The campaign, Laukonga Mo e Fanau (Read with your child in Tongan) aims to tackle the issue of many children not having enough nurturing, early childhood experiences such as reading together with their loved ones and as a result, arrive at school unprepared to take on the challenges of a new environment.
The issue was identified in a recent World Bank-led study as one of the key barriers to children’s development and success at school.
“Our study showed that a large number of children between three and five didn’t know how to hold a book,” said Siosi Tapueluelu, the World Bank’s Senior Operations Officer in Tonga.
“Many couldn’t draw a recognisable figure or shape, and the majority lacked perseverance; the push to finish what they started. These skills are critical for early childhood development, and being ready for school on Day 1.”
The research further explored into the potential causes and found that 35% of children aged 3, 4 and 5 had not been read to in the three days before the study and many had not participated in any activities at home that would develop their social skills and cognitive development.
The research also revealed that round 70% of Tongan families have nothing to read at home to; among those who do, the materials may not be age appropriate or written in a language the child is most familiar with.
“Children who have a family member read with them are able to achieve better reading and comprehension in both Grades 1 and 2,” added Tapueluelu.
“By reading regularly with your child, not only are you strengthening your relationship, but also helping to build the foundations that will help your child become a better reader.”
The benefits of this time spent reading together are exactly what the Laukonga Mo e Fanau campaign, which has been supported by the World Bank with funding from the Global Partnership for Education, aims to emphasize.
Yet for Laukonga Mo e Fanau to be a success, it would need to tackle the issue in a distinctly Tongan way, argued Lena Moimoi, from Brand X, the Tongan marketing agency supporting the campaign.
The campaign, now underway across Tonga, aims to increase the number of children being read to regularly from 65% to 80% by the end of 2017.
“It was crucial for us that the campaign was aligned with the values most important to Tongans; the values of family, of community and faith, and how reading together will strengthen family bonds,” said Moimoi.
“That’s why the campaign focuses on the idea of ‘shared reading’ where parents ask questions of children as they read, and engage children about what is happening in the book.”
“It gives suggestions to parents, grandparents and other family members on how to read with children; such as devoting regular time and the types of questions to ask your child before, during and after reading together,” she said.
The campaign includes Tonga’s beloved Ma’ufanga Marist Rugby Team, and is using TV, radio and social media.
In particular, it wants to stress the role that fathers and grandfathers can have in developing a child’s reading abilities.
One father who is helping to share this message is Kapeli Leone. With nine children, he is one of the campaign’s many Tongan Reading Ambassadors, visiting communities to talk with families about the benefits of reading 10 minutes with a child every day.
“I know the importance of reading. I'm a school dropout; [and] I wasn't successful in school,” said Leone. “[Yet] this programme reminds me of how important it is to read. This project, giving 10 minutes a day – which equals to 3,650 minutes a year – that's two and a half whole days of reading and talking with your children a year. So I would say reading with your children is a role that each parent should have.”
The Laukonga Mo Fanau campaign is part of the World Bank-led Pacific Early Age Readiness and Learning (PEARL) project, which provides research and assistance to Pacific Island governments to improve early grade literacy and school readiness in the Pacific.