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Culturally inclusive books boosting literacy

Community developed books aimed to strengthen reading and culture in Kiribati.

For young kids, reading is always more fun if the characters look like them and speak in their local language. That’s why UNICEF with help from donors, the Government of Kiribati and other local agencies developed reading books that include just that! 

Eight illustrated children's storybooks were developed in the local language and illustrated by I-Kiribati artists. The books are culturally contextualised, age-appropriate and inclusive to help young children inherit Kiribati’s cultural and traditional values and practices, while instilling a love for reading. Our aim is to also boost Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) engagement and literacy as too many children in Kiribati are missing out on crucial education at the key age for brain development. 

Front covers of four sample kid's books
Front covers of four sample kid's books

A day in the life of a Kiribati child, Labelling fruits and vegetables in Kiribati, My family makes me happy, Harvesting toddy (from left)

Research has shown that half of a person's brain development occurs by age four and that early childhood interventions can have a lasting effect on intellectual capacity, personality and social behaviour. A UNICEF study showed almost half of the Kiribati population lives in South Tarawa, yet a staggering 70% of children regularly miss preschool and only 3% of children have three or more age-appropriate books in their homes. 

An inability to pay school, uniform and transport fees as well as a lack of understanding about the importance of Early Childhood Care and Education are all factors for its low attendance rate. This showed the urgent need to improve access to early education and learning resources but also the quality of teaching in the Pacific nation. 

The development of these books is part of a larger initiative to create a high quality and effective Early Childhood Care and Education framework. This curriculum aims to provide a smooth transition for children into primary school, develop and deliver quality teaching resources, raise awareness among parents on the importance of positive parenting and education and create and publish culturally relevant books for young children.  

UNICEF/UN0224142/SOKHIN
UNICEF/UN0224142/SOKHIN

To get story books underway, a ‘writeshop’ was held with support from Connect+Co. Participants included parent champions from schools and the local community as well as representatives from the community positive parenting programme and staff from other UNICEF partners including; Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MHMS) Ministry of Education (MoE), Kiribati Special School and Ministry of Women, Youth, Sports and Social Affairs (MWYSSA). 

Development of the storybooks was led by a consultant from Waikato University who supported participants of the ‘writeshop’ to author appropriate books in the local language around the themes of cultural relevance, inclusivity and equity. Samples of storybooks for very young children from other islands in the region, such as Fiji and New Zealand, were used as references.  

E tatangiria
E tatangiria

It was important for the community to have developmental differences and learning disabilities represented in the books. This is an illustration of a child with physical disability in the storybook E tatangiria (A day in the life of a Kiribati child).

The books will benefit children helping them to:  

  • Understand how language works and the style of writing used in books 

  • Learn traditional tales that are part of their culture 

  • Experience the joys of looking at pictures, storytelling and developing a love of books before they learn to read 

  • Develop thinking skills such as predicting, connecting, problem-solving and understanding. It also helps to spark their imagination and stimulate curiosity, which is important to sustain their thirst for learning. 

At UNICEF we’ve loved seeing kids enjoy books that have been created and designed just for them! Support from generous donors not only helps us to develop culturally relevant resources but aid the building of education curriculums and trainings for educators and parents to make a real impact on kids learning. It means we can keep striving forward to drastically increase ECCE participation and change the long-term education outcomes for children in our neighbouring island nation. 

UNICEF/UN0202237/SOKHIN
UNICEF/UN0202237/SOKHIN