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Thai boy triumphs after struggling to get an education in Singapore

Children often have problems at school when they move with their parents to another country where a different language is spoken.
Classes can be hard and school is boring if they can’t speak to anyone because of language barriers.
Three years ago, a six-year-old Thai boy named BB (Thanathibody) left Thailand to go with his mother to Singapore after she married a man from that country.
BB could not speak English and when he arrived in Singapore all he could say was his name and a simple greeting.
For the first month he stayed with his mother at home and did not speak to anyone when he went out because of his lack of English.
His life was very hard and he was homesick as he had left all his friends behind in Thailand.
I met this family during my second month in Singapore on a 3-month Asia Journalist Fellowship. I was looking at how education begins among young children in Singapore, with a focus on reading programmes.
BB’s mother, Ms Bo, told me she and her husband didn’t speak Thai to him unless it was really necessary because she wanted him to learn to speak English.

Children can be taught privately at home if their parents cannot send them to a school or to the ReadAble centre.

“We used to live in a place called New Hope. We were very worried about him because he could not speak English and we could not send him to school as the fees were too high, especially for non-Singaporeans,” Ms Bo said.
But it turned out there was a scheme called ReadAble that helps people who have problems with reading, or speaking English or their mother tongue.
This centre runs activities for children who have problems with education. It provides classes and recreational activities and sometimes takes the children on trips to places of interest, just as ordinary schools do with their pupils.
“A volunteer teacher came to my house and asked if she could teach my son at home if he was not comfortable about coming to the centre,” Ms Bo said.
So BB had classes at home and studied the same subjects as other schoolchildren. After almost a year his parents moved to government public housing that was a long way from their previous home.
Ms Bo was worried about whether a teacher would be able to come all that way but fortunately one volunteered to make the journey to BB’s new house.
After a while this proved too difficult for the teacher but a replacement was found so that BB could continue his lessons.
And if that teacher couldn’t come he would ask how BB was doing and if he needed help, and sometimes even did a video class.
After two years BB could speak good English. His Chinese, which is one of the three languages spoken in Singapore, also improved.
Last year BB took an examination for entry to primary school and achieved level three.
“I just hoped he would get to level one or two because he hadn’t been to school before and only had lessons at home for two hours a week. What he has done is excellent,” his mother said.
“I am so grateful to the teachers. They really helped us, just as though we were a part of their family, even though they didn’t get any payment.”
But it still wasn’t easy to find a school that would accept BB because he was not a Singaporean citizen so the fee was S$400 a month, compared to the fee for Singaporeans of just S$10.
But the Ministry of Education and the government is very helpful and will pay half of the fees for the first two years if a child attends a government school.
Ms Bo also had problems getting her second son, Boling, into school. He was born in Thailand and was half Singaporean and half Thai.
After making enquiries she found a school that would take him but the fees were S$500 a month.
This was more than she could afford because her husband was the only wage earner in the family and wasn’t paid much. So they decided not to send Boling to school just yet. After a few weeks, however, some people knocked at the door saying they were from a children’s society. They wanted to know why Boling wasn’t going to school.
“I was scared because they showed me their card and I know that the rules in Singapore are strict, especially concerning children’s rights. And my husband wasn’t home at the time,” Ms Bo said.
She told the visitors that they didn’t want to keep their son out of school but they didn’t have enough money to pay the fees.
In reply, they said they would try to find a school that she could afford.
Within two weeks, a school called her and asked if she could pay S$2 to S$10 a month.
The fee was really low but this didn’t mean that the school wasn’t any good. Most of the schools in Singapore are good and the policy there is for children to have the same access to education whether they are rich or poor. After living in Singapore for five years and having so many positive experiences, Ms Bo isn’t worried about her children’s schooling any more because the Singapore government is very supportive in this field.

By Patithin Phetmeuangphuan
(Latest Update November 11 , 2017 )

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