The Reading Bus Is Helping To Improve Reading Literacy In Malaysia

Growing up, we all had our fair share of different ideas about the kind of job we would want to do once we grew up. However, for Cheli Nadarajah, becoming a teacher wasn’t something he had planned on doing. He enrolled in Kota Bharu Teachers Training College to become an English Teacher after his father insisted, and despite struggling during his college days and failing his second year, teaching had become something he genuinely enjoyed and loved to do[1].

Source:Free Malaysia Today

The Story Behind The Reading Bus 

After the government introduced that mathematics and science were going to be taught in English (PPSMI), he took note of the way the students were having a hard time adjusting to the sudden change and the high rate of students dropping out every year as well. That was when he decided to take matters into his hands and help them by gathering books he thought they would find easy to comprehend in the English language.

The famous mobile library came to life in 2009, known as the Reading Bus Project. Eventually, the word spread and other communities went out of their way to ask him to come to their region to read to the children. The project also happened to attract volunteers who offered to help with the Reading Bus Project[1].

The project had proven to be helpful as one of the parents noticed that their child was now capable of reading because of the Reading Bus.

This man had tears streaming down his cheeks as he watched his son. He told me he didn’t know his son could read so well. – Cheli Nadarajah, teacher and the founder of the reading bus project[1]

The Reading Bus Project first commenced its activity by visiting villages situated only a couple of hours out of Kuching by road, carrying books and volunteers to read and interact with the children. This method enabled them to learn both vocabulary and grammar and improve such skills through the given activities[2]

At school, I always worked very hard to come first or second in class because whoever got those positions would be given books. – Cheli Nadarajah, founder of the Reading Bus [2]

Having started the journey from Sarawak to reach further villages, he and his wife decided to widen their operation after 9,000 books were donated to them.

A villager told me that his children came home every day telling him that children from other villages were learning to speak English. When he asked them how they said it was from the Reading Bus. I really broke down because that was so encouraging to hear. – Cheli Nadarajah, founder of the Reading Bus[2]

According to recent posts on its Facebook page, The Reading Bus Club has still been on the road to continue to fulfil its mission of helping as many children as they can to motivate and encourage literacy. Having worked with Newfields Group, they provided laptops and desktops to assist both students and teachers who relied on their cell phones and tablets to work in St James Kindergarten [3].

Reading Literacy in Malaysia

According to the statistics, the literacy rate among adults in Malaysia in 2018 was 94.9%[4].

There has been an increase since 1991, from 82.9% in 1991 to 94.9% in 2018. This illustrates that the majority of Malaysians are capable of reading. However, although that is the case, 53% of Malaysian students cannot meet the proficiency level required to read International Reading Tests[4].

Furthermore, another research conducted in 2014 showed Malaysians read about two books on average per year, and more than 60% stated they would rather do something else aside from reading[5].

Reading and writing literacy is important as it permits us to observe the world through different lenses. It also teaches us to comprehend and make sense of different points of view and perspectives. Malaysia’s literacy reading rate has only been increasing according to the findings each year, and just like the Reading Bus Project, there are other changemakers who are trying to contribute and make a change by reaching the rural regions within Malaysia to ensure that everyone gets the chance to learn just like any other being. Here are some of them: 

  • Empowered 2 Teach! – SUKA Society is a non-governmental organisation. They started the project Empowered 2 Teach to focus on the Orang Asli children and marginalised communities to provide education to the areas that do not have access to it. They teach the children different subjects to help them excel in them, including working on their reading and writing literacy. They also work with the indigenous teachers suggested by the leaders of the villages to give them the training and resources required to help the children.
  • Right To Learn Project is a project founded by Yans Ganghadaran and is a literacy programme that helps and supports children in their schooling and life challenges. They managed to tend to more than 300 children to help them with their reading literacy and get better at school, which was mainly done through volunteer service and little funds.
  • MYReaders formally registered as a society in 2015. While being teachers, Charis Ding, Alex Lim, Rachel Lim, and Tay Sue Yen started a mentor-mentee reading programme in their schools. During that time, they noted that their students had difficulties understanding and reading simple English sentences and that was when the collaboration turned into a structured reading programme to focus on it.
Source: MYReaders

MyReaders runs reading programmes in 75 schools and 22 communities. Their objective is to give worthwhile reading programmes and help the children with their reading and improve it. They also help train the teachers and encourage the parents to read with their children at home with the help of MYReaders digital kit or an online Google Classroom.

Explore our sources:

  1. R. Rajaendram. (2020). Touching the lives of thousands through reading. The Star. Link. 
  2. S. Savita. (2019). The Reading Bus Club goes the extra mile to plug gaps schools leave. Free Malaysia Today. Link. 
  3. NewFields Group. (2021). The Reading Bus Club at St James Kindergarten in Sentul. Facebook. Link.
  4. Sulaiman, S., Mohamad, M., Aziz, A. A., Khairuddin, K. F., Mansor, A. N., & Alias, B. S. (2020). 21st century reading strategy program to read English reading material for primary school pupils. Creative Education. Link. 
  5. L. Lee Wen Jing. (2022). Reading Culture: The way to a Developed Nation.  Taylors University. Link. 

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