Updated: Jul 6
English is a beautiful language, if you know it well.
Yet, learning tenses and constructing sentences were not the easiest tasks. I remember learning prepositions and ‘verb to be’ in school as a kid. The rules were complex and there was no fast forward way to learn the concepts other than to memorise them. Needing to split my time among English and other mandatory languages in a Chinese primary school in Malaysia easily hindered many of my peers’ learning progress too. You see, we’re talking about an urban environment where English is relatively more commonly spoken. Can you imagine the experiences someone from a much more rural area would have?
Did you know? English literacy rate is 44% lower than Malay literacy rate in the country. Many might believe that proficiency in the Malay language is sufficient to enter the workforce in Malaysia, which is not wrong. However, if we look at multinational corporations and progressive markets in the country such as banking and finance, proficiency in English is often essential as a work skill. In fact, from personal experiences, knowing only one language undeniably limits your potential in outreach and stakeholder management. I do not discredit the fact that work capability comes first before multilingual proficiency, but I do wish to highlight that having it is a passport to more doors and opportunities.
The Edu Lab team knew a fun way to learn English must be introduced, should they decide to intervene. Thus, taking inspiration from UNO, one of most popular card games among school children, the team designed their own card game, Zing!, which helps students construct sentences and pick up English grammar.
The Charisma Movement representatives from Journalism and Education Departments met up with the Edu Lab representatives at Monalisa Bookstore near Pavilion Bukit Jalil for an engagement, where we learned about Zing!. We dove into a quick game of Zing! so as to experience the effectiveness of the cards.
Zing!, essentially, is a set of playing cards with words that are colour-coded according to their respective word categories, from nouns to adjectives; from verbs to prepositions. Players would receive 7 playing cards and the person with a character card (i.e. people’s names) will initiate the game. In order, everyone will add their cards in hand to the character cards to form sentences, according to the designed colour codes. If they have no suitable card to use for their turn, new cards should be drawn from the deck. The first player to finish their cards wins the game. In previous versions of the game, players can opt to incorporate a point system, where the winner is identified either by using all his cards first or by accumulating 500 points first. The latter helps busy parents who don't have much time to play with kids to end the game quicker.
Zing! was pilot tested in Chinese, Tamil and national schools in the Klang Valley before officially being launched in September 2022. In fact, The Edu Lab is the only project from the social enterprise programme to last more than 6 months, and is currently still running. I was told that most of the other projects either already have similar business models in the market, or simply required manpower to carry out. Zing! is a product that can run on its own, though supervision in the early stage of use is suggested if possible, so that the students can be guided while getting familiar with the use of tenses.
Zing! is suitable for children aged 7 to 14. You might be surprised to hear 14 year olds needing games to help with learning sentence construction in English. Yet, you would be even more shocked to find out how low the percentage of households in Malaysia actually speak any English at home, especially in rural areas. The cards could play a big role in initiating waves of change throughout Malaysia, if given the right publicity and support in distribution.
Having said that, The Edu Lab has been active in running physical workshops since last December. On top of monthly interactive sessions at Tsutaya Books at Pavilion Bukit Jalil with the public, the team visits public and private schools in the Klang Valley with their volunteers to introduce their cards to students directly. Such sessions come with a simple pre-game test, which is a one-page long questionnaire with fill-in-the-blank tasks. The test aims to gauge the target students’ pre-game levels of English proficiency swiftly, so that the team could group them accordingly. Grouping is a common practice in education, it ensures students with different levels of proficiency can be provided with the most suitable pace of teaching in order to enhance their learning experiences. Two weeks after the workshop, the team would conduct a post-session assessment to measure the impact of learning through the card game, using a similar questionnaire but with different questions. Improvement in results pre- and post-sessions has been observed in most workshops.
Zing! is designed for students, by students. The product was crafted based on its founders’ personal learning experiences, targeting to cater to what they felt was lacking during their time in schools. As an Economics student, I couldn’t help but wonder if the card game would receive demand as a diversified product line, say, cards that promote the learning of other languages or subjects like Mathematics. The Edu Lab did receive enquiries from interested parents on this too! As of now, the team lingers around enhancing the product itself, even though the prototype is already market-viable, and can even be found at Tsutaya Books. The English literacy rates in the country remain a concern and shall have the spotlight for now, even though there is potential in catering to the demand for a similar prototype in other languages. However, the team believes the focus should fall on the country’s linguistic needs first, before considering any potential expansion to other subjects.
The Edu Lab is growing, and there are areas our community can help them with. For example, they do appreciate subject matter experts in education to advise them on their strategic directions and game developers with skills to assist them with game-designing in order to enhance their model.
I personally am impressed by the passion these individuals radiate as they strive to make a change in the way students approach education, especially the English language. While the cards could help beginners learn the basics of English, there is still room to contemplate how the game makers can elevate the advancement levels as the students progress. The journey to grasping a language well can be a long one, but that does not mean it should be dull. I wished I had something like Zing! when I was younger so there was no need to memorise grammar rules the dry way. Regardless, for a country striving to progress in terms of English literacy rates, it’s a blessing to have people like The Edu Lab. Check them out here: https://www.instagram.com/the_edulab/
Charisma Movement 22/23.