English as first language
English has been the main language of instruction in Singapore's education system since 1987 when it was officially designated as the first language. It is thus understandable that students' reading ability will have direct impact on their overall learning and academic performances.
To help primary school pupils with poor English reading ability, the Ministry of Education (MOE) and schools have been offering extra tuition classes to help pupils learn to read, write and understand basic English.
However, MOE currently limits such programme to pupils of Primary 1 and Primary 2. For upper primary school pupils who have reading difficulties and cannot keep up with their school work, they will have to pay to engage external teachers. This can be quite costly and unaffordable for families with financial difficulty.
Reading Therapy Programme
There were cases of pupils dropping out from the education system due to poor learning and reading ability and thus struggled to cope with their school work.
The Principal of Telok Kurau Primary School, Mr Wilbur Wong, was concerned about the issue and saw the need to provide pupils especially those with financial difficulty additional assistance to aid them in their academic work.
Hence, he engaged the Children-At-Risk Empowerment Association (CARE) Singapore to provide Reading Therapy programme for his Primary 3 to Primary 6 pupils at the special rate of $200 per pupil. The programme was the first reading programme conducted by CARE Singapore exclusively for the school. Tutoring sessions were conducted two to three times per week on a one-on-one basis with each session varying from 30 to 45 minutes.
The CARE team comprises youth support workers and counselors from CARE Singapore to tutor the pupils. They adopted the Barton Reading and Spelling system with the aim to improve their spelling, reading and writing skills.
Extension from Foundation's bursary programme
Earlier this year, while Principal Wong was eagerly looking out for resources to help his pupils, he saw the alignment in what he wanted to do with Tzu Chi's charity mission and approached the Foundation for financial support.
CEO of Tzu Chi Singapore, Mr David Liu, shares his compassion for the needy students and readily agreed to the proposal.
The cost of the programme was thus funded by Tzu Chi Foundation starting in May as an extension of its existing "Seeds of Hope" (SOH) bursary programme where TKPS is also one of its participants.
The Foundation first sent its volunteers to determine the families' living condition, the child’s learning abilities and the family support to be given. The Reading Therapy Programme financial aid was eventually offered to 29 pupils of TKPS.
Tzu Chi volunteers also visited the pupils and their families regularly to follow-up on the children’s progress.
On 12 November, the volunteers put up a get-together to celebrate their successful completion of the programme. Parents and tutors were very pleased to see the obvious improvement in the pupils' ability to read after the programme.
The support given and bonding fostered
“Before the programme, Muhammad (aged 9) had difficulty reading English and was unable to speak well. His teacher recommended him to attend a slower school due to his slow learning progress despite additional attention given to him. But after receiving the reading therapy for months, he can read and now loves reading. He reads to his brother and sister every day and he can ask questions in proper sentences as well.” Muhammad's foster sister spoke with conviction when asked how she felt about the programme. She also encouraged the other pupils to study hard and do their best.
Muhammad’s foster mother was very happy that the team of committed Tzu Chi volunteers visited her son regularly and spent time reading with him. Discreetly wiping her tears, she expressed her heartfelt appreciation to Tzu Chi volunteers for their sincerity, generosity and the effort put in regardless of race and religion to help her family. She was glad with the improvement in her son.
The reading therapy programme has proven to be beneficial to other pupils too.
“I see great improvement in every child. It may not be clearly shown in their academic results but it has clearly raised their self esteem, self confidence, inspire their interest in learning and self- motivation,” said Ms Lynn Lan who is the counselor from CARE Singapore. She cited one of the Primary 6 graduating students, Dick, as an example. He had doubted his own abilities initially but gained back his confidence after attended the programme and he mentioned that he is confident of passing his Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE). Ms Lan saw the programme as a breakthrough for the pupils and hopes that it could be continued in the next year.
Faiz, a Primary 5 student, used to be playful and the weakest one in the reading programme. But now the teacher in charge of the programme Ms Juliana Teo commended on him as an inspiration for the entire cohort. “His self esteem has gone up. He can speak fluently with confidence. His attitude has changed and he has developed an interest in reading,” said Ms Teo.
During the interview, Faiz carried himself well and mentioned that he wanted to study hard and become a soccer player one day. He also demonstrated the three magical words he learnt from the programme: “Thank You”, “Sorry” and “Please”, making the teachers and volunteers proud of the cohort's improvement.
Education - a link between Individual and Society
Tzu Chi’s mission of education acknowledges the link between an individual and the society. Every individual has a role to play in the society and the society can influence individuals. Early intervention to support the pupils in their education is therefore important as it will help them to integrate back into the society.
The get-together session ended on a high note where pupils presented a lovely pressed flower handicraft “Thank You” card to their parents to show their heartfelt appreciation for the support and love given to them.