Is tuition necessary? Yes, to avoid being left behind

The writer sends her daughter, who enters Primary 1 next year, for extra classes in Chinese.

I've had two years of mathematics tuition (in Primary 4 and 5) only, nothing more, as my parents were poor. But I send my daughter, who enters Primary 1 next year, for extra classes in Chinese.

Yes, I belong to the 40 per cent of parents who send their pre-school kids for tuition, which is defined as extra classes in subjects such as English, Chinese, maths or science.

Ollie goes to a weekly Chinese enrichment class to supplement her kindergarten lessons. I was told that kids entering Primary 1 are expected to know hanyu pinyin, the romanisation system for Mandarin. I can't teach that - at least not in the systematic way it is being taught at Berries, her Chinese enrichment class.

So off to Chinese classes she goes.

I don't intend to subject my daughter to excessive private lessons, but there will be some.

You can't avoid private tutoring in Singapore's high-pressure education system. Even kindergartens hand out daily homework and spelling exercises.

I'm not a Tiger Mum. My child does not need to obtain a 90th percentile score for every subject every time - as long as she puts in effort. But it is another story if being left behind in class leads to confidence issues or a dislike for learning altogether.

What about parental coaching, some say? After all, parents are encouraged to partner with teachers - and work like a "dream team" - to educate the children. This is an ideal world that only non-working parents live in. Many working parents may not be able to find the time to effectively coach their children in every subject. My husband has a 13-hour work day, and my work hours are unpredictable. On a "good" day, I get to supervise Ollie's Kindergarten 2 English homework: daily journal writing, which requires her to describe her day in three to five short sentences.

In reality, I can barely supervise more than two journal writing sessions a week. There is yet another challenge: a daunting syllabus. Parents must be familiar with the subjects to be of any help.

For instance, I'm told that the maths being taught these days is unlike maths of 20 years ago. So parents outsource the teaching.

I am not averse to tuition for my daughter. If I can afford to pay for private lessons, why should I subject my child to the discrimination that could come from being left behind in class?

The cruel reality is that teachers are not inclined to slow down the rest of the class for the sake of the slower learners .

Some blame the rat race on parents who hot-house their kids in enrichment classes. Children go to class already knowing all the answers, forcing teachers to raise the standard even more.

But parents should not be blamed for behaving the way they should - as caregivers. I care for my kid enough to want to see her build her confidence and love for learning in school. If the learning and confidence-building are hampered by our system's inability to slow down for weaker learners, then I'm prepared to get her private tuition.

That's better than for her to be labelled for life for not making the grade in high-stakes exams like the PSLE. Still, I believe that overdoing things may lead to a point of diminishing returns. Children must be given time to play. It is a delicate balancing act that parents will have to perform for many years to come.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 09, 2015, with the headline Is tuition necessary? Yes, to avoid being left behind. Subscribe