Case study: RHB's push to cultivate good English among students

While Singapore is known as a first-world country, it has yet to achieve a perfect literacy rate. This can be attributed to the fact that technology has caused Singaporeans to be overly reliant on spelling and grammar check tools. As a result, RHB decided to partner with The Straits Times to encourage better English-language learning and nurture the younger generation.

This led to RHB winning sliver for the Best Event - Games/Contests, for its RHB - The Straits Times National Spelling Championship Silver campaign at the Marketing Events Awards 2017 recently.

This post was done in conjunction with RHB.


Spelling and grammar check tools were the brain child of those who envisioned easier and faster means of typing and sending out messages. They did not anticipate people becoming too dependent on such tools, leading to youths neglecting the nuance of spelling and the English language.

While the Ministry of Education (MOE) has a framework for a well-rounded curriculum, the literacy rate in Singapore is still short of perfect at 97%. When MOE held its one annual spelling competition, it received a few participants and had difficulty convincing schools to participate because of its low profile.


Singapore required a holistic programme to encourage children to read and learn words, and at the same time be sufficiently attractive and beneficial for schools to send students to participate. RHB Bank Singapore, as part of the Group’s corporate mission to "Nurture its Future Generation", partnered with MOE and The Straits Times to organise RHB-The Straits Times National Spelling Championship (NSC) 2017.

With support from MOE, RHB was able to gain access to schools to boost participation. Working together with The Straits Times, NSC 2017 leveraged on Singapore’s leading media organisation, using print, broadcast, online and social media for brand awareness.


The main objective of NSC 2017 was to promote good English-language learning and nurture young talents as part of RHB’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) campaign. With the popularity of NSC and the national awareness it garnered from 2012 to 2016, it was only appropriate that RHB continued to tap on the platform as part of CSR efforts and long-term business growth strategy, to reach out to the youths more actively.

In addition, the campaign also fulfilled the following objectives for the RHB business:

  • Increased brand awareness
  • Forging stronger relationships with partners and community
  • Continue to drive CSR messaging


The competition targeted primary school students between Primary 4 and 6 in a full school with the MOE. Schools could send up to 10 pupils each and registration was capped at 1,000 pupils as the aim for NSC 2017 was to improve the quality of the competition.

The campaign included the following game mechanism:

  1. Teachers' briefing

Before the registration of NSC 2017 opened, a teachers' briefing was held to introduce the game format and go through some of the common mistakes that participants make, as well as strategies which teachers could use to teach spelling and conduct group activities.

  1. Preliminary round (11 March 2017)

Participants were required to take a pen-and-paper test to spell 50 words within 60 minutes. Each word being read out was contextualised with an example so that the meaning and form of the word were clearly understood. The top 15 participants from schools in each zone were invited to take part in the semi-final round, held at two locations.

The preliminary round saw participation from 99 schools. Students were brought into a hall that housed 1,000 desks. A Kiss 92FM deejay was the host for the preliminary round. The words that were read out were pre-recorded by a specialised pronouncer. A format example of the recording goes:

  1. Pronounces the word
  2. Gives an example of usage of the word in a sentence
  3. Pronounces the word for the second time

Once all 50 words were read out, the preliminary round ended. Names of participants who qualified for the semi-finals on 22 of March were published in The Straits Times.

  1. Semi-final round (1 April 2017)

Participants were seated on stage and took turns to individually spell aloud words read to them by a pronouncer. Participants were allowed to ask up to five questions to help them figure out the word and the spelling. Participants who spelt a word incorrectly or were unable to spell the given word within one minute were eliminated.

The words became increasingly difficult with each new round. There were no fixed number of rounds at the semi-finals (and also the grand final subsequently) as this was dependent on the number of pupils eliminated at the end of each round. The elimination process continued until the top participant of the semi-final emerges.

The top semi-final participant at each of the two locations received confirmed slot in the grand final. All competitors at this round were rank-ordered. The top 15 pupils ranked nationwide moved on to compete in the grand final.

  1. Grand final (22 April 2017)

The format of the final was similar to that of the semi-final. Participants were eliminated at each round of the competition until one speller emerges as the champion. The champion, 1st runner-up and 2nd runner-up each received trophies and certificates. The rest of the finalists each received a certificate.

The champion also won SG$5,000 cash and the challenge trophy for his/her school; the 1st runner-up and 2nd runner-up were awarded with a SG$3,000 and SG$1,000 cash prize respectively.

If joint winners were declared, the prize money would be split evenly between the winners. Winning schools, in alphabetical order, shared the challenge trophy.


The RHB-The Straits Times NSC 2017 proved to be another achievement in many areas.

In line with striving towards RHB’s corporate social responsibility mission "Nurturing our future generations", NSC was successful in demonstrating the importance of mastering the English language. The RHB-The Straits Times NSC is a platform for youths to be empowered with public speaking skills, reading and writing fluency, vocabulary, comprehension and grammar.

NSC 2017 saw participation from 1,000 students from 99 schools across Singapore. As of 2017, the NSC programme has impacted over 8,400 primary school students who have gone through the competition while obtaining 12 new primary schools. With more schools gearing to come on board the spelling programme, NSC is seen as the "go to" programme for teachers to bring their students with the hope to gain exposure, opportunity to improve and learn a new skill.

The partnership with The Straits Times has brought a unique integrated brand approach for the marketing and communications of NSC 2017. RHB leveraged on Singapore Press Holding’s media platform across various channels reaching out to a wider audience. Social media played a big part in NSC 2017 with the extension of a Facebook spelling contest to the public which attracted over 2,400 entries. All pre and post-event photos and videos were also shared on RHB Singapore’s Facebook page. The campaign saw regular and consistent media coverage from pre-event till after the finals.