SINGAPORE - Like many Mandarin-speaking parents here, Madam Cheong Yit Far used to worry that her two sons would be unable to speak good English when they grew up.
She knew that the key to giving them a strong foundation in spoken English would be to cultivate their interest in reading English books. Yet, because of her lack of proficiency in the language, she was unable to help them.
The Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC) kidsRead programme was developed with non-English-speaking families like Madam Cheong's in mind.
The programme aims to help children aged between five and eight from low-income and non-English-speaking families to develop good English reading skills and habits.
Yesterday, Madam Cheong's younger son, Tan Wei Jie, eight, was among 25 pupils to graduate from the programme. The event was officiated by Ms Grace Fu, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office.
In a press release, the CDAC said that it is looking at expanding its kidsRead programme next year, by getting each child to read 160 books over the course of the four-year programme.
Now, 174 children attend the weekly one-hour sessions which involve reading, story-telling and literacy activities. They are held at seven of the CDAC's 11 centres across the island.
Launched in 2004, kidsRead is a joint effort by the National Library Board, the People's Association and the five community self-help groups: Mendaki, the Association of Muslim Professionals, the Singapore Indian Development Association (Sinda), the Eurasian Association and CDAC.
On Saturday, more than 300 parents and children participated in workshops and story-telling sessions at the council's Tanjong Katong centre to mark kidsRead Day.
A recent CDAC survey of 133 parents whose children have enrolled in its kidsRead programme, showed that over 80 per cent felt their children spoke more English after attending the programme and appeared more confident in using the language.
They also noticed their children's interest in reading grew after attending the programme, CDAC said in its press release.
Ms Fu, who is also chairman of the CDAC Community Outreach and Co-ownership Committee, told The Sunday Times: "Reading is a critical learning skill. It is important especially to get low-income families' children to start on a firmer footing so that there's a strong foundation in using the language to acquire other skills and knowledge."
She added that being able to read well in English is a critical skill that has the most impact on the performance of children, especially once they enter the formal school system.
Wei Jie said he has benefited from the programme.
"I like to read because I find the stories very interesting. Reading has helped me to speak better English with my friends," he said.
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