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Form 4 students at SM Sultan Abdul Halim, Jitra attempting SIR Online Challenge.

Every year, a big part of the success in ensuring students get the opportunity to participate in the Spell-It-Right (SIR) competition comes from the role teachers play in school.

It’s no different this year even though the competition has gone digital for the preliminary and state rounds, and students are no longer required to travel to a pre-determined venue.

The new format of the 2017 Spell-It-Right competition requires participants to spell 15 words via the online challenge on the website or the SIR Challenge app that they have downloaded. For each word, participants listen to an audio recording of it, followed by the definition and usage in a sentence. They then have 15 seconds to key in the correct spelling of the word and submit it by clicking on the ‘Submit’ button.

For Rabitah Abd Wahab, a teacher from Sekolah Menengah Sultan Abdul Halim, Jitra, Kedah, this is the eighth year she has enrolled her students for the competition.

“I love it and so do my students,” she gushed.

According to Rabitah, her students are always enthusiastic when it comes to SIR so she carries out her own mini SIR competitions in her English lessons, during relief classes and at club activities. To motivate her students, she comes up with a reward system and gives out chocolates, small hampers and even lunch money if she is feeling generous that day.

On top of this, she carries out what she calls the Dictionary Venture. Here, she carries out mock SIR sessions 10 minutes before the actual lessons. She uses online dictionaries to check the correct spelling on her smartphone. She also gets her students to practise listening to the online dictionary’s pronunciation so that they will be familiar the correct pronunciation, and not the Malaysian way of saying the words.

Rabitah, who has been teaching for 30 years, said: “This year, 80 of my students have registered with me to enter the competition and I am expecting more of them after the school holidays.”

“My target for this year is 100 participants, and to have more students making it to the State challenge than previous years,” she added.

This year’s new format presents somewhat of a challenge to her students as they sometimes do not have a steady Internet connection. Despite this, she has encouraged her students to attempt the challenge using their smartphones or computer at home during the holidays.

For those without smartphones or Internet connection at home, Rabitah will arrange to have them attempt the challenge at the school’s Chrome (computer) Lab.

Down south, Sekolah Sains Muzaffar Syah, Melaka (MOZAC) has Wan Hailah Wan Yahya, a teacher of 29 years, to thank for making the effort to get a record number of students to take part in this year’s competition.

“This year we plan on mobilising our whole student population — some 650 strong. We have informed the students of the competition, set their timetable, and run the programme, all with permission from the school administrators,” said Wan Hailah.

She said that the new SIR format is interesting and different from the norm. As such, Wan Hailah has made arrangements for the students to attempt the challenge in school according to a set schedule at the Computer Labs.

When asked if her students are looking forward to the online spelling challenge, she said: “Anything online is a magnet to today’s generation. Oddly enough, anything that has to do with using computers gets the students excited.”

Principal of MOZAC, Hj Mohd Ghazali Ahmad had this to say: “English is an important language for our youth to have under their hats in our endeavour to develop our nation to fulfil our aspirations.”

There is an old English proverb that says: You can lead the horse to water but you can’t make it drink. The same goes for students participating in this year’s SIR challenge. For Tan Wen Weyn, 14, from Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Aminuddin Baki, Kuala Lumpur, motivation came from within herself to succeed in the competition.

Tan thinks that going digital is a definite step towards technological advancement. She feels that there is an advantage to having the competition online.

“Instead of having the school choose students, which can be biased, all students can have a shot at this. Students with stage fright or extreme nervousness can also be encouraged to participate because it is behind a screen. Students are also given a trial to test things out. This ensures that they know what is going to happen which I think is an excellent preparatory option,” said Tan. However, she says that the time limit imposed (15 seconds for each word) can scare participants especially those who are slow at typing.

For this year’s online SIR Preliminary challenge, participants are advised to attempt the competition only when ready and prepared to do so. They are also advised to make sure there is a steady Internet connection.

Participants are advised to use headphones to make sure they can hear the words clearly. Before attempting the real challenge, they should try the tutorial to practise spelling the words on the device they are using.

After the online preliminary stage (Aug 21 to Sept 10), only 100 candidates from each category (primary and secondary) will continue to the Online State Challenge, from Sept 25 to Oct 4.

The SIR Challenge app can be downloaded via Google Play for Android and Apple iTunes for iOS users or via

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