Sharmaine Koh


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Preschool Tuition: Let Children be Children

March 21, 2016

My parents grew up in a time when education was seen more as a supplementary vitamin than a vital life-support pill. For all the time their peers didn’t spend on homework, they spent on play. They often spoke about all the silly things children did to occupy the hours of idle slow afternoons in suburban Singapore. It seemed to me that the less they had then, the more they gained from the dizzying blithe they derived from games inspired by their own boundless imagination, from catching and fighting spiders, flying kites fashioned from old plastic bags and raffia string, chalked hopscotch on the floor to rough races in the old marsh next to the river.

Fast forward to the 21st century, such concepts of a carefree childhood are in tenuous existence. In a heightened climate of competition, Singaporean parents are finding themselves hard-pressed to prepare their children for the challenges of academic school life. A large proportion of parents here invest in enrichment classes and tuition for their children. This overwhelming demand is in spite of the lack of concrete evidence to showing a correlation between extra classes and any significant improvement in children’s grades in school. And this bizarre phenomenon is only becoming more prevalent.

Even before children begin formal schooling, a significant number are spending time not at the playground, but in classes each day “advancing” themselves in a plethora of subjects. “IQ-enhancing classes” are the new Vogue of the industry. Children go for "leadership classes".

Yes, tuition for leadership.

No matter the subject, we see a dominant trend - preschool tuition has become a necessary springboard to success that if not used, will heavily penalise a child’s chances at emerging victorious from the paper chase.

A survey of 500 parents conducted by the Straits Times and a research company, Nexus Link, revealed that nearly 40% of parents with children in preschool have tuition for them. Two commonly cited reasons for this were to “improve their children’s grades” and “help them keep up with others”, the oft-rehashed rhetoric. Yet according to the same survey, only a 30% of all parents could confirm that these extra supplementary lessons substantially improved children’s grades.

It seems to me that the practice of sending pre-school children for tuition and enrichment classes isn’t an act of rational and careful deliberation, but a decision too often made because of the effects of peer pressure and perceived competition. Parents aren’t sending their kids for extra classes because they genuinely believe that they would be a guaranteed added boost to their child’s performance, but because everyone else is doing it. 

Therefore, in the spirit of typical Singaporean “kiasuism”, for fear of “losing out”, many concerned parents choose to hop onto the bandwagon, shying away from taking the unconventional route of abstaining from these academic steroids.

The frequently quoted argument for enrichment classes and tuition is that primary schools nowadays expect children to enter school with pre-existing knowledge. Some proponents of tuition for preschool kids argue that teachers in school now accelerate their teaching because they rely on tuition teachers to teach the children. Therefore, without the extra classes, it would be “difficult for a child to absorb”.

I would contend, however, that the root of the problem lies in the culture of tuition that has been so overemphasised and over-credited by many parents today. It is precisely because of the massive influx of parents sending their children for extra classes before they even go through formal schooling that induces the change in the education system - it has to adapt the suddenly prematurely-advanced children lest anger the masses of concerned parents. 

The issue is a repetitive chicken-and-egg problem that simply will not resolve itself. If parents keep feeing the education rat race and sending their children for extra lessons to “catch-up”, this trend only becomes increasingly entrenched in our society. And when a large proportion of society starts to subscribe to this practice, the education system and its teaching methods will naturally adapt, and not necessarily positively, to it. Not only does this create a severe disparity in the system, it also leaves more disadvantaged children out of the loop and consequentially opens up a Pandora’s Box of problems concerning socioeconomic divides and intergenerational mobility, a whole other contentious topic for debate. The circularity of the problem makes it irresolvable unless more discerning individuals are able to see the blind meaninglessness of the whole chase for tuition classes and start a positive shift away from our climate of counterintuitive competition.

I think that it is important to look beyond the dogmatic pursuit of academic success and into the larger picture of a child’s cognitive and affective development. Like all things go, too much of something ends up sickeningly repetitive and off-putting; in the same way, the increasing systemic pressure on young children and consequential early exposure to academic rigour may only disengage children from the idea of learning. After all, most of the learning takes place at home, where children have ample space to explore their interests. Essential family time where parents can engage their children in storytelling, outdoor activities an games is also imperative for children to develop their socio-emotional skills that will surely be all the more important as they move on to primary school. Motor skills and soft skills, values and morals, should be emphasised.

Children learn best when they play, and it’s important that we don’t take that away from them by substituting playtime with two hours in a classroom. While we cannot shield our children from the intensity of competition eventually, let us allow them more time to grow up and to enjoy the little years they have of freedom and childlike joy.  Let us refrain from imposing our concepts of success on them. Let them fight spiders and fly kites and hopscotch while they still can. Let us never forget to let children be children.


Teng, A. (2015, July 4). Starting from pre-school, parents sending kids for classes in race to keep up with peers. Straits Times. Retrieved March 12, 2016, from http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/starting-from-pre-school-parents-sending-kids-for-classes-in-race-to-keep-up

Davie, S. (2015, July 4). 7 in 10 parents send their children for tuition: ST poll. Straits Times. Retrieved March 12, 2016, from http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/7-in-10-parents-send-their-children-for-tuition-st-poll

Philomin, L. (2014, September 29). More parents enrolling children in pre-school enrichment classes. Retrieved March 12, 2016, from http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/more-parents-enrolling-children-pre-school-enrichment-classes?singlepage=true

Soh, E. (2014, December 19). Tuition for toddlers – necessary or over the top? Retrieved March 12, 2016, from https://sg.news.yahoo.com/blogs/what-is-buzzing/tuition-for-toddlers-–-necessary-or-over-the-top-053116125.html

Blackbox Research Pte Ltd. (2012, July). Private Tuition in Singapore: A Whitepaper Realease. Retrieved March 12, 2016, from http://www.blackbox.com.sg/wp/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Blackbox-You-Know-Anot-Whitepaper-Private-Tuition.pdf



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