Tackling low reading proficiency among school-going children


Prof Dr Pradeep Nair (left) and Datuk Indera Syed Norulzaman Syed Kamarulzaman with the PPR Seri Alam students who participated in Projek BacaBaca. – RAJA FAISAL HISHAN/The Star

TAYLOR’S University officially launched its volunteer-based reading programme Projek BacaBaca which is sponsored by Mah Sing Foundation to address the learning poverty gap among B40 communities.

The programme was conceptualised by Taylor’s University School of Education (SoEd) and is designed for students aged between six and nine years to ensure they will be able to read at grade level and excel at their academic studies along with other classroom activities.

This community-focused project started in 2021 whereby trained volunteers dubbed reading coaches conduct one-on-one reading sessions with primary students over the phone twice a week in both English and Bahasa Melayu to improve their reading and learning skills.

(From left) Taylor's University School of Education head Dr Logendra Stanley Ponniah, Prof Dr Pradeep Nair, Datuk Indera Syed Norulzaman Syed Kamarulzaman and L. Hema at the launch of Projek BacaBaca.(From left) Taylor's University School of Education head Dr Logendra Stanley Ponniah, Prof Dr Pradeep Nair, Datuk Indera Syed Norulzaman Syed Kamarulzaman and L. Hema at the launch of Projek BacaBaca.

At the launch in Taylor’s Lakeside campus in Subang Jaya, Taylor’s University deputy vice chancellor and chief academic officer Prof Dr Pradeep Nair said that a World Bank report stated 13% of Malaysian students in late primary schools are not proficient in reading, while Unicef predicts that 10% more students will fall into learning poverty due to Covid-19.

“Our research has shown that children who are not reading at grade level are more likely to drop out of school as low proficiency in reading means children are unable to use their reading skills to excel in other subjects.

“So, our academics and students in the ‘Education for All’ impact lab worked with communities, businesses and nonprofits to address low reading proficiency among B40 students.

“We identified literacy gaps faced by 6-9 year-old students and then through Projek BacaBaca, incorporated effective approaches to pave the way for their literary development. We saw an improvement of between 64% and 86% in their reading ability in Bahasa Melayu and English after six months,” he said.

Prior to the official launch, phase one of the programme was conducted for 30 students from PPR Seri Alam, who were coached by 30 Taylor’s University students (reading coaches), from June till December 2021. Meanwhile, phase two involved 100 students from Cheras, Klang, Banting, Petaling Jaya and Kota Belud in Sabah.

Phases one and two of the programme was funded by Mah Sing Foundation, while reading materials were provided by Twinkl Malaysia, U-Pustaka and the National Library Malaysia, in addition to reading coaches’ support from the Rotaract Society at Taylor’s Lakeside campus.

Two students from PPR Seri Alam phase one took the stage for a reading session. Said to be timid prior to the programme, Raiqal Faiz and Ahmad Thaqif performed a short reading of their choosing with confidence in front of a full auditorium of children and adults in English and Bahasa Melayu, respectively.

(From left) Prof Dr Pradeep Nair, Zarina Abdul Hamid, Jayanthi V. Perumal and Datuk Indera Syed Norulzaman Syed Kamarulzaman at the Projek BacaBaca book donation ceremony.(From left) Prof Dr Pradeep Nair, Zarina Abdul Hamid, Jayanthi V. Perumal and Datuk Indera Syed Norulzaman Syed Kamarulzaman at the Projek BacaBaca book donation ceremony.

Meanwhile, book donations were also given out to SJK(T) Seaport representative Jayanthi V. Perumal and PPR Seri Alam representative Zarina Abdul Hamid.

In his speech at the event, Mah Sing Foundation chairman Datuk Indera Syed Norulzaman Syed Kamarulzaman said that since the foundation’s inception 15 years ago, priority has always been given to enhancing the lives of underserved and marginalised communities.

“This initiative to exclusively sponsor the Projek BacaBaca augurs well for one of MSF’s key pillars – Education – as we believe that investment in a better future can be achieved when every child is provided with the opportunity to thrive and fulfil their potential.

“Through phase one of this programme, we witnessed impressive growth in the children’s reading skills in both English and Bahasa Melayu. I have been told that at the end of phase one, most children are able to independently read text that previously required one-on-one support from the volunteers and are voluntarily reading during their free time,” he said.

Armed with this success, Projek BacaBaca intends to work closely with the Taylor’s Psychology Department to help students who are struggling with learning challenges by providing them with diagnosis and counselling.

As an extension to this initiative, Projek BacaBaca+ will guide students from Chinese and Tamil primary schools to attain Mastery Level (TP) 4 to TP6 in their Bahasa Melayu literacy assessments before proceeding to Form 1, as mandated by recent government policy. This initiative which is already being carried out in SJKT Seaport will help students gain better language proficiency that will enable them to successfully progress up the academic ladder.

How you can participate

Anybody who wants to join the bid to elevate reading proficiency among Malaysian students can sign up as reading coaches.

Reading coaches will be assigned to a child for the course of eight months, which has been extended from the initial six months.

Sessions will be conducted twice a week for 30 minutes each – in English and Bahasa Melayu – over the phone or via online sessions should the children have access to the internet.

According to Taylor’s University School of Education senior lecturer Hema Letchamanan, some of the volunteers do not have teaching experience but will be trained before beginning their sessions with the children.

“We have volunteers who are as young as 14 up to working professionals from different professions from doctors to those who work in oil and gas. The pedagogy is very simple – I read, you read, we read.

“’I read’ is when the volunteer would read and the child listens, this is the modelling stage.

“Then, ‘you read’ is when the child reads and is allowed to make mistakes.

“At the ‘we read’ stage, when both the child and volunteer read together, the volunteer will correct the child’s pronunciation and test for vocabulary and comprehension,” she said.

She added that the programme involves three reading stages: beginning, developing and securing.

A diagnostic test will be conducted to determine the child’s reading level and placement.

Reading coaches will undergo a vetting process before they begin. The coaches will also go through periodical training like managing a child, teaching reading and questioning techniques.

They are also tasked with keeping a progress log that will be monitored by the Projek BacaBaca team in order for the department to diagnose and solve any additional reading issue or to progress the student up to the next reading level.

For those who are interested in becoming a reading coach with Projek BacaBaca, register at https://tinyurl.com/2b27s35r.

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