Creating eager readers

Devarall and Mohd Salleh (second and third from left) sharing a light moment with Nethia (left).

T. MOHASHINI and S. Tharsni have always dreaded English class in school.

It was understandable as the Year Four pupils rarely used the language but all that changed thanks to dedicated teachers and the British Council.

In a bid to boost English literacy, the British Council in partnership with the Education Ministry’s School Management Division started the Selangor Literacy Project 2017.

The project, funded by HSBC, falls under the banner of the “Highly Immersive Programme” (HIP).

It aims to inculcate the love of reading among Malaysian children.

Six selected primary schools in Selangor – SK Meru 2, SJK (C) Tiong Hua Kok Bin, SK Jalan U3, SK Subang, SK Bandar Utama Damansara and SJK (T) RRI Sungai Buloh – have been involved in the project which started in January and will run until next month.

Some 49 English language teachers from these schools have been given monthly training workshops, while their school libraries were replenished with high quality and attractive storybooks from the United Kingdom.

Community events have also been held for parents and children to get immersed in reading and learning English.

To give extra encouragement and motivation, the project ran two literacy competitions – one for students and one for teachers.

Students were asked to bring their imagination and creativity to life in order to re-design a cover of one of the new books brought into the library.

Teachers, on the other hand, were asked to keep a “story sack”, full of lesson plans and materials that they have created and used in their classrooms, based on the training they have received.

The winners received their prizes – book vouchers and more books – at an awards ceremony at the Selangor Education Department recently.

Mohashini, 11, emerged as the winner for the Year Four category.

“I learnt about English through books. I discovered how to use more vocabulary to improve my speech and writing,” said the SJK (T) RRI Sungai Buloh pupil.

Fellow classmate Tharsni said she disliked the language at first, but warmed up to it after the British Council’s programme started working its magic.

“I didn’t like to speak in English and I disliked the classes. But I see an improvement in my English after my teacher underwent training and started trying out new ways to teach us,” she said.

Clara Venerata Jevear, the head of English Panel at SJK (T) RRI Sungai Buloh, said the workshops refreshed teachers’ knowledge on encouraging pupils to read.

“Even though some of my students cannot converse well in English, they are happy when it is time for English class,” said the English teacher.

Clara credited the material provided by the British Council.

“The books are engaging, interesting and bursting with colourful, imaginative illustrations. This keeps the children captivated and makes them eager to read more,” she said.

SJK (T) RRI Sungai Buloh senior assistant Thevi Subramaniam said the most valuable lesson from the programme was that reading was fun.

Describing the workshops conducted by the British Council as “amazing”, Thevi said techniques as well as the books provided, enabled teachers to pick up strategies and methods to keep pupils engaged during lessons.

“We (teachers) started using a variety of methods to teach while the most significant change lies with our students.

“They are now eager to read. They will automatically pick up a book during reading sessions, without us telling them to do so,” she explained.

Nethia Samomdeswari Vasuthevan, the first place winner of the teacher’s competition, said activities conducted by the British Council exposed them to the best methods that help students absorb lessons and keep them engaged.

“We (teachers) have to come up with new techniques constantly to get pupils to read. And it pays off as they have started to show an interest in reading,” said the English teacher from SK Jalan U3.

Mohd Aznan Pin, an English teacher at SK Meru 2, Klang, said the project created a positive impact on his pupils.

“Coming from a rural school, the pupils were reluctant to read and learn in English because it is not their mother tongue,” said the second place winner in the competition for teachers.

He said the training teachers went through helped “fine tune” their teaching methods.

“Teachers learnt better techniques to engage pupils in class,” he said.

Mohd Aznan’s pupil, Sara Afrina Mohd Norfitri, was the youngest winner in the children’s competition.

The seven-year-old shyly said she had never picked up any English books to read or flip through.

“Now that I do, I found reading improved my knowledge because I am discovering new words and exposed to general knowledge,” she said.

Tong Jean Yee, 10, said the project allowed her to discover her imaginative capabilities.

“I learned that I could use my imagination to create something beautiful,” said the pupil from SJK (C) Tiong Hua Kok Bin, Pekan Meru, Klang.

The Year 4 pupil – who never liked reading until the programme made her realise the importance of it – said it also helped her improve in her English.

British Council Malaysia country director Sarah Devarall said the project aimed to create a love of reading in children using a sustainable way.

“That is why training teachers is crucial. If we want high quality teaching, we need to give teachers the opportunity, time and support to develop, to try new approaches and prepare students for the global world,” she said.

Teachers need training and support if they are to make the changes that the Ministry of Education aspires to in the Education Blueprint, she added.

British Council Malaysia head of English in Education Systems Keith O’Hare said the project focuses on training and developing teachers because their quality of teaching directly impacts students’ learning.

“Quality of teachers affects the quality of learning. It is important to invest time and resources into development of teachers.

“They have to be given the knowledge, skills, and the inspiration to say I want to make a change,” said O’Hare.

He explained the British Council came up with the project after it found reading wasn’t a strong habit among Malaysia’s young children who are often “stuck” onto their gadgets.

“Creating immersive environments for learning English is a long-term task and needs a sustainable approach.

“This project focuses on building the skills of teachers to teach literacy in an engaging way, and of parents to invest time and energy in encouraging their children to read and learn English.”

Selangor State Education Department Director Mohd Salleh Mohd Kassim thanked the British Council for creating a unique learning opportunity for teachers, parents and children.

“A reading culture should be inculcated not only in school but at home as well,” he said after congratulating the winners of the competitions.

Source: The Star online