While many other 2-year-olds spend their days playing, Evan was busy preparing for an entrance exam. His parents wanted him to have a head start in picking up Chinese and maths.
“We aimed for a specific school, which was the Singapore International School (SIS), and we thought it was the best way to prepare him for the application process,” says his mother, Hong Kong-based Singaporean actress Eileen Yeow.
Singapore may have a reputation as a ‘tuition nation’, but Eileen says the conditions in Hong Kong are worse, with parents scrambling to take extreme measures to ensure their children get into good schools. She says: “We’re not ‘Tiger Mums’. That’s just what you have to do in Hong Kong.
“People can go for 14 school interviews just for the primary school level. We did not want to have to go through the same process.”
So Evan started preparation lessons about a year before he was eligible to apply for the equivalent of kindergarten.
Hong Kong students are spending their after-school hours at tuition centres specialising in “Singapore-style” education as the new academic year kicks off.
Such centres have grown in popularity over the last decade, says educators and Singaporean parents based in Hong Kong.
The pioneer of these tuition centres, The Learning Track, is located in Causeway Bay.
Founded in 2005 by Angie Hui, a Singaporean mother of three whose husband works in Hong Kong, The Learning Track started with just three students and one teacher conducting lessons based on the Singapore primary and secondary school syllabuses with material from Singapore publishers.
Today, the centre has more than 200 students – both Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans – taught by 14 teachers, some of whom are Singaporeans themselves.
Some of the centre’s students started classes when they were as young as two years old in order to have a head start when they apply for preschool.
For primary school levels, private lessons with one student to one teacher cost about HK$450 to HK$580 (S$84 to S$108) an hour, depending on the subject. Group lessons are slightly cheaper, at HK$310 to HK$360 a student. For secondary school levels, the costs are HK$580 to HK$700 for private lessons and about HK$360 a student for group lessons.
At least three other similar tuition centres have popped up in the last five years or so and all report growing cohorts of students. A large roadside banner advertising one such centre, IMS Foundation, read: “Discovering Singapore syllabus – Your child will make a difference”.
Angie, who previously worked in management, says: “Singapore-style education has huge recognition in the Hong Kong community. “We’re proud to be able to assist these students.”
CELEBS FLOCK TO CENTRE
The 60-year-old decided to set up The Learning Track after failing to find supplementary classes for her then-eight-year-old daughter, who was attending the Singapore International School (Hong Kong) in 2005.
She adds: “I never encourage people to go for tuition unnecessarily, especially young kids, but there are parents who come to us saying it’s hard to teach their children at home.
“I could see the difference in my daughter’s mindset towards her studies and her results in just one year after we started lessons.
“She had better grasps of concepts and benefitted from the lower student-to-teacher ratio.”
Classes at The Learning Track have become so popular that even Hong Kong celebrities have jumped on the bandwagon, she says.
While she declined to reveal names in keeping with client confidentiality, Mrs Hui says she had to have the front entrance of the centre changed from a glass door to an opaque heavy door to fend off the paparazzi.
Over in the Wan Chai district is another successful centre, Studio Prime. When it first opened in 2012, the centre had 60 students and two teachers – it now has some 200 students and half a dozen educators.
Its co-founder, Regina Tay, 40, was a former teacher with the Singapore Ministry of Education for 15 years. She moved to Hong Kong with her family in 2012. Regina says she decided to set up the centre because her daughter, then 11, needed extra lessons.
Her centre hires former teachers from Singapore schools to helm lessons in science, English and mathematics. She says: “They’re experienced in guiding students towards the Singapore national examinations and Cambridge’s IGCSE.
“We believe that the Singapore syllabus is rigorous and demanding, but that it systematically develops our students’ competencies in the various subject areas.”
She adds: “We find that the Singapore syllabuses and learning materials are appealing due to our reputation for high standards of education.”