P1 syllabus must include teaching pupils basics

Primary school students and teachers at a student care centre, on Jan 30, 2019.
Primary school students and teachers at a student care centre, on Jan 30, 2019.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

It was disconcerting to read about a teacher's social media post saying that parents should be responsible for teaching their children to read (Who should teach kids to read: Teachers or parents?; Jan 28).

As an English language teacher with more than 30 years' experience, I can confidently say that just because a child cannot read in Primary 1 does not mean the child, parent or teacher is lazy or stupid. Not all parents are trained or naturally good teachers.

Some parents may simply need to work and may not be able to secure jobs that enable them to be at home at the right times to support their child with his schoolwork.

Children aren't a one size fits all. Some perfectly intelligent people I knew as children learnt to read only when they were nearly in Primary 2.

This is despite them having trained teachers as parents who spent plenty of time trying to teach them to read before and during Primary 1, as well as attending two years of kindergarten education.

These "slow to read" children have since gone on to become successful and have turned out to be well in the top 10 per cent of their scholastic cohort. The evidence suggests that a proper reading syllabus should take into account age-appropriate and development-appropriate methods and material.

Forcing a child to read when he is not ready is a waste of resources and can result in emotional damage. A careful examination of each case by trained teachers is necessary to assess whether the slow learner is simply not at that stage yet, or has a learning disability, a behavioural issue or home issue that is interfering with the learning process.

Our cohorts are now shrinking and schools are being merged, so there is a surplus of teachers who can be retrained as adjunct teachers to help pupils who may need more attention in Primary 1.

We should also allow children who can already read to challenge the system and enter straight into Primary 2 if they and their parents wish it, and they meet the requirements for all subjects.

This will take care of the vociferous minority who insist their children should not be held back by slower pupils in the class.

For everyone else, the Ministry of Education needs to set a syllabus for Primary 1 which involves teaching the basics, including reading and writing.

This is a solution which shouldn't involve large extra budgets or extensive new programmes, but a better use of existing resources and teachers instead.

Chan Mei Mei (Madam)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 09, 2019, with the headline 'P1 syllabus must include teaching pupils basics'. Print Edition | Subscribe