SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA, September 17, 2012 --- Over recent years, Tonga and Vanuatu have seen vast education achievements. Nearly all primary school aged children enroll in school and Tonga's drop-out rates are among the lowest in the Pacific region. Despite major successes in improving access to basic education, a new World Bank report series reveals important gaps in learning outcomes, particularly in children's critical early grades.
The reports consider three independent surveys which measured reading and writing skills of over 1,200 primary school students in Tonga and 2,400 students in Vanuatu. Survey results show that many children are struggling to learn to read, with 70 percent of Grade Three students in Tonga and 80 percent in Vanuatu unable to read fluently enough for comprehension. Results call into question children’s ability to keep up as they move through school. Poorer readers are more likely to lose interest in education or even drop out altogether, with lifelong ramifications for development.
“Education can be transformational but just turning up to school is simply not enough,” said Truman Packard, Lead Economist for the World Bank in the Pacific Islands. "Improving learning outcomes is essential to ensure children can continue to reach their true potential. Reading is critical to this - the first years of school are when it matters most."
Based on this analysis, the reports recommend important measures to help build foundational reading skills in children's early grades. This includes improving reading instruction in classrooms; better monitoring students’ reading progress during the school year; increasing access to books and other reading materials at school and at home, and steps to promote greater parental involvement in children's reading development.
“The Pacific has made great gains in education over the past decade but ongoing effort is needed to improve the quality of teaching,” said Rob Tranter, First Assistant Director General in AusAID’s Pacific Division. “Australia and the World Bank are both supporters of education in the Pacific. It is positive that the information from these studies is already being acted on by Pacific island educators and policy makers to trial new ways of teaching reading in the region.”
Currently, in partnership with AusAID, the World Bank is assisting Pacific Island educators and policy makers to administer and analyze data from local early grade reading assessments in their country, as part of its Pacific Early Years Education Advisory Services Program. Surveys were carried out with assistance from the World Bank and the Global Partnership for Education, together with AusAID and the New Zealand Aid program (NZAP).