Helping the community starts in your own backyard, and this is what Taylor’s University’s School of Education is doing.
The school’s Caterpillar Project is a community effort focused on teaching underprivileged preschool children living in the surrounding area of its campus to read, write and count with the purpose of giving them a head start when they enrol in primary school.
“The Caterpillar Project, as inspired by Sugata Mitra’s Hole in the Wall Project, believes in the learning ability of children despite their background.
“It serves to give preschoolers a fair chance in life by teaching them the basic skills needed in school — reading, writing and counting. These skills are most essential as they are the keys to learning and access to knowledge,” said Dr Logendra Ponniah, Taylor’s University School of Education head.
He leads the project with his team comprising of the university’s Centre for Languages and Cultural Studies head Chandra Sakaran Khalid, School of Education senior lecturer Hema Letchamanan, and Centre for Languages and Cultural Studies stream coordinator Pauline Teo.
“As an educator, I believe education can break the cycle of poverty. Hence, the Caterpillar Project targets preschools in poorer parts of our community to give them (the children) greater education opportunity. By starting our act of giving in the backyard of Taylor’s University Lakeside Campus, we are meeting the needs of our nearby community,” Logendra said.
The Caterpillar Project started in September last year and was held every Friday for 10 weeks at collaborating preschools in Kampung Lindungan and Kampung Gandhi, Petaling Jaya. The classes are led by the university’s School of Education students with the support of the Centre for Languages students, of which many are international students.
“We believe in empowering young people to dream beyond their horizon. Most underprivileged children are robbed of the opportunity to dream as they are unaware of what they can achieve. Through this project, students will provide these children with a global perspective through their weekly interaction during the lessons.
“We hope that this platform will open the eyes of the less fortunate to the world beyond their four walls, so that they can start school with a successful end in mind,” Logendra said.
The “young teachers”, who are equipped to teach at international schools during their education degree programme at Taylor’s University, utilised multi-sensory teaching to engage preschoolers in lessons. Some of the most effective teaching methods were the ones centred on theatre, music and play because preschoolers actively participated in educational activities while having fun.
“Besides benefiting preschool children in our community, the Caterpillar Project also aims to provide our own students with teaching exposure in a different environment. Many of our students find the Caterpillar Project much more meaningful than their usual teaching experiences when they reap the results at the end of the project. They are particularly inspired with the fact that they can help illiterate young ones acquire the basic skills needed in school,” Logendra said.
One of these students was Chloe Chai, who gained a unique teaching experience from the project.
“We actively engaged preschoolers through fun, interactive lessons. The teaching method implemented singing and dancing, which helped them bond with us as they were more willing to speak up after the activities. The enjoyable lessons brought out their spirit of excitement and determination to learn,” she said.
“This project taught me that being a teacher is about being passionate. It made me understand that teaching comes from the heart, not from a book. Working with the preschoolers and schools was a pleasurable and fantastic experience. I hope for more collaborations with other schools in future.”
On future plans for the project, Dr Logendra said: “The Caterpillar Project is a pilot project designed to serve our community in the long-run. Our aim is to help more preschoolers prepare for their primary school education before they leave kindergarten. We are open for collaborations with private kindergartens or preschools in Subang Jaya or Petaling Jaya that need assistance with developing their pupils’ literacy and counting skills.”
If you or your institution are interested to be part of the Caterpillar Project, contact Logendra at LogendraStanley.Ponniah@taylors.edu.my.