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The pandemic has placed the most vulnerable kids into less-than-ideal learning circumstances, hindering their access to a quality education.

A WORLD Bank report stated that 13% of students in Malaysia at late primary age are not proficient in reading. It is expected that due to COVID-19, 10% more students will fall into learning poverty. Learning poverty is defined as being unable to read and understand a simple text by age 10.

To bridge the educational barrier, Taylor’s University School of Education officially launched Projek BacaBaca, a community-based initiative designed to address the inequity among students affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The launching event was conducted on June 18 at the institution.

Projek BacaBaca, in its first phase, was a six-month programme in which volunteers and reading coaches from varied backgrounds conduct inclusive one-on-one reading sessions in English and Bahasa Melayu with primary school students over the phone, thereby enhancing their reading and learning skills.

The initiative is meant to assist parents and communities in supporting the literacy development of their children by using an evidence-based strategy to improve learning outcomes.

$!During the Taylor’s Projek BacaBaca launch, over 300 books were collected through donations and distributed to the underserved communities, – ADIB RAWI/THESUN

“Research indicates that children whose reading proficiency is below grade-level average are more likely to drop out of school because they are unable to use their reading skills to excel in other subjects,” said Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Chief Academic Officer of Taylor’s University, Professor Dr Pradeep Nair.

“As a driven-purpose-university, where learning focuses on developing solutions to societal challenges, our academics and students in the ‘Education for All’ impact lab worked with communities, businesses, and non-profit organisations to address low reading proficiency among B40 students,” he added.

Professor Dr Pradeep also stated that through Projek BacaBaca’s efforts, the gaps faced by 6–9-year-old students were filled using efficient methods that paved the way for their literacy growth, as their reading abilities in both languages improved by 64% in Bahasa Melayu and 86% in English after six months.

Phase one of Projek BacaBaca was conducted between June and December of 2021 with 30 students from PPR Seri Alam and 30 volunteers, primarily from Taylor’s University.

Meanwhile, phase two this year involved 100 students from Cheras, Klang, Banting, Petaling Jaya and Kota Belud Sabah that were assigned to one reading coach each to increase their reading comprehension skills.

Dato Indera Syed Norulzaman Syed Kamarulzaman, chairman of the Mah Sing Foundation, said that since the foundation’s inception 15 years ago, it has been a priority to better the lives of the underprivileged and marginalised populations, especially the B40 children.

This exclusive sponsorship of the Projek BacaBaca speaks well for one of MSF’s pillars, education. “We believe that education is the best long-term investment when every child is given the chance to develop and realise their full potential,“ he continued.

“As per the feedback we’ve gotten, this programme has had several positive effects on students’ capability to comprehend the importance of their studies. Even without decent gadgets or a stable internet connection, students can participate in this programme through alternative channels, such as phone calls,“ he added.

$!Taylor’s University School of Education senior lecturer Hema Letchamanan. – ADIB RAWI/THESUN

Hema Letchamanan, a senior lecturer at the Taylor’s University School of Education, outlined the project’s goals at the event’s launch: “This project aims to provide them with an avenue to catch up on their studies through personalised reading sessions and quality reading materials.”

She also added that all one needs is a telephone connection to conduct the one-to-one reading lessons twice a week with reading coaches and mentorship sessions.

Alongside the reading sessions, Projek BacaBaca+ is a continuation of this effort, primarily encouraging students from Chinese and Tamil primary schools to attain Mastery level (TP) 4 to TP6 in their Bahasa Melayu literacy assessments before entering Form 1, as mandated by a recent government policy.

The concept is now being implemented face-to-face with 20 students at SJK (T) Seaport as part of rigorous coaching to help students improve their language skills, thereby enabling them to ascend the academic ladder with more ease.

This project is an example of the Taylor’sphere ecosystem whereby like-minded partners, academics, and students come together to reach the country’s most vulnerable populations to provide them with the help they need.

For further enquiries about Projek BacaBaca or for those interested in becoming a reading coach, email bacabaca@uni.taylors.edu.my.

$!Raiqal Faiz, 9, from PPR Seri Alam, performing a live reading at the Projek BacaBaca launch. – ADIB RAWI/THESUN