Record number of pupils sign up for The Big Spell

Last year's record of 1,654 participants (above) has been broken this year, with more than 1,800 pupils signing up for the national spelling competition, which kicks off this Saturday at Suntec Singapore.
Last year's record of 1,654 participants (above) has been broken this year, with more than 1,800 pupils signing up for the national spelling competition, which kicks off this Saturday at Suntec Singapore. ST FILE PHOTO

Finding room for all 'a happy problem' for organisers RHB Bank and The Straits Times

The writing is on the wall for school pupils hoping to win this year's national spelling contest: He or she will have to beat a record field of more than 1,800 competitors in order to win the coveted title.

By close of registration last week, 1,805 pupils had signed up to compete in the RHB-The Straits Times National Spelling Championship - otherwise known as The Big Spell, now in its fifth year.

The swell in numbers - about 10 per cent more than last year's 1,654 participants - meant organisers RHB Banking Group and The Straits Times had to step up contingency plans to find enough seating to accommodate all the pupils.

ST Schools deputy editor Serene Luo, who is organising the event, said: "The numbers are a happy problem. Spelling is a key foundational skill to good communication, and I'm very encouraged at how The Big Spell has such a strong following.

"Every year, the pupils show us how diligent, resilient and enthusiastic they are about competing, and excelling at it."

The Big Spell is organised in partnership with the Ministry of Education, and supported by Nanyang Polytechnic and the National Library Board. Its venue partners are Suntec Singapore and Singapore Zoo.

Over the last four years, participants have "definitely raised the bar for primary school spelling", according to Mr Jason Wong, country head of RHB Bank Singapore.

"Many adults may not even be able to spell the winning words from the championship. The students have also displayed a high level of maturity for their age, and it results in them being more confident on stage and making friends with other competitors instead of being solely focused on winning."

This Saturday, pupils at Suntec Singapore will take part in the preliminary round, a pen-and-paper test of 50 words read out to them.

Top performers from the north, south, east and west zones will qualify for the next round on April 16, an oral competition in which they will attempt to outspell one another.

All zonal finalists will be ranked nationally to find the top 20 or so spellers, depending on the number that make the grade, in the country for the grand final on April 30.

At stake is the $5,000 top prize, the challenge trophy for the winner's school and bragging rights as Singapore's top pupil speller.

Last year, 11-year-old Justinian Guan, then in Primary 6 at Rosyth School and a first-time participant, claimed the title.

He and nine other Singaporeans also took part in the first RHB Spelling Masters, a cross-border spelling competition in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, last November, though his team did not win.

At least two former participants, Dilan Tan from St Joseph's Institution Junior and Jerome Thomas Ng from Henry Park Primary, both 11 and finalists last year, are looking to take his crown.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2016, with the headline 'Record number of pupils sign up for The Big Spell'. Print Edition | Subscribe