Fighting illiteracy: How MYReaders’ intervention programmes teach kids to read in 27 weeks

Co-founder Tay Sue Yen discusses the state of literacy in Malaysia and how MYReaders is looking to intervene.

MYReaders provides structured and sustainable reading programmes to schools and communities, in collaboration with school leaders, teachers, community leaders, volunteers, and students. — Photo courtesy of MYReaders

English is a compulsory subject in the Malaysian curriculum, all throughout primary and secondary school.

But would it surprise you to know that more than 35% of secondary school students have poor English literacy?

To be more specific, as recently as 2017, the Ministry of Education categorised literacy as a “great concern” when their annual assessment for that year found 36.6% of Form 2 and Form 3 students were at “low achievement levels”.

This is a problem that non-profit MYReaders is trying to address.

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MYReaders has developed a model that teaches students of any level to read and comprehend English in 27 weeks.

“We find schools that have students underperforming in their English exams and we offer to set up an intervention programme,” says MYReaders co-founder Tay Sue Yen.

“On average, we are able to get students to catch up by two years’ worth of progress by the end of the programme.”

The team also helps schools find corporate sponsors to fund the intervention programmes and equip the schools with the needed toolkits and training.

And with self-sustainability being a big part of MYReaders’ objective, the programmes are designed to not require much more resources beyond the initial setting up.

“Different communities in different parts of Malaysia that we’ve trained and provided the toolkits have continued running it in their own capacity,” Sue Yen says.

“Our aim is for these communities to take ownership and be empowered to solve illiteracy issues in their own area,” she adds.

How MYReaders started

MYReaders is made up of a core team of four co-founders -Charis Ding, Rachel Lim, Alex Lim and Sue Yen- who met each other while serving as school teachers as Teach For Malaysia (TFM) Fellows.

They were all coincidentally running extra classes for English in their respective schools and realised English literacy was a common problem.

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Tay Sue Yen is one of four co-founders of MYReaders and is the head of training and programmes. — Photo by Aizyl Azlee

“There were other TFM Fellows, aside from the four of us, who were also running extra classes,” says Sue Yen.

“So we started a chat group to share resources with each other. Eventually the four of us stuck to it after our fellowship and decided to do this together.”

The team has been running programmes since 2014, and have gotten involved with over 4000 children and trained 224 teachers.

Ultimately, MYReaders’ goal is to help children learn to read, regardless of their background or socioeconomic status.

Their teaching model

Sue Yen explains that MYReaders’ model is broken down into four stages; learning phonics or the sound of the letters, the blending of those sounds, achieving fluency, and finally working on comprehension.

The programme utilises MYReaders’ self-developed literacy toolkit, which consists of a workbook and 48 accompanying storybooks.

For the intervention programme in schools, a mentor-mentee approach is employed. Students who are more fluent would be mentors to students who are struggling.

Students would dedicate one hour a week for 27 weeks.

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For its school programmes, MYReaders emphasises on a mentor-mentee system among the students. — Photo courtesy of MYReaders

The programme, on average, helps children catch up by two years’ worth of reading growth.

However, Sue Yen points out that a student had once jumped by seven years’ reading growth.

“We carry out a diagnostics test before running the programme to measure students’ progress level in the school,” she says.

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“At the end of the programme, we will run another reading test to measure the improvements.”

Aside from being directly involved at schools, MYReaders also conducts community programmes, which rely more on external volunteers to help with reading to children.

MYReaders’ literacy toolkit was developed with a localised context instead of using western references as most English workbooks do. — Photo courtesy of MYReaders

How to get involved?

There are several ways to contribute to MYReaders’ cause.

The literacy toolkit is available for purchase for your own use with your children. Alternatively, it can be given to someone you know or be a form of sponsorship to a library or school that may need it.

You could also get in touch with the MYReaders team if you would like to find out how you could sponsor a programme for a school.

If you are able to contribute your time, volunteers are needed on a weekly basis for community programmes.

Sue Yen says the modules are tried and tested, and easy to carry out after undergoing the provided training.

“As long as you can read and speak English, and are open to learning the methods, you will be fine,” she says.

Stay up to date with MYReaders via Facebook. For volunteer opportunities, check out their Sedunia page.

MYReaders is currently looking for volunteers for two community programmes:

  • A collaboration with HOPE Worldwide Malaysia for a full 6-month programme starting February 16, 2019, in the Sentul area, Kuala Lumpur. Details here.
  • Weekly reading with a child at Kerinchi Literacy Hub, in the Kampung Kerinchi area, Kuala Lumpur. Details here.

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