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Uncovering hidden struggle: Pa Enua Dyslexia Programme identifies widespread needs

Monday 26 February 2024 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Health, Local, National, Outer Islands


Uncovering hidden struggle: Pa Enua Dyslexia Programme identifies widespread needs
Cook Islands Dyslexia Society Inc assessor Maddy Cowan with principal Mataio Karore and student from Tekaa’roa School in Aitutaki. 24021622

The Cook Islands Dyslexia Society’s Pa Enua Dyslexia Programme, including Rarotonga, found that 100 per cent of the students tested were below average and required further support or a full assessment.

The programme aimed to raise awareness of dyslexia in the Pa Enua community, assess students showing dyslexic signs, and identify advocate tutors for one-on-one tutoring.

Dyslexia primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling. It is a specific learning disability that makes it far harder to learn to read, write or do number work.

Jean-Marie Francis, executive member of the Cook Islands Dyslexia Society Inc, said dyslexic kids need to learn written language differently to the way it is taught in schools.

“That’s important and the main reason they can’t read and write as well as their peers,” she said.

Eighty-two students were assessed during the period of August to December, 2023. In Aitutaki, 37 students were assessed, Atiu 17, Mauke four, Mangaia six, Mitiaro eight and Rarotonga 10.

While some students didn’t show dyslexic markers, Francis reported that 79 students scored below average on all six tests of the GL Online Dyslexic screener, with only three students achieving an average score on one of the tests.

Fifty-six students displayed dyslexic markers, “that’s 14 per cent of approximately 400 students in eight schools”.

“All 82 students tested need immediate support and/or full assessment, or further investigation,” said Francis.

She said whilst they recognise the programme is for dyslexic students requiring support in tutoring, their assessment identified 24 out of 82 students showed no signs of dyslexia.

However, these students’ reading levels were below average and needed tutoring or further investigation or other assessments.

Further results show that: 68 per cent – 56 of 82 of the students tested displayed markers from a few signs to severe signs of dyslexia; 30 per cent – 24 of students tested displayed no signs of dyslexia, however, all scored below average; 2 per cent - two students fall outside the dyslexic parameters and one who was tested was incomplete and 100 per cent need immediate support and/or full assessment, or further investigation. Seventy-four (74) per cent, 60 students tested, were male and the rest were female.

Francis said ideally children are tested from the age of nine years upwards to establish several years of learning to read, write and spell, and so teachers are able to monitor their progress each year.

Ideally, Francis said, children are tested from the age of nine years upwards to establish several years of learning to read, write, and spell, so teachers can monitor their progress each year.

She said all principals were concerned for their younger students.

Due to budget and time constraints, the Dyslexia Society Inc. was unable to test all students on each island in the Southern Group.

Francis said the eight schools who participated in the programme are all keen to have more workshops.

“All principals have requested that the Society facilitate an on-island workshop for all staff to learn one-to-one tutoring,” she said.

According to Francis, the principals from Atiu, Mangaia and Mitiaro schools have requested more training for staff to conduct the online GL Assessments for their students.

These schools also requested for another workshop this year to learn more about other disabilities so that they are able to identify and support those students until such a time an Inclusive Education Plan, (IEP) is implemented by Ministry of Education.

One-on-one tutoring sessions ran for two terms last year with 37 students, (and 15 others), conducted by four tutors in Rarotonga and one in Mauke.

Francis said from the reports they have received, 35 students aged nine to 16 years have attended school for four to 11 years, and a couple of students aged 7-8 years have been attending for 2-3 years.

“The low levels of literacy learning are alarming, and we’ve only scratched the surface,” she said.

Thirty-five students received 30-minute one-on-one tutorials ranging from four to 16 lessons each in reading and writing, or Mathematics.

The Dyslexic Society would like to extend the programme to the Northern Group, subject to funding.

“Although we are gaining traction in bringing awareness to our communities, very little is known about dyslexia nationwide,” said Francis.

“So, there is little support for dyslexic children in the Pa Enua.

“We require more training for our assessors to become fully qualified to fully assess our children, so, at this stage, the Society only offers the dyslexic screener assessments.”

She said the Society welcomes a dedicated and active collaboration with the Ministry of Education in 2024, whether through a consultative or participatory partnership in the inclusive education space.

Meanwhile, as the inclusive education sector increases their activity in this space, Francis said they offer practical advice and methods to support parents and teachers at school, in the home and community.

She has suggested simple things such as not forcing them to read aloud, and instead, asking their friend to read to them.

“Dyslexics struggle to write, so test them verbally – they have phenomenal memories and build their self-confidence by asking them to solve problems.

“They think in 3D, so they see complicated scenarios as a whole picture and can draw conclusions that are quite amazing to those of us who don’t have that gift.

“These children are quite special individuals and most of us don’t realise, you probably have a grandparent, parent, sibling, friend or colleague who is dyslexic.”

The Society has a dyslexic tutor ready and keen to run the workshops on the five islands of the Southern Group, including Rarotonga.

The Dyslexia Society Inc. recommends the following:

  • The one-on-one tutor programme is vital to support students who absolutely need it to thrive in education,
  • Evidence-based thorough and cohesive survey and testing of students’ literacy levels in all schools are needed,
  • A dedicated roll out of literacy learning plan in all schools, and
  • Collaboration with Ministry of Education Inclusive Education and Literacy Team, more teacher and teacher aides training in how to deliver literacy programmes to their students – age or level based - Ministry of Education or USP driven.

Francis acknowledged the grants and funding arms such as the Australian High Commission and UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) for funding the Pa Enua Dyslexia Programme, and Danielle Cochrane, former Secretary for Education and her finance team, for their invaluable guidance with this project.

The Cook Islands Dyslexia Society is hosting its annual general meeting (AGM) on Tuesday, March 12, and invites the community to attend the meeting at the Cook Islands National Women’s Centre in Tauae, Takuvaine.