We recently managed to visit a few of our pilot partner schools in Pendang, Kedah.
These teachers and programme leaders were trained at the start of the year in collaboration with PADU and PPD Pendang, and we've been very excited since to see the progress of the children.
We left bright and early, and found ourselves driving through beautiful winding kampung roads, literally surrounded by the lushest green paddy fields.
SK Guar Kepayang
The first school we arrived at was SK Guar Kepayang. They have their sessions at 7.30 - 8.00 a.m., every Sunday to Wednesday.
Even though they do not have space for their MY Readers sessions, Pn Hanim, the teacher in charge, works around it by having the sessions in the morning before the rest of the students have to use the classroom for their lessons.
Students in the MY Readers programme are specially selected Year 1 students who have so far failed in their basic literacy screenings. 'They had almost zero reading ability', Pn Hanim told us.
But as the same students streamed into the classroom, picked up their folders and sat with their mentors, we were blown away by what we saw.
These kids are reading!
The students were actively engaged figuring out and reading the words. Whenever they mispronounced any of the words or got stuck, their mentors naturally stepped in to guide them. By now, it was clear - the mentors and mentees were both accustomed to this learning process. After all, they have both progressed through it.
I asked a few mentors after the session - how is it like teaching their friends?
"Its fun because I get to help my friend."
"Sometimes it is difficult too."
And what do you do when its difficult, when your student cannot read the word correctly?
"I ask them to repeat and repeat the same words again until they learn it well."
As we talked further with Pn Hanim, she told us about Sorfina, who, since starting the programme, has been moved up from the B class to the A class because she can now read.
"The MY Readers programme is simple to carry out and it gets students to really practice reading - I would like to continue the programme next year, because we really can see the students making progress," Pn. Hanim told us.
SK Haji Abdul Rahman
The second school we visited was SK Haji Abdul Rahman, led by Pn Zawiah. They have a lovely Self Access Learning Room where they have their MY Readers sessions, and even have a Mentor and Mentee wall of fame.
They excitedly pointed out two boys - Afif and Amir, Year 3 students, who managed to pass their mid year LINUS (Literacy) screening! This achievement is truly significant, because from Year 1 to the beginning of Year 3, they could not pass their literacy screening, and were formally diagnosed as illiterate. But after about 14 weeks of MY Readers sessions, only halfway through the modules, they made breakthrough in reading!
The level of newfound confidence was clear when we asked Amir to read one of the Decodables for us. When I asked him to pick a book, he chose one of the more intermediate level books. 'Would you like to choose an easier one?' asked one of the teachers. But he stuck with that book, and confidently read through it, word by word. The confidence and sense of freedom from his newly developed ability was unmistakable.
SJKC Boon Teik
The third school we visited was SJKC Boon Teik. Unlike the first two schools, this school was situated in the town area, right opposite the town market.
Pn. Lim's mentors and students hold their MY Readers sessions for 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes during recess time.
The level of responsibility and excellence of the student mentors is astounding. They listened to their students reading word for word, and ensured that any errors in pronunciation were immediately corrected.
Once again, we were blown away.
Finally - we took away a few points from our observations and chats with the teachers that day.
One, we're very happy to hear teachers confirm with us that the MY Readers' materials work!
The teachers agree that they have seen progress in the students' reading. Additionally, one teacher commented on how she notices elements of the modules that make it easy to carry out and encourages reading growth - the same elements that we had designed for that purpose.
Secondly, the programme significantly increases students' confidence levels. Teachers report that the students enjoy going to sessions; one teacher commented how students who are in the programme complete their tasks earlier than their classmates who are not in the programme, and excitedly start mentoring their peers to complete their tasks. This speaks a lot on their increased motivation !
Thirdly, we found that student mentors, even in primary school, as young as Year 4 and 5, are able to be wonderfully effective mentors. If we had our doubts and questions on this before, those doubts have completely been washed away. We were pleasantly surprised to find that against all expectations, primary school mentor and mentee pairs seem to progress on par if not better than secondary school students.
Finally - seeing and hearing these things affirmed for us again that our work brings significant change in the lives of the children.
Even as the pilot schools are only halfway through the programme, the change its brought in the lives of children like Sorfina, Afif and Amir, are significant enough to make all our work worth it, and for us to continue to push further to reach more like them - to see the looks on their faces as the lightbulb is sparked in their minds.
Thank you and keep supporting this journey with us to ensure that one day, every child in Malaysia will be able to read !
Charis and the MY Readers team