SPH ZBSchools.sg portal nurtures young Mandarin news readers

By Leng Tuan, Tan

Singapore Press Holdings


Singapore Press Holdings Chinese Media Group has long been publishing student-related content. Our first student pages can be traced back to 1979. In addition to nurturing new readers for our adult dailies, our other objective is to instill a love for learning Mandarin and the Chinese culture.

We published our first independent student paper, Friday Weekly (星期五周报), for ages 12 to 17 in 1991 and it was renamed in 2009 to zbCOMMA (逗号). Since then, we have launched Thumbs Up (大拇指) in 2000 for ages 10 to 12, Thumbs Up Junior (小拇指) in 2011 for ages 7 to 9, and Thumbs Up Little Junior (小小拇指) in 2013 for ages 5 to 6.

It has always been challenging to retain readership for vernacular publications in Singapore, due to English being the main teaching and working language. With the rise of the Internet and social media, we could no longer rely solely on print products to serve our readers who include students, teachers, and parents.

ZBSchools.sg provides content in Mandarin for students ranging in age from 5 to 17, as well as an archive of practice questions and other tools for teachers.
ZBSchools.sg provides content in Mandarin for students ranging in age from 5 to 17, as well as an archive of practice questions and other tools for teachers.

With that in mind, we embarked on the journey of building ZBSchools.sg. We had three goals in mind when we designed this digital platform:

  • Couple learning and educational opportunities with reading.
  • Make our content more accessible for readers and users.
  • Complement print content with digital content.

After more than 14 months of preparation, we launched ZBSchools.sg in January 2018 at the start of the new school year.

What is unique about ZBSchools.sg is that it operates on an adaptive learning system. As a user navigates the site and answers test questions at the end of the article, the system tracks and monitors their reading progress. The user can refer to their progress through their own profile page. The system will also recommend articles comparable to the user’s reading level.

To encourage independent learning, each article page comes with text-to-speech functions, dictionary, and pronunciation tools. There is also an auto-segmentation function which helps the user to identify nouns, adjectives, etc. The user can “collect” new vocabulary acquired in an online folder, which aids their revision.

As we have worked with ministry-trained teachers to design practice questions using news content for many years, we have an archive of teaching tools available. This archive is made available to teacher subscribers who can issue these practices to students digitally through our platform.

Currently, ZBSchools.sg houses content from three of our titles: zbCOMMA, Thumbs Up, and Thumbs Up Junior. Our subscribers can access this platform via any browser.

In addition to content from our latest issues, subscribers also have access to articles published in 2015 to 2017. Furthermore, we update our site with latest news from our dailies and produce video content that complements our print stories. Non-subscribers can access 20% of our content as guest users.

In addition to launching ZBSchools.sg this year, we revamped the print editions of zbCOMMA and Thumbs Up to keep up with the needs and changing tastes of our readers. These used to be tabloid weeklies, but they have since transformed into A4 sized bi-weekly news magazines.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong lent his support to our revamp by accepting our email interview request at the start of the New Year. He answered questions penned by zbCOMMA’s student correspondents, and his Facbook post on that article garnered more than 70,000 views in a day.

ZBSchools.sg and our print revamps have gained positive feedback from our readers and this is highly encouraging. The majority of subscribers have chosen the print and digital bundle so they can continue to enjoy the best of both worlds.

About Leng Tuan, Tan

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