Adapting Techniques for Literacy in Malaysia

Children holding banner for Empower reading camp
Empower Reading Camp
Haziq sings a solo in front of his classmates at the closing ceremony of his weeklong reading camp. It’s a small crowd, and he hasn’t memorized the lyrics.

Instead, Haziq is reading them from a screen at the front of the room. It may not seem like much, but to Haziq, it could be the very turning point of his life. And it took three people traveling halfway around the world and back to get him there.

When the Dyslexia Association of Sarawak and SK Laksamana applied as partners to the Empower Partnerships for Inclusive Communities program, they knew exactly what they wanted from the program.

“Relevant expertise from the U.S. to provide better tools in diagnosis and remedial programs for children with dyslexia and other learning disabilities,” the application read. And not just for a single school. They wanted to make a model for all of Malaysia.

Without question, it was a bold and worthy goal. Perhaps even too bold? Are techniques for teaching children with learning disabilities even adaptable between cultures? Can you take U.S. tools to Malaysia?

The University of Michigan Center for Language and Literacy believed they were and they could. So, after months of planning and preparation, Carol Persad traveled the more than 9,000 miles to spend seven days working with her Malaysian partners to figure out exactly how the center’s 65 years of experience could translate into helping Malaysian children.

An exhausting journey. But Team Malaysia was just getting started. Three months later, Alban Lisan and Wallace Lee made the reverse journey to Ann Arbor, Michigan to the City of Kuching in Sarawak state, Malaysia.

The moment of truth for their grand scheme came the following spring, when the Dyslexia Association of Sarawak and SK Laksamana launched the inaugural Empower Reading Camp. The results surpassed the expectations of even the program creators.

The University of Michigan team members came away with a new perspective on the kinds of methods that the reading camp offered. “The intensive approach in reading [used by our partners] has been enlightening to our organization,” reported Carol. “The demonstration of its success is leading us to develop our own program in Michigan.”

And the plan for creating a model for the rest of Malaysia? The next camps launch in mid-2015.

Does Haziq know that his short walk to the stage was just the final steps of a more than 36,000 mile journey? Probably not. Does he know that they are among the most valuable steps in that journey? We hope the cheers of his classmates tell him so.

The Empower Partnerships for Inclusive Communities program is administered by MIUSA and sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) of the United States Department of State.