SINGAPORE, 26 March 2016 - The word "leisure", uttered by pronouncer Ms Nora Samosir, set 1,805 eager competitors on their journey towards becoming Singapore's next top speller.
The number of participants is the fifth consecutive record turnout for the qualifying round of the RHB-The Straits Times National Spelling Championship, better known as The Big Spell. The primary school pupils packed Halls 405 and 406 of the Suntec Convention Centre - roughly the size of eight basketball courts - to the brim this morning.
Indeed, organisers RHB Banking Group and The Straits Times had to kick in contingency plans to accommodate the record number of pupils who had signed up by close of registration last week. The final number of spellers in this round is a 10 per cent jump over last year’s 1,654 pupils.
Filing in for the contest as early as 6.45am, registrants included last year’s finalists Jerome Thomas Ng from Henry Park Primary School and Dilan Tan from St Joseph’s Institution Junior, as well as first-time participants Nadia Hassan Jopri, from Unity Primary School.
Mr Paul Teo, 46, a lawyer, who had brought his son, Marcus Teo, 11 and a first-time participant from Catholic High School (Primary), arrived at 7am.
Said Mr Teo: "He (Marcus) got anxious to get here early to find the right venue."
Gunning for the grand prize of $5,000, the challenge trophy for their school, but most importantly, the honour of being Singapore’s top pupil speller, they excitedly streamed into the hall, many agog and stunned at the scale of the competition.
Said Leong Yi Xin Cherie, 10, a Primary 5 pupil from Teck Ghee Primary School: "It's very big. I didn't expect so many people to take part. I'm very surprised."
During the hour-long pen-and-paper round, words such as “sleigh" got participants beaming, as they quickly scribbled down the spelling, while others like “herpetology”, a branch of zoology concerned with reptiles and amphibians, got some puzzled.
The Straits Times Schools Editor, Ms Serene Goh, said the surge in numbers was a happy problem.
“We never want to turn anyone away, because an increase means the competition will get bolder. I'm really proud to be a part of a team that was able to work some magic, and reconfigure seating arrangements with our venue partner to let everyone participate. It's an achievement for all of us just to see so many teachers, pupils and parents here for this event, and to have their support,” she said.
Mr Jason Wong, country head of RHB Bank Singapore, said that standards of the championship have been raised with every year.
“The number of participants is also growing,” he noted. “Spelling contests are now a trend. We have observed more schools holding their own spelling contests and even local programmes for children now use spelling as a theme. All these are signs that the National Spelling Championship has become an important milestone for primary schools all around Singapore and we hope this phenomenon will continue."
RHB Banking Group runs a similar competition in Malaysia, called Spell It Right. Both the competitions fall under its Corporate Social Responsibility programme. Mr Wong said: “By giving back to the community and nurturing the next generation of talents, we hope it will help build the knowledge economy in ASEAN nations, which will in turn, benefit businesses in this region in the long run.”
Once the test was over, the scripts were collected and sealed in boxes. The papers will be graded over the next few days and the spellers ranked according to the North, South, East and West zones in which their schools are located.
Weeks of preparation will pay off for about 80 of them, who will make it through this initial bout to enter the zonal round on April 16. The best spellers from this round will compete in the finals on April 30.
The competition is organised in partnership with the Ministry of Education, Singapore, and is supported by Nanyang Polytechnic and the National Library Board. Suntec Singapore and the Singapore Zoo are the venue partners.
In the lead-up to the spelling quest and to prime participating pupils, more than 100 teachers joined a workshop on Feb 1 at SPH News Centre, at which they picked up classroom strategies and ideas to make spelling more exciting. They also learnt tips on developing good spelling skills from master teacher Shakila Vasu, from the English Language Institute of Singapore, under the MOE.
Little Red Dot, The Straits Times’ weekly school magazine for primary school pupils, will be covering the blow-by-blow excitement of the National Spelling Championship as it unfolds. To follow the preliminary round, go to www.straitstimes.com/bigspell.
This year, Little Red Dot’s series of spelling games allowed teachers to extend spelling excitement into the classroom and include more pupils from all levels, while adding to the teacher’s bag of tricks.
The Straits Times' multimedia news portal RazorTV will also showcase video clips of the preliminary round, the zonal rounds and the grand final. Kiss92 FM will also air capsules featuring words of the week, among other things, while its deejays discussed the importance of good spelling on air.
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About The Straits Times
The Straits Times, the English-language flagship daily of Singapore Press Holdings, is the most-read newspaper in Singapore and is followed widely in the region for its comprehensive coverage of local, regional and world news, provided by its correspondents in 20 bureaus in major cities worldwide.
Launched on July 15, 1845, The Straits Times underwent a major redesign across all platforms in July 2015, when it celebrated its 170th anniversary. This revamp is part of its continuing efforts to refresh its products, maintain quality and stay relevant to the changing needs of its readers. Its integrated newsroom operates round-the-clock, providing readers with news as it happens on all platforms, from its website at www.straitstimes.com, Apple and Android apps to social media.
The Straits Times is a member of three regional and global networks - Asia News Network, the Climate Publishers Network and the Impact Journalism Day alliance of newspapers - and it has won multiple international media awards, including from the Society of Publishers in Asia, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, the Pacific Area Newspaper Publishers' Association (Panpa), Society of News Design and Wan-Ifra. It swept 11 awards at the Asia Media Awards 2015, including three Gold for Best News Website (straitstimes.com), Best Data Visualisation Project and Best Lifestyle Mobile Service, and five Silver. The paper's school outreach initiatives have won regular top awards, which included the 2015 World Young Reader Prize given by Wan-Ifra, and Best Young Reader programme award by Panpa.
About RHB Bank Singapore
RHB Bank was first established in 1961 as United Malayan Banking Corporation Berhad. Through a series of rapid expansion and strategic mergers, RHB Bank Singapore emerged as a full-licensed bank with a network of 7 branches and operating 15 Bureau de Change outlets in Singapore Changi Airport. The Bank provides a comprehensive range of financial products and services to consumer, corporate and business clients, ranging from various types of deposits and loans, treasury to investment banking.
RHB Bank Singapore is the first full bank to be conferred the prestigious S-Class (Service Class) award by SPRING Singapore as well as the first and only bank in Singapore and Malaysia to be awarded the prestigious “Best Customer Experience Management of the Year Award” in banking service by APCSC Hong Kong and most recently, awarded the SQC (Singapore Quality Class) by SPRING Singapore in June 2010.
For more information on RHB Bank Singapore, please log on to www.rhbbank.com.sg.