Four in 10 families in Singapore pack their pre-school children off to tuition, a survey has found.
These kids spend two hours each week on extra academic classes, according to a poll of 500 families in May and last month.
The survey was conducted by The Straits Times and research firm Nexus Link. It aimed to find out how prevalent tuition is in Singapore, and how effective it is.
The most common reason for tuition - cited by more than half of the parents with children under seven - was to keep up with others.
About a third of them hoped that tuition would improve their children's grades, while 15 per cent said it was to help them in their personal development.
About 70 per cent of parents enrolled their pre-school children in English lessons, followed by mathematics (40 per cent) and Chinese (34 per cent).
In the past, it was all play and just learning the ABCs in kindergarten. But now, by K1, you need to learn how to count and read, to be on a par with everyone else.
MADAM SITI ZUBAIDAH, whose five-year-old daughter attends English and abacus classes
The survey also found that nearly 40 per cent of parents felt tuition helped to pull up their children's grades in pre-school.
About 64 per cent said tuition was worth spending on, and 66 per cent felt the classes met their expectations.
Madam Siti Zubaidah, 41, sends her five-year-old daughter for English phonics and reading classes, as well as abacus classes to learn addition and subtraction. She plans to sign her up for another maths class this year.
"In the past, it was all play and just learning the ABCs in kindergarten. But now, by K1, you need to learn how to count and read, to be on a par with everyone else," said the housewife, who also plans to enrol her younger daughter, three, for phonics lessons this year.
About half of the parents who did not send their pre-schoolers for tuition said they felt they were too young. Some also said tuition was not needed or that they had help from family members.
Experts warned against pushing children too hard academically in their early years.
Dr Nirmala Karuppiah, an early childhood and special education lecturer at the National Institute of Education, said there is "no real need for tuition" in the early years because most pre-schools follow MOE's kindergarten curriculum guidelines.
"As tuition is about sitting at a table doing pencil and paper activities as well as rote learning and acquiring academic skills, it could actually cause more harm than good for some children," she said.
For example, it goes against the way young children grow, develop and learn, which is through play and interacting with real objects, people and events in their environment, she added.
Dr Karuppiah said: "Preparing children for Primary 1 is more than just developing numeracy and literacy skills but helping to build self-confidence, independence and resilience too.
"The focus should be on developing social and emotional skills as well as self-help skills, such as taking care of oneself and one's belongings, that will help children move on to primary school easily."
Dr Theresa Lu, head of early childhood education at SIM University, said parents should spend quality time with children doing things such as reading stories, going outdoors and playing games.
Children learn language and concepts in maths and science through such activities, she said.
Madam Tan Hwee Ling, 38, said pre-schoolers should not be drilled in academics.
"At this age, they should be developing motor skills and soft skills," said the property manager, whose six-year-old son and four-year-old daughter go for speech and drama classes, and swimming every week.
Her son also takes wushu and violin lessons while her daughter goes for ballet and piano classes.
Said Madam Tan: "They enjoy these enrichment programmes because they're fun. If the pre-school has good teachers, it suffices."