In Kiribati, children sing together and learn how to protect themselves from COVID-19

A school song on COVID-19 preventive measures reaches children in Kiribati

Yumiko Shinya
Children from Kiribati who sang the COVID-19 song.
UNICEFPacific/2020/Temakei
23 May 2021

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread rapidly across the world, so too did critical information which helped communities understand how the virus was transmitted and how they could protect themselves.

All efforts were made to reach families with the right information.

In Kiribati, a new and innovative awareness raising approach was used – a COVID-19 song! In 2020, the Kiribati Ministry of Education produced a COVID-19 song to educate children and families about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Supported by UNICEF, the COVID-19 school song focused on promoting healthy behaviours for children and aligned with COVID-19 preventive measures. The song encouraged people to frequently handwash with soap and water, eat balanced meals, cough or sneeze into their elbow and avoid large crowds.

Waqairapoa Tikoisuva is a UNICEF WASH Specialist in the Kiribati Field Office. He says music can be a powerful way of advocating for social change.  

“Singing and dancing is integrated in the culture and festivities in Kiribati and has been used by many groups as a means of entertaining, sharing and advocating important information. This song highlighted important messages and reminded people to social distance and wash their hands,” said Tikoisuva.

Soon the song was a household favourite in Kiribati.

“The song has a clear message which makes it easy to follow and who doesn’t smile when you hear a child sing?! Coupled with ongoing community engagement activities, the song has now been used to develop many dramas in schools and communities.”

To gather more insights on the influence of the song to bring about positive behavioural change, UNICEF supported the Kiribati Ministry of Education to send a Short Messaging Services (SMS) survey and capture responses.

The free-of-charge survey targeted children in primary and senior secondary schools, parents and teachers (including early childhood care and education teachers). The responses were shared by parents or students with their own phones.

How recognisable was the song? The survey concluded that 83 percent of children knew the COVID-19 song either by hearing the song or watching the video clip. It was a hit!

84 percent of children who knew the song have since changed their handwashing behaviour. 78 percent of children have adopted healthier eating habits and are resting to strengthen their immunity.

57 percent of teachers who responded to the survey reported that they used the COVID-19 song in the classroom to increase children’s awareness of the virus. 96 percent of teachers said their students were practicing key messages from the song after hearing it in the classroom.

Waqairapoa says that when you educate children on the importance of handwashing in their early years of life, the hope is that they continue the practice as adults, and it becomes a lifelong healthy habit.

UNICEF has supported the Ministry of Education and Government of Kiribati to develop its COVID-19 Contingency Plan which helps prepare schools and national systems to function effectively in the event of future COVID-19 outbreaks. UNICEF is currently supporting the Ministry of Education on the development of remote learning systems, the establishment of Learning Passport and radio lessons and building teachers’ capacity for the development of remote learning materials.

UNICEF Pacific would like to thank Dubai Cares for their financial contribution to its Education Programme.