1,400 pupils sit for 1st round of The Big Spell 2014

SINGAPORE - About 1,400 primary school pupils from across Singapore gave it their all, spelling words such as "llama", "fortitude" and "longitudinal", at the preliminary round of the RHB-The Straits Times National Spelling Championship on Monday.

They were vying for a place as one of the top pupils in their zone - and eventually become Singapore's champion speller - in The Big Spell quest, jointly organised by the RHB Banking Group and The Straits Times, in partnership with the Ministry of Education, Singapore (MOE).

The champion will win $5,000 and a trophy, while his or her school will take the challenge trophy. The first runner-up wins $3,000 while the second runner-up, $1,000.

The participants from more than 120 primary schools nationwide had to first make it past the pen-and-paper qualifying round, in which 50 pre-recorded words were read out to the pupils from Primary 4 to 6, at ITE College Central.

Pupils turned up as early as 7am, with many of them revising commonly misspelt words and holding on to thick dictionaries and sheaves of notes. Seen in the test venue were pupils who brought a fistful of pens just in case they ran out of ink and those bundled up in thick jackets just in case it got cold.

Once the test was over, the scripts were collected and sealed in boxes. Staff from MOE will grade these papers over the next few days and rank the spellers according to the North, South, East and West zones in which their schools are located.

About 20 pupils from each zone will make the cut to compete at the zonal round on April 5, while the grand finals will see Singapore's top primary school spellers in a showdown on April 26.

Ms Serene Goh, Editor of Little Red Dot, The Straits Times' weekly magazine for primary schools, said: "The Big Spell has become the mind sport to watch every year for our students. It gets more intense, standards are higher and its participants are more prepared. We can't be more excited to watch how this year's competition unfolds."

Added Ms Norazzah Sulaiman, Head of Group Governance and Corporate Services, RHB Banking Group, the main sponsor of the spelling championship: "The competition continues to be interactive and engaging. We hope to see more student participants each year as this will encourage their younger peers to also pick up the habit of reading and foster their interest in being proficient in speaking and writing in English. In addition, it's good to see the level of confidence increasing and shining through when it matters most. The RHB Banking Group will continue to strive and explore how we can continue to enhance the competition to fully realise all of the competition's objectives whilst ensuring its relevance and role in building up young talents in Singapore."

This competition is also supported by ITE College Central, the National Library Board and tech company HP.

In the lead-up to the spelling quest and to prime students taking part in it, a briefing for more than 100 teachers was held on Jan 28, 2014 at the SPH News Centre, at which they picked up classroom strategies and ideas to make spelling more exciting. They also exchanged ideas in a hands-on workshop and networking session.

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, and providing tips and tricks to spelling.

The Straits Times' multimedia news portal RazorTV will also showcase video clips of the preliminary round, the zonal rounds and the grand final, as well as a series of videos of spelling tips. HOT FM91.3 will air info capsules on words of the day, broadcast interesting nuggets about the spelling contest and visit selected schools through its school outreach segment HOT ATTACK.

To follow the NSC, go to www.straitstimes.com/big-spell-2014