Should you invest more in tuition to ensure your kid is still learning at the correct pace, or will enrichment classes bring more long-term benefits? How do you find the mix that works best?
A year before her son Ashely was due to start Primary 1, Shazeen Tan, an account manager in her 40s, decided to enrol him in a well-known Chinese enrichment centre to get him up to speed on the language.
After the trial lesson, however, she was told that since Ashley’s foundation in Mandarin was weak and it would be futile to keep him in the programme with the other Kindergarten 2 students as they were all well ahead of him.
“I was disappointed and furious at the enrichment centre for turning me down, but then thought that maybe tuition was a better route for Ashley since he needed more guidance,” Shazeen recalls.
“So, I put out a message on Facebook for recommendations for a Chinese tutor and found someone who got Ashley ready for Primary 1 in six months.”
Ashley ended up scoring 70 per cent for mother tongue at the end of Primary 1 last year. His proud mother adds that the now Primary 2 student scored third highest in his class recently for his term 3 Chinese paper.
Shazeen is grateful that she was able to find a great tutor for her son in the nick of time, but also admits it was also a lesson learnt that well-known and expensive enrichment centres aren’t always the solution to your child’s academic problems.
The truth about enrichment
In a country where education is seen as the key to success, Singapore parents are always on the lookout for the best enrichment or tuition classes for their kids to ensure they have competitive edge over their peers.
Most of them engage help because they feel their children are not coping well in school and need additional support, says Ann Tan, a private tutor with 25 years of experience.
It’s done with the best of intentions, but is it necessary, especially if kids are meant to be learning everything in school?
“We all learn in different ways and we all have different strengths and weaknesses. Schools do a wonderful job of trying to ensure everyone reaches their potential but ultimately there is only so much that a teacher can do when faced with a class of over 30 students and a curriculum that they have to follow,” points out Gemma Church, head of Young Learners at the British Council, which offers English enrichment and tuition classes for pre-school, primary and secondary students.
Once you’ve decided that your child would genuinely benefit from extra help, which route do you take – enrichment or tuition?
“I think the enrichment school I tried out with Ashley is great for kids from preschool to K2, who are starting out, but not for older kids who need more guidance,” says Shazeen.
After her experience with Ashley, she started her younger son Kyle with Mandarin enrichment at preschool level.
This could be largely due to the fact that enrichment classes have a bigger teacher-to-student ratio – anything from one teacher to 10 students or as many as 40 students per class.
That’s a big number compared to tuition classes, which are conducted in small groups of four to five students or one-to-one with the tutor.
The main purpose of enrichment, as the name suggests, is to “enrich” your child and not “teach” them, points out Sumathi Jayaram, principal of Julia Gabriel Centre.
“This means that any learning or skills acquired will compliment their growth and development as a whole. It’s an opportunity for your child to experience something new without the pressure of feeling they have to excel or achieve a certain result,” Sumathi adds.
Julia Gabriel’s readers and writers programme and speech and drama classes use word games, art activities, music, rhythm, role-play and other visual media to engage, stimulate, motivate and inspire their students.
Enrichment classes are also great if you have a little social butterfly who thrives on interacting with others in a group setting and who has no learning issues.
At the British Council, enrichment classes allow early learners to pick up English while nurturing their creativity, critical thinking and social skills. Older students get exposed to reading and public speaking to boost their confidence.
It’s all in line with what parents are looking for, says Gemma. “Some are looking for their children to improve in their performance in school or excel in examinations.
“Others want their child to learn something that is not taught in school, to expose them to new experiences, pick up a skill or explore an area of interest,” she adds.
This environment is also best for kids who have a certain level of understanding of the subject says psychologist Daniel Koh. Otherwise, your child may feel lost when they can’t keep up with the classes and if they don’t respond to the teaching method.
“Enrichment is for those who want to learn more about a subject and explore ways to apply what they have learnt in a wider scope,” Daniel adds.
“Tuition benefits those who require their own pace of learning, or who need practice, guidance and reinforcement on what has been taught in school, plus help with homework.”
Why opt for tuition?
Indeed, private tuition, either in small groups or one-on-one, is a great way to address the specific needs of a child.
If you opt for a small group setting, it’s best that all students are on the same learning curve, so nobody is left behind. Group tuition classes foster discussion and social skills such as taking turns to speak, and knowledge building through sharing of ideas, Gemma says.
However, if your child has specific learning needs – poor concentration or gets easily distracted or bored – a one-on-one approach will be more beneficial. This is because tutors can tailor their teaching to your child’s learning style.
“Individual tuition will keep students focused as the tutor understands exactly how to teach the child to manage their specific issues. They will help a child to learn and process information successfully,” adds Ann, who teaches both primary and secondary level students, and also provides customised online tutoring.
“Also, for children who are struggling with certain educational aspects, these can be addressed more easily than in a group setting.”
Should you decide to go down the tuition route, expect to fork out about $80 an hour for a highly-qualified private tutor and $30 an hour if you choose a group class.
However, don’t decide just based on the price – a more expensive tutor may not always be the best fit.
There are other things to keep in mind before deciding on the perfect tutor for your child.
Then there are also the additional value-add requirements you might need according to your individual needs.
In Shazeen’s case, since Ashley had a limited Chinese-speaking background, she needed a tutor who could also speak English in order to connect with her son and help him through the initial steep learning curve.
She admits that it made a big difference to Ashley’s success in picking up Mandarin as fast as he did and excelling in it.
“She really was a godsend and kept to her promise of getting Ashley ready for Primary 1 in six months, which was all the time he had,” adds Shazeen.
“After that, I got over my disappointment with the enrichment centre and realised this was the best route for my son.”