LEARNING poverty, which is the inability to read and understand a short, age-appropriate text by the age of 10, is a real issue in Malaysia.
According to a 2021 World Bank report that took into account children who were not in school, 43% of Malaysians at late primary age were not proficient in reading.
In a bid to tackle learning poverty in the country, a group of individuals led by Taylor’s University School of Education senior lecturer Hema Letchamanan have reached out to children in B40 and underserved communities who were struggling to read.
Dubbed Projek BacaBaca, the volunteer-based initiative provides one-to-one tailored reading sessions in Bahasa Melayu (BM)and the English language to children aged six to nine to help them read at grade level.
“We have children who came to us not knowing how to read. By pairing them with volunteers or reading coaches who work with the children, we see the children starting to read and most importantly, enjoying the process,” said Hema.
The coaches are trained to constantly motivate and encourage the children they work with, Hema added.
With the dedication of the coaches, Hema said children who started with low self-esteem or were shy have also become more confident and can now compete in public speaking competitions.
Through the initiative, some 150 children have seen improvement in their reading proficiency in both languages.
Based on its 2022 annual report, Projek BacaBaca saw a 92% and a 95% increase in the children’s BM and English language reading proficiency, respectively.
There was also a 96% increase in reading interest among the children.
Parents and volunteers, said Hema, have given positive testimonials about the children’s reading improvement, as well as how the project has motivated the adults themselves.
Many parents have picked up new words and phrases by just sitting with their children during the reading sessions, she added.
“Sometimes we’re not aware of how privileged we are until we come in contact with those who are struggling.
“Projek BacaBaca has helped us realise that there are children who are less fortunate than others, and it’s our civic responsibility to support them.
“Our goal is to empower local communities to read and teach reading to their children, whether in schools or other public spaces,” Hema concluded.