Ahmad Thaqif Othman and Muhammad Raiqal Faiz Rofizal are two 10-year-olds who love reading, but had difficulty understanding some of the books they read.
This included school textbooks. As a result, they struggled with their lessons.
It did not help that the Covid-19 pandemic forced schools to go online. They did not get the personal, face-to-face attention that they needed.
However, they were lucky enough to be among the 30 residents from the Seri Alam People’s Housing Project to be a part of Projek BacaBaca by Taylor’s University.
The project was initiated after a World Bank report revealed that 13 per cent of students in Malaysia, at late primary age, were not proficient in reading.
Projek BacaBaca is designed to ensure students, aged six to nine from underprivileged communities, can read at grade level, helping them to perform better in academics and other classroom activities.
Thirty volunteers, known as reading coaches, were assigned to each student for six months – from June to December 2021.
Students would get a phone call from their coaches twice a week – once for English, and the other, for Bahasa Melayu – and spend 30 minutes going through their books.
“I have always liked reading, but at times, I do not understand what I was reading, especially English books,” said Raiqal Faiz, who presented a short piece in English during the launch of phase two of Projek BacaBaca in Subang Jaya, Selangor, on Saturday.
“Now, I understand most of the books, and I am not afraid to strike up conversations in English. Previously, I would shy away from speaking, or only use Bahasa Melayu.
“My school results have improved, as I better understand the examination questions and know how to answer them.”
Ahmad Thaqif echoed Raiqal Faiz’s sentiments and said he looked forward to being part of phase two of the project.
“I still need to work on my English. It is so much better today than when we first started, but I know I still have a long way to go,” said Ahmad Thaqif, who read a passage from his favourite Bahasa Melayu book during the launch.
“I am grateful to have been given the chance to be a part of the programme. I know of other children who were worse off than me, but they are now reading on their own.”
Raiqal Faiz’s mother, Rozilawatee Abd Halim, said she noticed a vast improvement in her son, and many of his friends.
“Most of them are bright young children, but they never had anyone give them this kind of help.
“I never dreamt that my son would be brave enough to give a presentation in public. To make it even more special, he did it in English.
“This reading programme is a wonderful project, and I hope more and more children can be a part of it.”
Phase two of Projek BacaBaca has been expanded to include 100 students from five areas – Petaling, Banting, Klang (in Selangor) Cheras (Kuala Lumpur), and Kota Belud in Sabah.
Both phases are funded by Mah Sing Foundation, with reading materials provided by Twinkl Malaysia, U-Pustaka and the National Library.
“We saw an improvement of between 64 and 86 per cent in the children’s reading ability in Bahasa Melayu and English after six months,” said Taylor’s University deputy vice-chancellor and chief academic officer, Professor Pradeep Nair.
“More than just learning to read, we have seen the children develop self-confidence, as evident from the two young boys today.”
He added the reason coaches telephoned their students was that many children did not have access to the internet.
“As long as they have a working phone, the lessons would go on.”
The programme also intends to provide aid to students struggling with learning challenges by providing them with diagnosis and counselling.
An extension of the programme – Projek BacaBaca+ – would guide students from Chinese and Tamil primary schools to attain Mastery Level (TP)4 to TP6 in their Bahasa Melayu assessments before proceeding to Form 1.
This initiative is being carried out face-to-face with 20 students in SJK(T) Seaport.
Those interested in being a reading coach can sign up here.