Mind the (achievement) gap

Mind the (achievement) gap: Tracking the paths of 3 children over six years


Qi, Anna and Nora were featured in 2012 by The Straits Times when they were in the second year of kindergarten and about to enter Primary 1. 

A vast gap separated them then.

Senior Education Correspondent Sandra David recently caught up with the three girls, now in Primary 6, and found that they continue to develop along very different trajectories. 

Home circumstances give boost to budding table tennis player


Then: Possessed wide vocabulary

Now: A strong table tennis player, who also excels in her studies

Lim Qi, who is ranked 11th in her age group, at a practice session at the Singapore Table Tennis Association. The 12-year-old excels not only in table tennis but also in her studies. ST PHOTO: LIN ZHAOWEI

Not many children at the age of six would know the meaning of "oxymoron" but, when interviewed six years ago in kindergarten, Lim Qi not only knew the word but could also give examples such as "dark light and cold sun" to illustrate it.

Her vocabulary has only widened since then - she is able to use words like "benchmark", "gauge" and "resilience" in her conversation as well as describe and differentiate between odours such as "acrid", "rancid" and "putrid".

Her parents, Mr Roger Lim and Madam Yvonne Yeo, who run a communications firm and live in a landed home, attribute her wide vocabulary and intellectual curiosity at least partly to her pre-school education at EtonHouse International in Newton. It helped that she read widely and played online vocabulary games such as WordGirl.



Extra help from teachers helped pupil lift her marks


Then: Shy. Her parents spoke to her and her siblings only in Mandarin and dialect

Now: Her English has improved greatly and she is aiming for the Normal (Academic) stream

Like Lim Qi, Anna too loved to draw and colour pictures when she was six.

But when we asked her at that time about the drawings she had produced for her kindergarten teacher, the quiet child shied away.

She also offered little information when asked basic questions like how many brothers and sisters she had and what her favourite colour was.


The feature in The Straits Times six years ago.

Hoping to land spot in Normal stream with her running ability


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.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 15, 2018, with the headline 'UNEQUAL CHILDHOODS'. Print Edition | Subscribe