predominantly an oral culture with most homes having no books in the home other than a bible. This impacts hugely on the literacy rates of children as on entering school they have very little, if any, experience with books. The concepts usually achieved through being read to, or having access to books such as: the words go from left to right, you read from the top of the page to the bottom, that pictures relate to the words, that the symbols on the page is a way of communicating, even basics such as which way up a book goes, are often not present on school entry.

In other countries, children come to school with all these concepts and many more and numerous studies have shown that students who are exposed to reading before they start school are more likely to do well in all facets of formal education. After all, if a student struggles to put together words and sentences, how can they be expected to grasp math, science, and social concepts that they will be presented with at elementary school? Let alone the pleasure that reading can offer as you enter the world of fiction or learn other things that you would never know about!Photo Mar 04,  1 16 10 PM

Another complexity that Cook Islands children experience is that school from Grade 1 – 3 is all in Cook Islands Maori and they only start their lessons in English from grade 4. This means that they are even further behind in their English literacy skills. It’s here that our volunteers step into support, at Grade 4 when students are just beginning to learn to read in English. The one on one support they receive daily by volunteers enhances and builds on the literacy lessons the teachers take in class and increases the exposure to books which in turn dramatically speeds up the process of learning to read.

The principal of Takitumu School has evaluated the impact our volunteers make on the literacy rates of her Grade 4 students, and has tracked them through to Grade six.Miranda Wagner with William Below is a table showing the literacy rates of Year 4, 5 and 6 (Grade 4, 5, 6) students at the start of the year and at the end of the year. You can clearly see the progress students have made by the end of the year. In March there are 16 Grade 4 students at risk or below average with their reading. By the end of the year there are only 6 at risk in Grade 4 but look at Grade 6 – zero children at risk or below average! What a huge improvement! You can also see that over the next two years things continue to improve and  our volunteers have worked with each of these grades over the last three years as well, and will continue to work with any students after Grade 4 who still struggle with their reading.

Mrs Engia Baxter, Principal of Takitumu School, puts much of the success of moving students from at risk or below average in their reading to the support provided by Global Volunteers and has told us on many occasions how much they [the school and the students] appreciate and need the support.  However the testing results shown below also now support this anecdotal evidence.


Assessment date:        31 March 2014

Level Year 4 Year 5 Year 6
Gender M F M F M F
Total Students 16 7 12 8 14 6
Number of Students At Risk (1) 8 2 2 0 2 0
Below  Average(2) 4 3 0 1 0 0
Average (3) 1 0 3 0 3 0
Above Average (4) 3 3 7 7 9 6
Total (3+4) 4 3 10 7 12 6
Total (3+4) % 25 43 83.3333 88 85.7143 100
Assessment Tool Used PM Benchmark 1 PM Benchmark 1 PM Benchmark 1


Assessment date   November 2014

Level Year 4 Year 5 Year 6
Gender M F M F M F
Total Students 14 8 10 8 12 5
Number of Students At Risk (1) 1
Below  Average(2) 4 1 1
Average (3) 2 2
Above Average (4) 7 7 9 8 10 5
Total (3+4) 9 7 9 8 12 5
Total (3+4) % 64.2857 88 90 100 100 100
Assessment Tool Used PM Benchmark PM Benchmark Pm Benchmark


Principal Baxter asked us to ensure this note was brought to the attention of the Board:

Please share my heartfelt gratitude to Global Volunteers for everything they have done with our children at Takitumu School in regards to their reading.  I do look forward to their continuous support in the future. Meitaki maata e kia manuia (thank you very much and bless you).

Engia Baxter,  Principal,  Takitimu School,  RAROTONGA

So once again, Debi and I invite you to come to the Cook Islands in the beautiful South Pacific and support our children as they learn to read. You DO make a difference – one team at a time – one child at a time. Learn more here.

Kia manuia James

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