In Malaysia’s ‘new normal’, keeping kids on learning track with reading classes via WhatsApp

Teachers, parents and school-going children have had to adapt to new learning processes that do not allow physical meetings, during the coronavirus outbreak. — File picture by Miera Zulyana
Teachers, parents and school-going children have had to adapt to new learning processes that do not allow physical meetings, during the coronavirus outbreak. — File picture by Miera Zulyana

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KUALA LUMPUR, April 19 — Parents concerned that their children may be left behind in school can now worry less with MYReaders stepping in to aid the learning process.

Co-founder Alex Lim and three friends, who were once teachers, decided to set up this learning organisation after discovering that many children, particularly in underserved areas, struggle with literacy.

“What inspired us to embark on this back in 2013 was when we found that literacy is a challenge even among secondary schoolchildren.

“Their literacy was at the kindergarten level. So what we did was we came up with this toolkit and shared it with teachers around us, and we received feedback that it was very effective,” said Lim when contacted by Malay Mail.

From there, MYReaders started reaching out to more children through communities by providing structured and sustainable reading programmes, utilising low-technology-based tools.

“Our immediate target group are children from underserved communities as the programme runs on WhatsApp, a common chat application that everyone in Malaysia has.

“This is unlike existing digital learning platforms that require one to download several applications, which could get quite complicated and are not as conducive,” he said.

Due to the Covid-19 outbreak, teachers, parents and school-going children have had to adapt to new learning processes that do not allow physical meetings.

“Before the Covid-19 outbreak, we ran community classes for children with reading difficulties, but when the coronavirus hit the country and with the MCO in place, we had to think of something that could help our children continue to read,” said Lim.

Explaining how the reading classes are conducted, Lim said a short briefing is done 30 minutes before class commences, where volunteers who are linked up with parents and a MYReaders representative go through reading materials that are forwarded to them beforehand.

A reading file and sample audio is sent to the respective groups of parents who are seated with their child for a one-hour reading class.

“The child is required to record himself and send it over to MYReaders volunteers for us to gauge whether the child is reading correctly,” he said.

The MYReaders programme, however, requires parents’ involvement, which was a challenge that Lim faced during his teaching days.

“A majority of these parents are from underserved communities, and are unable to coach their child in reading.

“Parents cannot just simply give their child a smartphone and expect the child to be glued to the phone. They have to commit an hour of their time to the reading class.

“So the beauty of this is that parents also learn in the process,” he added.

This contrasts with learning platforms like Google Classroom that do not cater to everyone, especially those who need them the most — underprivileged families.

“They most likely have a television, but they don’t have a laptop.

“This kind of e-learning is very one way as there is no way for me to assess whether you understand what you’ve learned.

“For families who do not have a laptop, that is also another challenge,” he said.

Another programme Lim said MYReaders has curated is a video book for children below the age of eight.

“A child can watch the video yet listen to another voice read. This helps the child recognise words.

“At the same time, it develops an emotional feeling of assurance through reading,” he said.

While the country is currently observing a stay-at-home order, Lim said this is also the best time to nurture a reading culture.

“Additionally, it encourages bonding between parents and child.

“It’s really simple. The parents don’t have to do anything. They just need to sit with the child and allow the pictures and words from the book in the video to develop that emotional bond,” he added.

Reading classes with MYReaders are free of charge.

On April 15, the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced the cancellation of the Standard Six Primary School Achievement Test (UPSR) and Form Three Assessment (PT3) examinations, amid the Covid-19 pandemic this year.

It also announced that the Malaysian Education Certificate (SPM) and Malaysian Vocational Certificate (SVM) examinations for Form Five students, and Malaysian Higher Education Certificate (STPM) and Malaysian Higher Islamic Religious Certificate (STAM) for Form Six students will be postponed.

The MOE also said that the postponement will encompass all government schools, government-assisted schools and private schools registered under MOE.

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