Turning Simpang Renggam into a reading constituency

Secondary school students showing the free books distributed as part of the Simpang Membaca project.

WITH hopes of turning Simpang Renggam, a town in Kluang, into a reading constituency, its MP has launched a campaign to get students interested in reading from a young age.

Dr Maszlee Malik started a ‘Simpang Membaca’ project following the first movement control order last year, upon realising that there was inadequate initiative to make reading a way of life among Malaysians during that period.

The name of the initiative — combining the constituency’s name and Bahasa Malaysia word for reading — literally means ‘reading junction’.

“The reality is many students in my constituency are unable to keep up with their home-based learning (PdPR) sessions because of their parents’ financial situation, with more than 80% of constituents being in the B40 category, ” he said.

The former Education minister said he wanted to do something to salvage the situation.

“The primitive way for learning is through reading.

“However, not all children are fortunate enough to have reading materials at home, which is where the idea of sending books to these youngsters through a campaign came about, ” he explained in an interview.

Maszlee started the project in his constituency by targeting preschoolers as well as Year One and Two pupils, as they were the most affected by the closure of schools.

“I hope that through this small effort, I can encourage them to read and motivate parents to teach them at home, ” he said.

To kick off the project, reading materials were placed at cafes, laundry shops and car wash outlets in Simpang Renggam for the public to borrow.

Maszlee thanked donors who contributed reading materials.

The donors were companies, publishers, foundations, non- governmental organisations (NGOs) and individuals.

These donations were added to the reading materials purchased using funds from allocations to the MP’s office.

When schools were ordered to close again under the MCO in January this year, Maszlee said his team sent books to the homes of 3, 000 pupils in the Simpang Renggam constituency.

Shortly after that, the Simpang Membaca 2.0 campaign was initiated, where workbooks on various subjects were sent to some 1, 500 students ranging from Form One to Form Five.

Just before the third MCO was implemented in May, storybooks and comics were distributed to around 500 students and to selected locations for the public to borrow.

The reading materials were usually distributed to recipients through teachers as well as volunteers like former village heads and NGOs.

“Children are the hope of our nation and I will continue to fight for their education as long as I am their elected representative, ” Maszlee said.

“It is also part of my big vision to turn Simpang Renggam and surrounding towns into book towns similar to the United Kingdom’s Hay-on-Wye, which is a bibliophile’s dream destination.

“It is not impossible to achieve that in the next 10 years, as I hope that every household in my constituency will have books to be read.

“I still remember in the book Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, studies showed that children who had books at home performed much better than those who did not, ” he added.

Maszlee’s next plan is to get more books for primary school pupils as well as students in tertiary institutions.

He called on the public and publishers to donate reading materials in various languages to help realise that aim.

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