In Singapore, the kidsREAD programme has helped more than 50,000 children from lower-income families, aged 4 to 8 years, to develop their English literacy skills before they enter primary school. Launched in 2004, kidsREAD is a nationwide community-based reading programme that promotes early reading and English language competence for children from different ethnic groups.
Singapore is a multicultural country where English is the lingua franca. Therefore, a strong foundation in English is necessary. The programme focuses on children who are from lower-income families. Most of them come from non-English speaking environments and have not been exposed to reading before.
kidsREAD is one of many government initiatives working with communities to provide an opportunity for access to early learning and development support.
The idea for the kidsREAD programme was put forward by then Minister for Environment & Water Resources, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim in 2003. Dr Ibrahim suggested that the National Library Board (NLB) work with community groups to reach out to young children of all races. Today, the programme is coordinated by the NLB, in collaboration with the People’s Association (PA) and five community groups in Singapore. Representatives from the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP), Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC), the Eurasian Association, Singapore (EA), Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA) and Yayasan MENDAKI form the Steering Committee. The programme receives funding from Singapore Pools Private Limited and support from various members of the parliament and cabinet ministers.
The programme is delivered through a network of reading clubs at community centres, primary schools, preschools, volunteer welfare organisations and family service centres. Volunteers manage and facilitate the sessions. The volunteers are seniors, young professionals, and students from secondary schools and junior colleges. kidsREAD started with 9 clubs and 73 volunteers, and over the years it has grown to 350 clubs staffed by more than 1,000 volunteers.
The classes are limited to 30 students. Lessons are mostly conducted over the weekend, where volunteers read stories aloud before breaking the group up into smaller groups to engage in a variety of reading-related activities. The curriculum has evolved to include professional storytelling sessions, drama performances, excursions, word games and other activities.
Through weekly sessions, the programme aims to promote a love of reading and cultivate good reading habits. It also allows children to advance their English reading, writing and speaking skills. Research suggests that kidsREAD participants have shown a significant improvement in their ability to express themselves in English. Furthermore, participants use English more frequently and their English vocabulary has improved. A survey by NLB from 2017 showed that 4 out of 5 children who participated in the programme had a positive reading attitude and demonstrated improved reading skills.