Malaysian social enterprise on a mission to eradicate illiteracy


A teacher using MYReaders' reading modules in a classroom. Photos: MYReaders

This story is part of a series of articles featuring past Star Golden Hearts Award winners and the award’s newly introduced categories of causes which include community empowerment, education, environment and wildlife, social welfare, and disaster and crisis relief. Nominations for this year’s award are now open. Tell us about your heroes at www.sgha.com.my before July 31, 2022.

Another SGHA recipient last year was MYReaders, a social enterprise that provides sustainable reading programmes and relevant resources to schools and communities to encourage children to read.

After four teachers discovered their students were having problems grasping basic English, MYReaders was founded in 2014 with the mission to eradicate illiteracy so that one day, every child will be able to read.

“As former teachers in high-needs secondary schools, we witnessed firsthand how inter-generational illiteracy affected the quality of life a student led, with effects ranging from poor nutrition to poor future career prospects.

"Ultimately, being able to read gives a person agency by equipping them with the tools to make informed decisions, and we want that for the communities we serve,” says MYReaders chief executive officer Rachael Francis.

MYReaders empowers children by providing structured and sustainable remedial literacy programmes that improve literacy competency. Its two key approaches are providing reading programmes using its Literacy Hub model and developing resources such as its Literacy Toolkit.

A pair of students (mentor and mentee) reading together using the MYReaders workbook.A pair of students (mentor and mentee) reading together using the MYReaders workbook.In the early days, its programmes were based in the teachers’ respective schools and impacted a small group of students.

Today, it has programmes in 75 schools across Malaysia.

“Through the support of programme partners, school leaders, community champions, funders, volunteers and parents, our work has reached over 30,000 students across the country and even in some neighbouring Asian countries.

"We have definitely learnt so much about the key ingredients to running sustainable reading programmes, such as finding the right partners, working closely alongside key individuals in communities and investing in building capacity within local communities to ensure the interventions outlast our involvement in them,” says Francis.

Since receiving the Star Golden Hearts Award, she notes that more communities have heard about the work they do and their reach has since increased.

“We know so many organisations doing meaningful work on the ground. However, we all rely on word of mouth and credible organisations sharing about the work that we do.

"As a non-profit, we don’t have the budget to hire PR agencies and I believe the publicity we received has played a part in increasing the visibility of our work, enabling us access to funders, community partners and even in recruiting volunteer tutors for our reading programmes,” she explains.

During the various lockdowns over the past two years, MYReaders pivoted to an online delivery model as its in-person reading programmes had to be put on hold.

“For many children, especially those who came from homes with illiterate parents, missing out on school during the pandemic meant missing out on being able to read their first book or the chance to gain literacy.

"By the time school reopened, they would have faced a large learning loss or even dropped out of school, which would have led to long-term effects on their future quality of life.

"It was very encouraging to see students and their volunteer tutors turn up every week to ensure learning continues. The parents have expressed how the programme has been a great help to their children in receiving continuous learning support and showing reading development despite going through uncertainties with school closures,” she says.

Even though schools and programmes are now getting back on track, MYReaders plans to continue with its online programmes.

A student learning from home with a volunteer tutor via WhatsApp using the MYReaders modules.A student learning from home with a volunteer tutor via WhatsApp using the MYReaders modules.“Going online has enabled rural communities to receive support from volunteers all over the country and as such, returning to a fully physical model will affect this learning support. So we will be retaining both models of delivery with communities being able to contextualise the solution based on their needs moving forward.

"In the next few years, we also hope to improve the delivery of our digital solution with online and offline support to reach more learners. We are in the midst of finding programme partners for this,” she says.

MYReaders recently launched Sentuhan Ilmu: Bridging the Online Learning Divide (BOLD) in partnership with Yayasan PETRONAS to support 2,000 learners affected by learning loss with Internet-enabled devices equipped with learning materials.

Through this programme, MYReaders works closely with state education officers, district education officers, school leaders, teachers and parents to provide students with basic literacy.

Apply to be a volunteer tutor here.

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