LOW literacy - especially in English - remains a pressing issue in Malaysia.
On average, 4% of pupils do not have mastery of English literacy after the first three years of primary school. And, English remains the most challenging subject at the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) level, said Education deputy director-general Dr Habibah Abdul Rahim.
Reading is one of the most important elements in literacy development as it opens up knowledge opportunities and provides enjoyment. But, reading requires a solid foundation in vocabulary and language comprehension, and lots of practice.
Reading helps students develop a well-rounded approach to literacy, and improves writing, listening, and speaking skills. Youngsters who read daily improve their schooling outcomes regardless of family background and home environment, she said.
The ability to communicate confidently and effectively in English opens the doors to a wealth of opportunities not just academically, but in building friendships.
Although parents, teachers, and policy makers, recognise reading as a skill that all children should learn, existing practices often fail to incorporate effective strategies to learn, and teach, reading.
Foundation of education
The most effective interventions, she said, are those that focus on changing our day-to-day classroom experience, and teachers’ professional practice.
Reading to children daily is the most important literacy building activity teachers and parents can do, she said.
Starting this year, the ministry no longer conducts the Literacy and Numeracy Screening (Linus) programme in schools.
Instead, schools will determine their own screening methods, and provide differentiated interventions according to the varying needs of their students.
“To support the move, the ministry has identified common priorities geared towards improving student literacy. These include improving teaching quality, guidance and coaching, and involving parents and the community in process.
“The ministry is moving towards greater autonomy and accountability in schools but schools and teachers must be supported. Interventions aimed at building teacher capabilities, and improving the support system, are most important,” she said when launching the Selangor Literacy Project 2019 at SK Desa Putra, Kampung Sungai Merab, Kajang, on March 9.
The school is among six primary schools in Selangor that were selected for the project aimed at creating a love for reading among children.
The project is run by the British Council in collaboration with ministry and funded by HSBC.
A memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed by British Council (Malaysia) director Sarah Deverall, and HSBC Malaysia (retail banking and wealth management) country head Tara Latini, during the event.
Window to the world
A ‘Highly Immersive Programme’ (HIP), the six-month project will impact 3,000 pupils, and engage with 300 parents.
Thirty-two English teachers from SK Desa Putra, SK Jenderam Hilir, SK Beranang, SK Kampung Rinching, SK Ulu Semenyih, and SJK (T) Ladang Semenyih, will be given monthly training workshops.
The project, which runs until May, will also see storybooks from the UK being placed in the schools’ libraries, and community events for the reading and learning of English.
In her speech, Deverall said stories and reading are the foundation of education.
Reading, she said, develops the mind, fires the imagination, and is a window to the world.
“Reading helps you become a better student, and a better person.
“It develops critical thinking and global citizenship skills that are important in the 21st century,” she said, adding that stories and songs are a great way for parents and children to learn together. And, such activities create bonds and memories.
Parents and children, she said, should encourage each other to read more at home.
Latini said Malaysians are literate in many languages, which sets the nation up for success.
English literacy, she said, was especially important as the language opens up opportunities and enables us to compete in the global job market.
Following the MoU signing, parents and their children participated in a series of fun English activities organised and delivered by the project’s teachers and HSBC volunteers.
The exciting games included having pupils read a story and share it with their parents, who would then have to write it out.There was also a session where parents sang action songs with their children.
Civil servant Norzie Fariza Said, 42, who came with her husband and two sons said such activities are important especially for the lower income group and pupils in rural areas.
“English is not our mother tongue so we feel it’s good to come for events that encourage reading.”
Her eight-year-old, she said, was up early as he was excited about the activities.
“He’s dyslexic but very competitive. So he was happy to be here with his brother and the other children participating in the games.”
She said it’s important for parents, no matter how busy they are, to spend quality time with their kids.
“It could just be 10 or 15 minutes a day.
“We sing along to YouTube videos or they’ll read next to me when I’m folding clothes or ironing,” she said.
SK Desa Putra headmaster Nasir Ali P.S. Hassan said community events are important as it allows parents to come and see how their children are taught in schools. And, it lets them be a part of the process.
He said the school has always promoted reading among its pupils.
“Our pupils come early before school starts just so they can spend time in the reading corners.
“Every class has one. There will be a teacher in charge everyday and pupils can share their interesting stories at a little speaker’s corner before lessons start.”
Some 200 Selangor education department representatives, teachers, pupils and parents from participating schools attended the event.