A Powerful Tool Teaching a Powerful Skill

by Serah Aupong – EM TV News, Port Moresby

In Papua New Guinea, educators are still struggling with finding the most effective way of teaching the majority of PNG children to read and write.

A volunteer couple living in rural Gulf Province have been testing a phonics system to preschoolers and the results speak for themselves.

It is called ‘Uniskript’ and it uses icons to depict the sounds of letters. Debbie and Robbie Petterson call it Iconic Phonics and they say they cannot be happier with the results. 

After one year of teaching an informal class of pre-schoolers Uniskript, their students’ reading and writing skills in their vernacular and in English were compared with children who were attending Elementary 2 in the same village. The results showed that a majority of their class were able to read and write much better in their own vernacular and in English than those in the E2 class.

“We are encouraged and amazed at the results,” said Robbie.

Part of how this works is the icons depict how the tongue and lips behave when making the sound and this helps the students know what to do in order to make the sound.

The process of creating Uniskript for a community encourages the use of everyday items that children are familiar with. This ensures that phonic writing system is unique to that particular traditional culture.

“In so many rural areas in the country, a child’s first language is his or her local vernacular and it is important that they learn to read and write in their own Tokples before they bridge to English,” Debbie Petterson said.

The couple, who are long time educationists, came across this phonics system when as part of a team they attended a workshop on it at the University of the Nations in Hawaii during 2013.

It was during a time when they were looking for innovative ways to improve the literacy levels in the communities they were working in.

Since then they have seen pre-schoolers learn to read and write in their own language and in English after one year of Uniskript education.

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