Dyslexia is often a hidden disability and in Samoa and Tonga there is not widespread knowledge about it.
The Auckland Unitarian Church, at the top of Ponsonby Road, has projects helping dyslexic children in Samoa with their Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture and in Tonga with the Vava’u Public Library Trust.
Dyslexia can be defined as a neurobiological learning disability which involves problems in acquiring and processing language. It is variable in both symptoms and severity with normally a lack of skills in reading, writing, spelling and sometimes speaking being apparent. Internationally, at least 10% of people show signs of dyslexia with 2 - 3% being severely affected. Dyslexic children are often labelled as stupid, lazy or misbehaved. Dyslexia is not correlated with intelligence and people with it can develop compensatory strengths enabling them to not only advance their learning but also make very special contributions to society. However, without assistance they struggle terribly and their potential is often wasted.
The project in Samoa was commenced four years ago and in Tonga two years ago. Students are tutored by using a multi-sensory computer software and workbook based programme called Steps, a well-recognised and effective programme developed specifically for dyslexic students by The Learning Staircase in Christchurch. They generously allow school children in Samoa and Vava’u to use the Steps programme free of charge. The Auckland Unitarian Church has provided computers for four schools in Samoa and provided laptops plus financial support for tutors for the library in Vava’u. A Church member, certified to train people in the use of Steps, regularly travels to Samoa and Tonga on a voluntarily basis providing ongoing training for the tutors and monitoring student progress.
The Steps programme is in the English language and in Samoa and Tonga is used with children in Years 7–9 when much of schooling is conducted in English. Aware that the sooner learning difficulties are addressed the more effectively they can be remedied, arrangements to develop a Samoan and hopefully a Tongan version are being explored. This will enable children to be helped at an earlier age and in their first language.
Anyone interested in learning more about these two projects should contact the Auckland Unitarian Church.