Last Sunday, I wrote a column for The Sunday Times, about my struggle on whether or not to send Jason for Chinese tuition. While it was a personal column, it was sparked off by a story on parents asking for MOE to regulate the tuition industry. They were reacting to the case of former GEP tutor Kelvin Ong, who made a comeback two years after he was found to have made false claims about himself and charged high fees providing tuition that claims to get kids into the Gifted Education Programme.
To me, it was obviously parents’ demands driving the tuition industry, that allow bad eggs like Kelvin Ong to thrive. So MOE can try to regulate, but as long as parents and students want tuition, tutors – both good and bad, will survive. Yet, as a parent of a school-going kid, there have been many times that I, too, was tempted to send my child for tuition. Not the type of lessons that prepare kids for the GEP test. That is clear to me. Either a child is gifted, or he’s not. Preparation skews the accuracy of the test and it is the child who will have to bear the consequences in the end.
I’m thinking about help for Jason’s Chinese, specifically Chinese composition. We speak mainly English at home. Despite my husband’s best attempts at speaking Mandarin to them, the kids are still more comfortable in English. Jason can speak basic Mandarin with little problem, although certain vocabulary may stump him. Listening comprehension is manageable. He does fine in his Chinese spelling, as long as he remembers to learn it. But composition is a different ballgame altogether. It immediately exposes his lack of ease with the language. Sentences are basic and at times awkward when strung together. Chinese characters are written wrongly even with a dictionary on hand – he picks the wrong word. Phrases are written the way he would have said them in English.
Perhaps we could have done more to provide an environment more conducive for the language. Like us, Jason reads English storybooks. In the foreseeable future, Shannon too. I think it might be only a matter of time before he needs extra help. I’ve finally checked out one enrichment school, but am still reluctant to sign him up for classes. Lessons start in December! Why? Why not let the kids enjoy the holidays? It’s to give them a headstart apparently. I asked if he could start in January instead. I was told, “You can try your luck at the end of December to see if we still have slots.” No reservation of slots is allowed. In fact, signing up for classes happen on a certain day, and it’s on a first-come-first-served basis. As a newbie to this tuition game, I was shocked.
There have been many responses to the column, with parents sharing their views. Some wrote in to STForum, some messaged me. They all make a lot of sense, even though they are in two different camps. Many are parents with grown or teenage children, who have been through the same dilemma. One said she did not believe in tuition and felt her elder child suffered for it. Her younger children were given outside help and found it very useful. One said she decided on Chinese tuition just for the extra language environment for the child. Yet others spoke about how their children did not have tuition, and are doing fine now in university. They were glad they did not follow the tuition crowd. One said I should know my child best, so I should trust my gut instinct as a mother to know what is best for my child. This one spoke to me: “Hold on to your resolve. There is only one thing you need to remember: Learning does not happen only in the school or only in the tuition centre.”
And that’s true. I truly believe in that. Sometimes when I get caught up in the kiasu mum mindset, I forget, and it takes a reminder from a kind reader to jolt me. All parents want the best for their child, me included. And so follows the thinking, why settle for an A, if a child has the ability to score an A*? And then it’s easy to justify going down the tuition track. But, there are always trade-offs. What if, the chase for the A* comes at the expense of something else more important in life, like values? Or family time? Or play time? Of course I want my child to do well, but more importantly, the child must want to work for the subject. Am I thinking of getting tuition because he is unmotivated for the subject? Quite possibly. I think the tuition question would be an easier one to answer, if the child is motivated, hardworking, yet still needs extra help.
While I was mulling over this last week, I received another reminder – a Thank You card via Raffles Institution, from a group of students I spoke to during the Pre-U seminar earlier this year. RI was the organiser of this year’s Pre-U Sem.
The topic I was given was Trust, and I shared with them my thoughts from the perspective of someone who used to cover the education beat, as well as from the perspective of a mother. The students’ questions were insightful, and covered a wide range of topics. From the students’ responses, what might have left the deepest impression on them was my sharing on what’s best for my kids, and ironically, why I resist tuition for them!
I happened to ask Jason about this one day. “So how?” I asked him out of the blue. “I can’t decide either,” he replied. “I like both football and taekwando.”
So while I was wondering about tuition, he was in a dilemma over something else altogether – CCA choices! I think it speaks volumes.
As for the tuition question I still don’t have an answer to – it’s now a $1.1 billion question, based on the latest statistics!