Who should teach kids to read? Parents or teachers? Facebook post sparks anger
Teacher's comments anger some parents who say it's not their 'job'
Earlier this month, Ms Lenny Rahman, a physical education teacher, was carrying out a classroom exercise for Primary 1 pupils that required them to label different body parts.
A student asked her for help, and she told him to read out the instructions from his textbook.
But the 34-year-old realised that he could not even recognise simple words such as "is", "the" and "her".
Who reads to him, she asked. "My teacher," he replied.
What about people at home? His parents are usually at work on shift jobs, or asleep when they are home, he said.
Having seen many other such cases where parents' lack of involvement in a child's education contributed to him feeling demoralised and lagging behind his peers, she took to Facebook to air her frustrations.
"It baffles me that in this day and age there are kids in Primary 1 who do not know how to read... Busy working but you cannot spend time with your kid? Then why have kids in the first place?!" she wrote in a public post.
"Please, if you think you don't have the means, there are these things called condoms and birth control. They're cheaper than raising a child."
The strongly worded post, which was partially written in Malay, quickly went viral. It racked up more than 1,000 shares in a week, with many weighing in on the question of who should be responsible for teaching children to read.
This comes even as the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study of Primary 4 pupils here last year found that children in Singapore rank second out of 58 territories in terms of how well pupils read, coming in after Russia.
The post sparked vociferous opposition from parents like housewife Nafisah Mohamad, 32, a mother of a two-year-old boy, who said: "Some people are just slow. Not everybody has the same capacity in their brains.
"Parents pay the school fees, which also indirectly pay for the teacher's salary. Why should the teacher talk bad about her 'client'?"
Angered, some members of the public have stalked Ms Lenny's Facebook profile to identify the school where she had been working as an adjunct teacher, and threatened to make her life a "living hell".
Concerned about her own safety and with the school's reputation in mind, Ms Lenny volunteered to leave last Tuesday.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) did not respond to media queries by press time.
In an interview on Friday, she told The Straits Times that she had been deliberately harsh in her remarks as a wake-up call to parents who "don't even want to try to get involved in their kids' education".
Her comments, she clarified, are not directed at parents who have already been trying to help their children at home.
Associate Professor Dora Chen, the head of early childhood education at the Singapore University of Social Sciences, said: "If the process of acquiring the knowledge and skills leads us to the conclusion of 'I am not good at reading' or 'I am stupid, I am incapable', then what is the use of the drills?
"The motivation to learn is destroyed."
Ms Lenny said she does not regret making the Facebook post - in fact, some good has come out of it, as a few parents who initially chafed at her remarks have started reading with their children or bringing them to the library, she said.
Reading tips for parents
• Use the Internet to look up YouTube videos that teach reading and phonics
• If parents are unfamiliar with a language (for example, English), they can use Google to sound out any words that children don't know when they read simple picture books together
• If you don't have 30 minutes a day to spare for reading with your child, start with 10 minutes a day, or make it a thrice-a-week habit
• Use common items, such as signboards, to help children recognise words
• Go for free storytelling programmes at public libraries, museums and cultural events
• Parents can set a good example for their children by reading articles, books and the newspapers regularly, as children learn from their parents' behaviour
Source: Ms Lenny Rahman, Ms Bernice Lee, director at literacy programme ReadAble