Tuvalu’s ‘Mother of all information’

On any given weekday afternoon, the small Tuvalu National Library and Archive building on Funafuti is a hive of activity. Under the leadership of Chief Librarian and Archivist, Noa Petueli Tapumanaia, the library offers a range of interactive programs for children. On the busiest days, they are so popular that children have to wait their turn to enter the 10-by-12-metre room for storytelling, grammar and spelling exercises, numeracy games, videos and other activities.

Tapumanaia introduced the activities in response to the need he saw to improve literacy in Tuvaluan children.  

In 2020, while announcing a  US$14 million grant to support early education and literacy in Tuvalu, the World Bank stated: “While there is near universal access to basic education, the quality of schooling is impacted by low literacy which is exacerbated by under-developed curriculums and a lack of instructional materials, particularly in the local language.”

Tapumanaia says previously, the library was not popular, as it is very old and  very small. “People used to joke to us, is this a warehouse or a storeroom because it pretty much looks old,” he says.

Installing air conditioning helped, as did public awareness programs run by the department’s staff, support from the US Embassy and the procurement of new books, some 10,000 new titles in total.

As an archivist, Tapumanaia says his reading of historical documents showed that the library and archive was established to develop the literacy and numeracy of the people of Tuvalu because as a “newborn nation” it needed “the future generations of Tuvalu to be fully equipped in education and how to manage and look after their country.”

Now he says they are trying to teach people that school is not the only place where people can learn, calling the library the “mother of information.”

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