Free reading programme offered to needy children

Free reading programme offered to needy children
The I Can Read with JOY campaign aims to give children from lower income backgrounds access to a structured reading programme. Organisers believe having a good foundation in reading skills can be a game-changer to help children develop and be more independent in their learning. Photo: I Can Read
Published: 4:00 AM, April 6, 2017

Singapore — Jolted by a news report about how children from low-income families lag behind their peers because they lack the means to take part in enrichment activities, a private education centre took the unusual step of offering classes to underprivileged children for free.

Since February, private education centre I Can Read has been sponsoring 20 primary school pupils on a yearlong English literacy programme, where they have English enrichment lessons weekly. These classes usually cost between S$385 and S$590 per term of three months.

In partnership with AMKFSC Community Services, the I Can Read with Joy (Joint Outreach for Youth) project caters to children in Primary 1 to 3 enrolled in a student-care centre at Cheng San. Under this programme, I Can Read teachers volunteer their time every Monday to teach the 1.5 hour-long classes.

The children come from low-income households, or from families grappling with housing or employment problems. They might have also been subjected to complex issues such as abuse and family violence, Mr Phua Chun Yat, head of planning and organisation development at AMKFSC said in an interview with TODAY.

They were placed on the programme after their teachers observed they were struggling with their schoolwork.

While education has “levelled the playing field” in the past, it is no longer this way today, because families with the financial means can give their children a head-start, said Ms Chan Huang Yee, executive director of I Can Read.

And having a good foundation in reading skills can be a “game-changer” to help children develop and be more independent in their learning, she added.

As some of the students were shy at first, teachers said they had to heap words of praise and encouragement, and generously dole out gold stars and stickers to coax them out of their shell.

Teacher Joseph Helliwell, 25, said, unlike his usual students who are “used to seeing a sticker”, the I Can Read with JOY children are very happy whenever they receive a sticker or get “good work” written on their scripts.

“All of them want to receive that comment,” he said.

The children do not get homework because the teachers want to be able to guide them in class. And “talk time” is set aside for each session to encourage the children to freely chat about their day.

A parent who wanted to be known only as Mrs Choo said her nine-year-old daughter used to have difficulty identifying words, but is now able to read more.

The 37-year-old nurse is unable to spend enough time with all her children to supervise their homework. Besides the nine-year-old, she has a pair of 11-year-old twins and a six-year-old son. And tuition is too expensive, she said.

Teachers told TODAY that it is rewarding to see how their efforts have paid off in just over a month. “We had an eight-year-old student who was very shy and withdrawn, who initially gave only one-word answers … But six weeks later, she’s telling me (excitedly) about her holiday and going on the ferry to Batam,” Mr Helliwell recalled.

Teacher Natalie Kerr, 30, said: “It’s so rewarding to see their progress, (especially) in their social skills … It’s no longer just about teaching a regular class but about helping people that need it the most, these children (who had a) hard childhood.”

Ms Chan said I Can Read hopes to work with other family service centres on a long-term basis, and team up with the National Library Board under their National Reading Movement.

She also urged more education service providers to “fill the gap” and carry out similar projects so that these children can get extra help in subjects such as mathematics and science too.