UNEQUAL CHILDHOODS

Hoping to land spot in Normal stream with her running ability

NORA (NOT HER REAL NAME)

Then: Struggled to find right words to describe drawings despite receiving help from a specially trained teacher; patchy school attendance

Now: Still shies away from answering questions but school attendance has improved

Six years ago, when Nora was attending kindergarten, on her way to Primary 1, she struggled to find the right words to describe her drawings. "A girl... house... tree," she volunteered after much coaxing when The Straits Times spoke to her.

This was despite receiving help through Flair - Focused Language Assistance in Reading - where a specially-trained teacher gives extra attention to children who are behind in their reading and writing.

Her kindergarten fees after subsidies were only $5 a month, but Nora's teachers said she did not improve much because her attendance was patchy.

Her mother, a single parent with five children who was working as a cleaner, had to move homes three times before settling into a one-room rental flat.

Nora still shrugs her shoulders a lot and shies away from answering questions, but her school attendance has improved a lot.

Nora's family has asked that her school not be identified to protect her identity.

 
 

When asked about which secondary school she hopes to enrol in, Nora said she hopes to enter the Normal stream at CHIJ Toa Payoh using her talent in running.

She has not heard of the Junior Sports Academy, which offers free, professional coaching to talented athletes, but has won a clutch of medals for running.

"My teacher spoke to me about getting in through Direct School Admission, but I don't know," said the girl who is studying Mathematics and Science at Foundation level, which is meant for students who are weak in the subjects.

She added: "I am also OK to enter Normal (Technical) at a school nearby."

Her single mum, who now works as a dishwasher, admitted not having much time to attend to her five children.

"The older children have to look after the younger ones," she said, also shrugging her shoulders.

Despite earning only about $1,000 a month, she buys her children assessment books from the neighbourhood book shop.

But she also said her children "cannot study so well".

Still she hopes Nora will not end up like her eldest sister who had to drop out of school at Secondary 4 earlier this year after becoming pregnant. This means Nora's mother is poised to become a grandmother while still in her 30s.

"Nora is not bad... Her English is OK. It is her maths that is no good," she said, adding that although her daughter was being helped by special programmes such as the Learning Support Programme for pupils lagging behind, she has not been able to pass Mathematics.

But she insists education is important, and that she stresses that to her children. "I keep telling them to study hard. That is the only way they can have a good job.

"But if your children cannot study, what to do?"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 15, 2018, with the headline 'Hoping to land spot in Normal stream with her running ability'. Print Edition | Subscribe