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

The Cook Islands culture is predominantly an oral culture with most homes having no books other than a bible. This impacts the literacy rates of children. When they enter 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. 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? 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!

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. 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 six at risk in grade 4. 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… 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. Now, the testing results shown below also support this anecdotal evidence.

Assessment date: 31 March 2014

LevelYear 4Year 5Year 6
Total Students167128146
Number of StudentsAt Risk (1)822020
Below  Average(2)430100
Average (3)103030
Above Average (4)337796
Total (3+4)43107126
Total (3+4) %254383.33338885.7143100
Assessment Tool UsedPM Benchmark 1PM Benchmark 1PM Benchmark 1

Assessment date: November 2014

LevelYear 4Year 5Year 6
Total Students148108125
Number of StudentsAt Risk (1)1
Below  Average(2)411
Average (3)22
Above Average (4)7798105
Total (3+4)9798125
Total (3+4) %64.28578890100100100
Assessment Tool UsedPM BenchmarkPM BenchmarkPm Benchmark

Quote from the principal:

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

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 beautiful South Pacific and support our children as they learn to read. You DO make a difference in the Cook Islands – one team at a time – one child at a time. Learn more here.

Kia manuia, James, Global Volunteers’ Cook Islands Country Manager

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