Renewed thrust to boost English language skills in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore  

(L to R) Ramsay Melhuish of Pickatale; Stephanie Chooi, COO of UBSM; Keith Thong, Group MD of UBSM; and Sigbjorn Dugal of Pickatale

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 31: University Book Store Malaysia (UBSM) and Universiti Malaya Library held a presentation to enable local educators and librarians to keep abreast of the latest online tools to help boost English language literacy in Malaysia through five different interactive reading and writing platforms at Universiti Malaya here yesterday .

The programme was part of the British Embassy and High Commission Asia Pacific “Education is Great” Asean ministries of education and education stakeholders’ tour, which started in Kuching on Monday.

The tour is to showcase successful global implementations of educational products and their impact on teaching and learning for both educators and students in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.

Today’s presentation showcased the latest educational features from Pickatale, a company that aims to develop creativity and literacy skills, especially for non-native English speakers; OxEd and Assessment Ltd (OxEd), a subsidiary of Oxford University; Just2Easy, a dedicated primary years digital cross-curricular creativity suite; MeBooksAsia, which has a tie-up with Penguin Books among its many publishers to “reinvent reading and the way we see books”, and BBC Earth, a bi-monthly magazine spun-off from the BBC Earth channel.

Keith Thong, group managing director of University Book Store Malaysia, hoped that the presentation would enable educationists keen on improving English language skills to see for themselves the latest online programmes that could augment existing teaching platforms.

Dr Mohd Faizal Hamzah of Universiti Malaya

Dr Mohd Faizal Hamzah, a senior librarian at Universiti Malaya, said the tech-enabled educational packages offered huge steps in terms of teaching productivity.

Dr Aslam Khan Samahs Khan, vice president 2 of the Malaysian Association for Education, hoped that government officials in charge of education would be open to the latest teaching aids available to accelerate the learning curve.

Dr Aslam Khan Samahs Khan, Vice President 2 of Malaysian Association for Education

Sigbjorn Dugal, founder of Pickatale, said his teaching aid aims to unlock the reading potential of the next generation and to solve the problem of falling literacy levels across the world.

“It is also to help children discover that reading can be an enormous source of pleasure; and to give teachers and parents new, fresh tools to help them support the children whose learning they’re responsible for,” he said.

Dugal, who had wanted to give his own children the opportunity to read more books many years ago but was surprised at how inaccessible children’s books are online, decided to start Pickatale “to change the world of reading”.

Ramsay Melhuish, head of education and engagement at Pickatale, said the company aspires “to give every child the same chance when it comes to accessing inspiring books.”

Powered by a creative Generative AI technology for students to create their own stories, he said it focuses on the concept of “read, listen and learn”.

OxEd’s Andrew Mendoza

OxEd’s director Andrew Mendoza showcased an application that allows for educational assessment and intervention that can improve the educational outcomes for children.

He said while oral language is the springboard to education, many children entering school still had language difficulties.

As such, he said OxEd’s early language programme provides early identification, intervention and enrichment for all children with a positive, proven impact in improving early language skills.

“This is through a series of randomised controlled trials and independent evaluations of its programme that had demonstrated its effectiveness in improving educational outcomes,” he explained.

Assessments are done via LanguageScreen, a simple, effective digital assessment to assess children’s speaking and listening skills and monitor the progress of all children; and ReadingScreen, a quick and accurate digital assessment of word and nonword reading that can be delivered by teaching assistants or teachers themselves. A report could then be generated immediately to identify students at risk of falling behind.

Alastair Cameron, managing director of Cammuni Ltd, an education consulting firm that represents Just2Easy, a dedicated primary years digital cross-curricular creativity suite, said the application provides engaging learning activities, lessons and rewards whilst developing digital literacy skills in a fun and unique environment.

Alastair Cameron, MD of Cummuni Ltd, presenting Just2Easy’s application

Cameron, who had introduced Just2Easy to several national primary schools in different parts of Malaysia prior to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2021, said its software is designed to enable teachers to focus on teaching and learning.

“All Just2easy products make anytime anywhere learning a reality while free home access is given to allow teachers the ability to set homework for children online,” he explained.

Tam Hao Jin of MeBooksAsia

Tam Hao Jin, founder of MeBooksAsia, said his company aims to pave the way in making reading accessible, enjoyable and affordable — to reach affluent parents in the cities as well parents in the more remote areas, and let every child engage with world-class reading content on the devices that they already have.

“We are trying to bridge tactile and digital learning by educating parents on leveraging the versatile uses of smartphones,” he said, adding that the parent-friendly application empowers parents to be their child’s first teacher.

(L to R) Taira Robles of BBC Earth Asia; Stephanie Chooi of UBSM; Jaye Sim of JSIM Education; and Keith Thong of UBSM

Taira Robles, who represented BBC Earth, a bi-monthly spin-off from BBC Earth channel, said it features opinion and news articles on the latest developments in science, history and nature.

In addition to educating readers who are less familiar with these topics, she said it also provides critical insights that inspire them to think more deeply about current and topical issues.

In an effort to stimulate greater English language proficiency, Jaye Sim, founder of JSIM Education whose company represents BBC Earth Asia, plans to hold more debates among students.