Coaching by voice calls | The star

Taylor’s University School of Education recently launched a reading project to help children from disadvantaged homes catch up after their learning was interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Called Projek BacaBaca, it focuses on improving children’s Bahasa Malay and English reading skills with the help of dedicated ‘reading coaches’ guiding them for six months.

The project uses an evidence-based approach to improve learning outcomes and is designed to help parents and communities better support their children’s literacy development.

The coaches, who are students from Taylor’s University and Taylor’s College, provide one-on-one, tailored reading sessions to children and track their progress using mid- and end-of-course diagnostic tests.

Nine-year-old Muhammad Raiqal Faiz (left) guided by his reading coach over the phone.“Our goal for this project is to enable reading coaches to track children’s progress and eventually help children read at school level and close the learning gap resulting from the pandemic,” said Hema Letchamanan , senior lecturer at Taylor’s University School of Education.

The project is designed for students who do not have Internet access. All they need is a phone connection as the sessions are done through voice calls.

This ensures that the learning process is uninterrupted, with each session lasting just 30 minutes to keep students focused.

“We call it short and sharp sessions. Additionally, the reading materials used in this project are carefully selected to ensure engagement and active participation during the session,” said Hema, adding that it also strengthens the communication skills of the participants.

The community initiative aims to improve the reading skills of students living in poverty to ensure that they do not fall behind in their studies and to instill a love and joy of reading in children.

From one-on-one twice-weekly reading lessons with reading coaches to mentoring sessions, community initiatives like this one are also encouraging more young people to volunteer and get involved in social causes.

Phase I, which ended last month, saw 30 children from PPR Seri Alam, Cheras, Kuala Lumpur, show an 86% improvement in reading performance in English and 64% in Bahasa Melayu after just six months of participation in the program.

Projek BacaBaca is currently preparing for phase II, which will involve 100 children across the country.

Efforts like Projek BacaBaca, Hema said, are a step forward in eliminating learning poverty in Malaysia.

“Reading is a gateway to learning as a child progresses through school.

“The inability to read closes the door of learning for students as they will face difficulties in learning other areas such as math, science and humanities,” she said, adding that the pandemic has forced the most vulnerable students into the least desirable learning situations. as they face various challenges to receive the quality education they deserve.

The pandemic, Hema noted, has amplified many inequalities within society, including in education.

In 2017, data from the Unesco Institute for Statistics indicated that 617 million children and adolescents worldwide were not achieving minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics, she said. , adding that in 2019, the World Bank estimated that about half of children in lower and lower middle-income countries cannot read a simple paragraph by age 10.

“Learning poverty is based on the notion that every child should be in school and able to read age-appropriate text by the age of 10.

“Reading fluency is particularly important because it contributes to overall performance and academic success,” she said, adding that previous studies have also shown that children who do not read at grade level are more likely to drop out of school, and this is even more true for children living in poverty, as low reading proficiency means that children are unable to use their reading skills to excel in other subjects.

A 2018 Unicef ​​study on urban child poverty in Kuala Lumpur found that 51% of five- and six-year-old children do not attend preschool and 13% of children who are end of junior high school aren’t fluent in reading, she said.

Due to Covid-19, Unicef ​​predicts an additional 10% of children worldwide will fall into learning poverty, she added.

With the global education system disrupted, this reinforces the social divide between students, especially those who belong to vulnerable communities, as they face two main problems: lack of digital infrastructure and home environments that are not conducive to learning, she said.

“Naturally, the shift from offline to online learning has overwhelmed the school system, but these issues, especially the issue of student literacy, have always been there and the pandemic has further exacerbated these issues. .

“But it doesn’t have to be that way. Educators, schools and civil society can join hands to adopt a more empathetic approach to education, one where the student remains the central point.

“As a community, we can work together to close the learning gap.

We must meet these challenges today to build a better future for the young people of tomorrow.

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