Learning with community: Chronicling our Read and Grow with Us project

You would think a course on reading would involve mere classroom lessons of dissecting various writings, but no.

Our Critical Reading lecturer, Dr Yvonne Campbell, has a surprise for us. We were to conduct a reading and language-related community project with a small primary school in Serian, Sarawak.

When we first heard about the community project, we were a bit apprehensive. Half of the class have never been involved in community projects, what more one with a rural primary school. When we were told that our project would be conducted in Sekolah Kebangsaan Payau, Serian, it caused a bigger buzz…some of us have never even heard of Serian.

Questions abound. Would we be able to pull off this community project successfully? What would the teachers and students think of us? What are we going to do with the students?

What followed next were dissents, disputes, discussions, and debates, on repeat. But it was with these that we were finally able to organise our project. With direction from Hezron Harold, our group leader (whose mother is a teacher in the school – lucky!), and continuous insights from Dr Yvonne, the Read and Grow with Us programme was born. Our programme focuses on reading literacy. We wanted to enrich the students’ educational experiences, especially reading, by bringing in elements of games and fun in the hopes that it would foster love for reading. 

Our banner for the project

All smiles while waiting for the bus. Can you find our lecturer, Dr. Yvonne?

On the morning of May 11, 2024, 43 of us first-year English for Global Communication students waited anxiously for the bus to arrive. In the stillness of the early morning, all was quiet at the Faculty of Education, Language and Communication, UNIMAS, except for our chatters.

The trip to SK Payau took about 1 hour and 20 minutes. The road was in good shape, however, about 20 minutes into the kampung, the road was a bit narrow, but nothing that the bus driver could not handle. SK Payau is a small school in comparison with other primary schools. Surrounded by the village and the jungle, the school has a total of 109 students. A small river runs behind the school.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted warmly by the PK I, Puan Teresa Bida, and some of the teachers. Smiles were all around. Even the security guard appeared happy to see us.

The Opening Ceremony

In his speech during the opening ceremony, the school headmaster, Encik Kamal bin Seli, expressed his joy of the programme. According to him, this was the first time since he became the headmaster that UNIMAS came over to the school.  He expressed his wish to have more collaborations with UNIMAS in the future for the benefit of the students.

Interestingly, the students have never heard of UNIMAS. Well, time to change this!

Our programme involved students from primary 4, 5, and 6. To ensure that the students were involved as much as possible, our team designed eight interactive activities throughout the day. We started with an energetic Zumba session to warm things up. Next, we broke the ice further by getting the SK Payau students to create a chant for their groups, assisted by their facilitators. This was followed by a Scavenger Hunt, where the students had to solve riddles to get to the treasures. These activities promoted teamwork and excitement among the students. Thankfully, the weather cooperated – it was not scorching hot, nor was it raining.

After a brief break for breakfast, the activities resumed with a series of group games. The students were divided based on their classes.  Since there was only one class for each level, the different classes were directed to different stations which have different games according to their levels. Primary 4 students took part in the “Match Me” game, a game which required students to match two sets of words or phrases together to create a sentence. The Primary 5 students played the “Direct Me” game, where four students were blindfolded and guided by one student who would read the instructions on where to go. Meanwhile, the Primary 6 students enjoyed the “Guess Me” game, which was similar to Charade.

The students having fun during the activities

The highlight of the day was undoubtedly the Reader’s Theatre, performed by the Primary 6 students. We were thrilled to discover budding talents among these students. A future Timothée Chalamet or Emma Watson in the making perhaps? Two plays were performed. One group performed an adaptation of “Beauty and The Beast” and the other, “Frozen”.  The activities ended with a sing-along and a closing ceremony. We also handed two boxes of books specially collected for the school to Puan Teresa.

Farewell for now but hope to see you all again in the future.

We were heartened by the teachers’ positive responses to our Read and Grow with Us programme. Cikgu Mimi Perpetua Pam, the PK HEM, said that the programme helped boost the students’ interest in reading. She hoped that there will be more projects like this in the future. Cikgu Charles, another teacher, mentioned that the programme can create a good environment and enhance interest students’ interest in reading.  

The students obviously enjoyed the games and activities. At first, they were shy, but eventually, they joined in enthusiastically.  We even heard one Primary 3 student (who was not involved in the programme) asking, “Cikgu, cikgu, bila pula giliran kami, cikgu?” (Teacher, teacher, when will it be our turn, teacher?). 

As for us, students of BA EGC, it was an unforgettable experience.  For those who have never been to rural schools or organised activities with primary school students, it was an eye opener. It was an experience that goes beyond the classroom, lessons that one could not get from sitting in the comfort of air-conditioned rooms or searching case studies using ChatGPT. It has also taught us the importance of teamwork, communication, and creativity in problem solving and idea creation.

We experienced, first hand, what it means to be a community-driven university, and we are proud that we can contribute to an environment where education and community thrive together.

Prepared by: Fellicia Melissa Kinno, English for Global Communication undergraduate, Faculty of Education, Language and Communication, UNIMAS.