Causes Week

Causes Week 2017: Needy kids get help in learning to read

ReadAble is a non-profit organisation that runs weekly reading and language arts classes for children aged two to 12.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Amanda Chong teaching pre-schoolers at ReadAble's centre in Jalan Kukoh how to read. Ms Chong, who is also a published poet, co-founded the literacy programme in 2014 with lawyers Jonathan Muk and Michelle Yeo.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Amanda Chong teaching pre-schoolers at ReadAble's centre in Jalan Kukoh how to read. Ms Chong, who is also a published poet, co-founded the literacy programme in 2014 with lawyers Jonathan Muk and Michelle Yeo.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

Over the course of this week, the sixth Straits Times Causes Week will share how various individuals and groups are making a difference through the causes they are passionate about.

Ask 11-year-old Nur Elliana Elmie to tell you about her favourite book and she gets all excited.

"I really like those 'weird facts' books," said the Primary 5 pupil. "I learnt that in the past, dragonflies' wings were three times the width of a frisbee."

Elliana was the first pupil to benefit from literacy programme ReadAble, which was founded by three young lawyers in 2014.

At first, she had one-on-one sessions with a volunteer. These were held in her two-room Jalan Kukoh flat off Chin Swee Road, where she lives with her mother, housewife Ariyana Samuji, 36.

Mother and daughter helped to spread the word, and soon, as many as 12 children living in the area would gather at Elliana's home for reading sessions at once, even spilling over into the stairwell.

About two years ago, ReadAble found a new home at the Jalan Kukoh Residents' Committee Centre, where it now runs reading classes with elements of speech and drama for pupils aged two to 12 every Saturday.

It has benefited more than 60 children so far, and ReadAble has also installed bookshelves filled with books in the homes of at least six families. Sometimes it takes the children on trips to the museum and theatre.

Pupils come from the Chin Swee area, which has a large number of low-income families. Some of them receive mentoring from ReadAble's volunteers on weekdays too.

The children read from a set of graded books called Fitzroy Readers, which use the phonics method. Pupils are given books and worksheets that match their reading ability, rather than school level. The centre also has a community library with over 700 children's books.

Poet and Deputy Public Prosecutor Amanda Chong, 28, who co-founded the programme with lawyers Jonathan Muk, 28, and Michelle Yeo, 29, said there has been a marked improvement in many of these pupils' literacy and interpersonal skills. Some, as old as 11 at the time, could barely read when they joined the programme.

When The Straits Times visited ReadAble's centre in Jalan Kukoh last month, business owner and volunteer Rachel Kok, 29, was reading an illustrated book with Firaz, seven, and Yan Ting, eight, for the third time. "We don't see this as tuition," Ms Kok said, adding that beyond teaching the children to read, volunteers also try to "inculcate values" and become a regular figure in their pupils' lives.

 
 
 

ReadAble has about 40 volunteers at the moment, and a low pupil-teacher ratio, often with one to two children per volunteer.

Al-Adam Al-Sofli, five, did not know how to read when he came to the centre at the start of last year, and would cry a lot. His English has since improved, and he is more comfortable interacting with others.

His mother, receptionist Sharon Chong, 40, told The Straits Times in Mandarin: "He prefers speaking to me in English now... When he was smaller, he was scared of others, but now he is all right with strangers."

Madam Chong, a Malaysian whose husband lives in a nursing home, is the sole breadwinner in her family. She also takes private English lessons with ReadAble.

Mr Muk said he wants the programme to give the less privileged a leg-up.

"Many children here are street-smart and clearly quite intelligent, but they were failing at school.

"You don't choose where you were born," he added.

• To find out more, go to www.facebook.com/ReadAbleSG/

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 05, 2017, with the headline 'Needy kids get help in learning to read'. Print Edition | Subscribe