The Star’s English education pullout makes waves of improvement in primary schools
IT is only natural that parents want the best for their children.
So when English panel head Nurhafizah Yaacob at SK Sungai Buloh, Selangor, introduced education pullout Step Up into classes last year, she said parents were sceptical as to whether it would really make a big difference.
After a year of trials and tests, parents and teachers are convinced that the English language resource by The Star brings benefits to the pupils.
“This year, even though some of the parents have two children attending SK Sungai Buloh, they would prefer that each child gets his own copy of Step Up,” said Nurhafizah.
Step Up is a colourful 24-page workbook-cum-activity pullout designed to help pupils in Years Four, Five and Six prepare for the UPSR (Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah) examination.
Nurhafizah said that critical thinking questions in Step Up help teachers to build literacy across the curriculum.
“Pupils learn about things that are not in textbooks. We use this to spark their critical and creative thinking.”
One special feature in Step Up is the mini dictionary box where difficult English words are highlighted and translated to Bahasa Malaysia or Chinese.
Nurhafizah said that she liked this feature.
“Pupils will take time opening the dictionary to look for the meaning of words. The mini dictionary has already picked out difficult words. This saves time and also benefits pupils who don’t have dictionaries at home.
“Step Up provides answers in the back page - that is why we encourage all parents to subscribe for their children. Even if they cannot help with grammar, they can help check the answers,” she added.
SK Sungai Buloh actively implements the “Strategi Untuk Kecemerlangan Seluruh Selangor” (SUKSeS) programme recommended by the Selangor Education Department. High achieving pupils are identified and are put into study groups monitored by parents. The study groups are held once a week.
Step Up has proven to be very useful in these study groups.
Headmaster Ab Halid Zakaria is very supportive and had nothing but praise for the pullouts.
“The children love it. Step Up has colourful illustrations. It also has games and puzzles that they find fun to do. There are also questions and activities made for the 21st century classroom.
“Last year, only the Year Six pupils subscribed to Step Up. Seeing the benefit from using the pullouts, we made it compulsory for pupils in Years Four, Five and Six to subscribe this year,” he said.
“The pullouts are suitable for our pupils – the exercises are neither too difficult nor are they too easy.
“They help pupils master grammar.
“When we introduced the Step Up package to parents this year, they found that it was absolutely worth it. This is because each package comes with a free gift that is about the same value as the subscription fee. At the same time, we plan to let all students opt for the free grammar book so that teachers can use these books in class. Parents are all very agreeable to this idea,” he added.
Ab Halid noted that language learning should not only be confined to class lessons.
“The culture of speaking English has to start from the home. We felt that this culture is lacking.
“Step Up comes with a copy of The Star newspaper, which pupils bring home. Bringing an English daily home hints to parents that learning English does not only happen in schools. Hopefully it would open avenues to using English at home,” he said.
Year Six pupil Muhammad Shahfazreen Shafiq Mohd Shahrin said that he gains knowledge from doing the exercises in Step Up and reading the newspaper.
“I bring the newspaper back home and my father will also read it.
“I find the mini dictionary in Step Up very helpful and the exercises fun to do,” he said.
He also believes in the importance of English proficiency.
“I want to learn English and travel to other countries.”
Year Five pupil Ayu Syafiqah Mohd Syarizal hopes to go to a residential school when she turns 13. “My English has to be good in order for me to make the cut. Step Up helps me improve my English and I can check the answers on my own. The exercises are challenging but I am able to do them.”
Quality reading material
Meanwhile, at SJK(C) Kampung Baru Ampang, Selangor, class Year Five B took a sneak peek at the first issue of Step Up a few days before it was published on Jan 24.
In a lesson taken from the pullout, English teacher Joyce Yeoh asked the class: “What is an example of things that make you happy?”
“Not having any homework!” said a pupil spontaneously, drawing laughter from the whole class.
In the exercise, pupils were given a task to list things that made them happy and sad. This activity not only develops emotional intelligence but also teaches pupils how to express feelings in the English language.
Yeoh said that her pupils gain a lot from using Step Up.
“I make it a point that they subscribe every year. The price is reasonable and it’s quality extra reading material for them.
“Parents are also very supportive. They are inclined to subscribe as they cannot get this pullout from newsstands.”
For the majority of pupils in the school, Yeoh noted that English is not a must-learn for them.
“English in Chinese schools is usually the third language. When they go home, English is out of their minds. So my role as a teacher is to think of ways to motivate them, and one of those ways is through Step Up. Pupils look forward to getting their copies,” she said.
Yeoh also commented that the activities in Step Up are suitable for the pupils.
“The level of vocabulary used in passages may be quite high, but it is one way to improve the children’s proficiency.
“Step Up is an enrichment tool that complements the textbook. The activities are different and interesting. Best thing is, it goes according to the topics in the national syllabus.
“The Step Up contest is a plus point. The participation certificates gain pupils co-curriculum points.
“They may not win the prizes but it is what they need. Many don’t have the opportunity to take part in contests. Only a handful can take part in competitions like Scrabble or public speaking. The Step Up contest really motivates all pupils to try as they can get a reward for their hard work,” she added.
Year Five pupil Nursafiya Isabella Azham said that she feels happy using Step Up.
“Having used it last year, I think the activities are good and fun. The exercises help me improve my English.
“The mini dictionary also makes it very easy for me to learn new words,” she said.
Agreeing, her classmate Chong Zhi Kai said that the mini dictionary “helps both my Chinese and English. Sometimes, I learn new Chinese characters.”
“I enjoy doing the activities because it’s fun. And it is important to know how to speak in English.”
Lim Zhi Hui, also in Year Five, likes the Story time page because she enjoys reading stories.
“I love reading short stories like Aesop Fables, and I feel that reading helps with my essays.
“My mother tells me that English is important. We need English when we go to other countries. English is a common language that everybody knows,” she said.
Step Up featuring Bahasa Malaysia translation is published on alternate Tuesdays, while the version with Chinese translation comes out on alternate Thursdays.
The pullout is endorsed by the Education Ministry.
For more information, call The Star’s Customer Care Unit at 1-300-88-7827 from Monday to Friday (9am-5pm). Subscription is through schools only.