Copyright 2023 - Ministry of Education and Training

Pacific Early Age Readiness and Learning project (PEARL)

As part of the Government of Tonga’s effort to improve reading levels, an early grade reading baseline assessment was conducted in November, 2009 with support from regional education partners. Survey results are cause for concern. While most students develop some fundamental skills in grades Classes 1, 2 and 3, only 3 in 10 students at the end of Class 3 are able to develop fluency in reading, ability strongly related to reading comprehension. Factors that are shown to be predictors of better reading performance in the early grades include: having literate parents and/or siblings, having books at home, and receiving help from a family member to do homework. Among teachers, having and using the recommended Tongan reading texts demonstrated a statistically significant association to better reading performance. In regards to teacher instructional methods, from the seven reading instructional activities, only frequent story retelling associated to better reading outcomes. Finally, in terms of teacher expectations, having high expectations –i.e., above median value- about student reading outcomes did not render significant results; however, if a teacher had low expectations –i.e., below median- about when a student should demonstrate a given skill, low expectations appeared to negatively affect student performance at statistically significant levels. Based on the analysis presented in this report, it is recommended that Tongan educators address reading deficits through interventions that provide additional support to teachers to improve their practice, increase the exposure of children to books and other reading materials beyond the classroom, and promote greater parental involvement in the reading development of their children.


" We see a big difference in the children who have had some early childhood [education] experience, whether that is formally through a school-based program or informally through parents "

Nadia Fifita

Director at Ocean of Light International School

Learning to read and write well in the early grades of primary education is essential. Yet in 2009 the Tongan Government conducted an Early Grade Reading Assessment survey and found that only three out of 10 Grade 3 students were able to understand most of the text they read.

With this in mind, the PEARL project is also helping to strengthen Tongan teachers’ knowledge of how children learn to read, providing teacher training in best-practice techniques to help children become independent readers.

PEARL is now also piloting new teaching methods in selected schools across Grades 1 and 2. Teachers are given more knowledge about how they can teach reading, fluency and comprehension in the Tongan language, while classroom assessments help teachers determine if students have learned the concepts taught and decide if the pace of teaching needs to be changed. Additional practice and homework means parents and the community will also play an integral role in improving children’s reading outside of school.

With programs before and during the first years of schooling, PEARL takes a continuous approach to a child’s development; helping children be better prepared to start school and to make the most of their early years of education. 

Funded by the Australian aid program and the Global Partnership for Education, with technical assistance from the World Bank the Pacific Early Age Readiness and Learning (PEARL) Program is a four-year (2013–2017), US$8.5m regional program helping children, together with their parents and the community, better prepare for school and supporting teachers to improve reading levels in the early grades of primary school.