Marcus reads it right during the Pri 1 One-Minute Dash (Individual) category.
Imagine coming to Singapore to live, and the only English phrases you know are "good morning", "good afternoon", and "goodbye". And then imagine having to enter Pri 1 less than a year later.
This was how it was for Chen Heng Yu, who spent his early years in Jiang Su, China. Yet, at the recent South Zone Reading Competition held for Pri 1 and 2 pupils in the Learning Support Programme (LSP), Heng Yu, who studies at Radin Mas Primary, clinched the third prize in a one-minute dash, where finalists had to read as many high frequency words such as "then", "only", and "any" in one minute. Another pupil, Marcus Ong Wei Sheng, from Ang Mo Kio Primary took the top spot in the same category.
Daily phonics lessons
Pupils in the LSP begin their primary schooling with little, if not, no language and reading skills in English. This programme, which began in 1992, is an early intervention programme aimed at bringing such pupils up to par with their peers and enabling them to read texts suitable for their age, at the end of up to 2 years of support.
Pupils from Pei Chun Public School take part in a group event.
Learning Support Co-ordinators (LSCs) are specially trained in delivering a daily 30-minute phonics lesson, that teaches pupils blending (putting together the sounds of the letters) and segmentation (breaking up the letter sounds for spelling). The reading competition held at Hong Wen School on 17 November gave pupils the opportunity to showcase their newfound reading skills, including the ability to read phrases and passages of English text.
Heng Yu and Marcus, both Pri 1 pupils, have undergone the LSP this past school year, and have improved so significantly in their reading and oral English skills that they will be discharged from the programme. Marcus even achieved Band 1 (exceeding 85% in score) in English for his Semestral Assessment 2 exams.
Participants joining the audience round of the competition.
"We're very proud of Marcus's progress. We were just as nervous as he was when the competition results were announced!" say his LSP teachers, Mdm Nur Aini Jaini and Mrs Seah Ai Jong.
But there are some challenges to being an LSC. Mdm Aini says, "As teachers we need to be patient because different students have a different pace of learning. We have to be very encouraging and give them a lot of praise for every little success they achieve."
Parental support a key ingredient to success
One of Heng Yu's teachers, Ms Mabel Tan, says the lack of parental support at home is also a challenge. "It makes a big difference when parents like Heng Yu's are so encouraging and support their child in his effort to learn English," says Ms Tan.
(From left to right) Chen Heng Yu, Matthew Ong Wei and Marcus Ong Wei Sheng admire their trophies.
Heng Yu's father, Mr Chen Yu Yang, spoke on how he has supported his son's English learning journey thus far. "I encourage him to ask questions in class, since my wife and I are Mandarin-speaking, and we cannot really help him with his English. When I come home from work, I ask him to teach me what he has learned. I am very grateful to his teachers for the effort they've put into teaching him English." Mr Chen is currently attending an English course himself, in preparation for his job at the Marina Sands IR.
The two pupils have clearly gained a lot of confidence from this class. When asked what he likes to read, Marcus said "Dinosaurs!" without any hesitation. As to his favourite dinosaur, he said it was definitely the T-Rex.
As this writer took down Mr Chen's name, Heng Yu took over and confidently spelt his father's name out. Mr Chen's beam of pride said it all.