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Highlights of a journalism fellowship focussing on child education in Singapore

I am one of 16 recipients of this year’s Asia Journalist Fellowships, who have varied backgrounds and come from 13 countries. My project over the past three months has been to look at how education begins among young children in Singapore, with a focus on reading programmes.
During the course of my project I visited two primary schools, a childcare centre, and a volunteer group.
I talked to teachers who showed me around their schools and library and explained the education system they followed.

The author gives a presentation at Canossa Convent Primary School.

They also let me talk to some of the students and join in their activities.
In September I visited a childcare centre called Child at Street 11, together with my research advisor Alan John and a reporter from the Thai News Network in Bangkok, Kanlayawee Waewklayhong.
Child at Street 11 was founded in 1999. It operates under the principle that “the people that society wants for tomorrow are in Child at Street 11 today”.
The centre takes in children aged two to six for a full day programme.
The children come from low-income and dysfunctional families. Staff at the centre aim to help these families break out of the poverty cycle in one generation and ensure that their children have access to quality education and an integral support programme that is vital to developing their full potential.
We talked with the centre’s Chief Executive, M Nirmala, other teachers and staff, and the children.
I found out more about the reading programme on my second visit when I met an Asia Network storyteller, Ms Rosemarie Somaiah.
I interviewed her about her experiences, asking why she believed that storytelling was so important for children and how she thought it helped to get them interested and inspired to read. I also wanted to know about her life as a storyteller.
Later we visited ReadAble, a volunteer group centre at Outram.
We spent about three hours talking to Ms Amanda Chong about how ReadAble got started and why she and her associates set up the progamme.
ReadAble is a volunteer group that helps children from low-income families or less-advantaged backgrounds by teaching them the basics of literacy.
It was started by three friends in 2013, who began a teaching class at a friend’s flat. Today there are over 50 volunteers in the group.
The volunteers realised that there were children in low-income families who were left behind in primary school because they had not learnt how to read before starting their first year of school. Consequently, they struggled to keep up with their lessons and over time got increasingly left behind.
They try to identify those children who have problems with reading and bring them to their classes if possible.
If the children cannot come, they ask if they can teach them at their house.
Before visiting the ReadAble centre, I talked to a Thai family who had benefited from the scheme. Their children could not speak English but the parents couldn’t afford to send them to school.
ReadAble helped the family by asking to teach their children at home, and now they can speak English and Chinese well.
We later visited the Princess Elizabeth Primary School, which won first prize in the primary school category of the inaugural Reading Excellence Award in March 2017, jointly organised by Singapore’s National Library Board and the Ministry of Education.
Staff there explained how they won the award, why they view reading as being so important, and what they do to make children interested in reading. The staff were generous with their time and were willing to answer all our questions.
I asked some of the children what inspired them and made them want to read more and more, and what they thought their teachers and parents should do to help them with reading.
We talked to some students who were going to visit Cambodia. Laos and Cambodia have a lot in common as both are least developed countries and schools in rural areas are very poor.
I was pleased that the teachers and children were interested in my childhood, how I became a journalist, and how journalism had changed my life.
But the most important thing was that they were really interested to learn about Lao children living in rural areas.
I gave a presentation during which I showed photographs of children in poor areas of Laos and where I myself grew up. Then I told them about Reading Elephant Laos in Bokeo province where I sometime work as a volunteer.
I hadn’t planned to give a presentation but it was a very positive experience for me to tell these youngsters about the life of Lao children and their schooling.
My photos interested both the teachers and the children because Singapore is completely built up and has no rural areas.
On the back of this success I followed up with a similar presentation at Canossa Convent Primary School.

By Patithin Phetmeuangphuan
(Latest Update November 1, 2017)


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