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Volunteer As Projek BacaBaca’s ‘Coach’ & Help A Child’s Reading Journey

Volunteer As Projek BacaBaca’s ‘Coach’ & Help A Child’s Reading Journey

Projek BacaBaca is an initiative that pairs volunteer ‘reading coaches’ with primary school students from B40 and underserved communities

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With the aim of enabling primary school students to further improve their reading and learning skills, Projek BacaBaca is actively recruiting volunteers for its third phase, which is set to commence in mid-April 2023.

Targeting students aged 6 to 9-years-old from underserved communities across Malaysia, the project has to date made a positive difference in the lives of 150 children in terms of tackling the issue of learning poverty. 

Coined by the World Bank in 2019, learning poverty is a term referring to children who cannot read a simple paragraph by the age of 10. It is based on the notion that every child of school-going age should be enrolled in school and able to read an age-appropriate or grade-level text by the time they turn 10.

Since 2021, the School of Education at Taylor’s University has been championing Projek BacaBaca – an initiative that pairs volunteers referred to as ‘reading coaches’ with primary school students from B40 and underserved communities who are affected by learning poverty and the Covid-19 learning gap, in order to improve their reading.

Projek BacaBaca has been ongoing with the steady support of Mah Sing Foundation and Twinkl, impacting children in six communities over the past two years across PPR Seri Alam, Kota Belud, Sungai Way New Village, SJK (T) Ladang Batu Ampat, SJK (T) Pusat Telok Datok, and SJK (T) Seaport.

This year will witness the project bringing SK Bandar Sunway under its wings.

Through the project, effective approaches to address the literacy gaps faced by 6 to 9-year-old students in targeted areas were incorporated to pave the way for their literary development in both English and Bahasa Melayu. 

Projek BacaBaca involves three reading levels: emerging, developing, and securing. A preliminary diagnostic test takes place to assess a child’s reading level.

The philosophy behind the programme, ‘learning to read, reading to learn’ aims to get children to read and comprehend well and apply this to other school subjects such as mathematics and science, so they are not left behind. 

Making a difference

For university student and volunteer Theevya Ulaganathan, coaching Thulan Santaran, a Standard 3 student from SJK (T) Pusat Telok Datok in Banting had its challenges initially.

Having a limited attention span, he showed mild signs of ADHD and required different interventions to stay focused throughout the course of a 30-minute reading session.

Thulan was subsequently diagnosed with selective mutism, an anxiety disorder where children are unable to speak around certain people or in certain settings. 

He found it challenging to read and engage with the language, especially in English. I engaged with him by providing kindergarten-level exercises and educational games such as matching pictures with objects and filling in the blanks. The support from his mother was also very crucial to his improvement.

Theevya Ulaganathan.

Despite his learning difficulties, the sessions with his reading coaches and parental encouragement brought about a positive change as Thulan received a prize at his school’s award ceremony for making significant progress in his remedial class performance.

Also sharing her family’s experience was Sarah Nuraisyah Abdullah, resident of Sungai Way New Village in Petaling Jaya, and single parent to 6-year-old Mohamad Adam.

Prior to Projek BacaBaca, she only managed to teach her son the alphabet sounds as well as two and three-letter words. 

I was actively looking for reading programmes to help my son read in English and Bahasa Melayu before he progresses to primary school as he was not responsive when I taught him throughout the pandemic and he is also quite hyperactive. However, Adam was excited to participate in the weekly reading sessions with his reading coach Reshvinder Kaur (Teacher Resh) who also has a young child.

Sarah Nuraisyah Abdullah.

Reshvinder, who works as a deputy PR director, carries with her the experience and patience with children around Adam’s age, which was a contributing factor to his reading progress along with the relevant enrichment activities she organised.

Through Projek BacaBaca’s curriculum for readers at the emerging stage, Adam learnt about phonics, consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) and sight words.

After several months of coaching, he is able to read short passages confidently and independently.

How you can play a part

This year, the third phase of Projek BacaBaca will be commencing in mid-April. The public is welcome to become volunteer reading coaches and play a part in boosting reading proficiency among students in underserved communities.

Volunteers will be paired with a child from one of the seven selected beneficiaries for a duration of eight months (April to December 2023).

The reading sessions will be held twice weekly in both Bahasa Melayu and English for 30 minutes each, and are to be conducted over the telephone or via online video conferencing should the child be able to access the internet.

According to Hema Letchmanan, the project leader of Projek BacaBaca and a senior lecturer at Taylor’s University School of Education, some of the volunteers do not have previous teaching experience.

However, they will be vetted and equipped with periodical training such as managing children, teaching strategies and questioning techniques before beginning their reading sessions.

We have a diverse mix of people volunteering, ranging from secondary school students to working professionals and even retirees. The pedagogy we use is also straightforward – I read, you read, we read.

Hema Letchmanan.

’I read’ is when the volunteer reads a text and the child listens, known as the modelling stage. Then, ‘you read’ is when the child reads and is allowed to make mistakes. During the ‘we read’ stage, both the child and volunteer will read together. This allows the volunteer to correct the child’s pronunciation and test their comprehension and vocabulary.

Volunteers are also required to log the reading progress of their students, which will be tracked by the Projek BacaBaca team in order to identify and address any additional reading difficulties or to advance the student to the next reading level.

Phase One of the project saw an improvement of between 64% and 86% in children’s reading ability in  Bahasa Melayu and English.

Driving home its success, Phase Two which was held last year, marked a further improvement of between 92% and 95% in both languages, a feat achieved in just eight months.

Projek BacaBaca is also one of the endeavours under the Education for All Impact Lab, which champions educational liberation for vulnerable individuals and communities.

Altogether, Taylor’s has introduced 13 Impact Labs to implement purpose learning across the university in its education, research, and advocacy, guided by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).

Interested in becoming a reading coach with Projek BacaBaca? Register, HERE.

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