Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Tuition Class: A Wand or Cane?

In the last few years, there were times when I have been tempted to send the boys for tuition and all kinds of enrichment during the school holidays. But (thankfully) I always managed to reassess the situation and consider the big picture before I commit.

To me, my child's time is more valuable than the money that we have to spend. I get even more stingy with their time now that my boys are in Upper Primary. The long hours they have to spend in school, leaving hardly enough time to chill and daydream, is often the only reason I hold back from signing them up for any tuition classes.

After 'escaping' tuition all these years, my boys are now very resistant to the idea of even going for a short-term intensive class during the school holiday. Tuition, to them, is a cane, not a magic wand that promises improved grades. Whether it is going to weekly tuition class or having a tutor over, the child will have more homework to do and a minimum commitment of hours. So to them, it is definitely a worse situation than just 'asking mummy only when they need help'.  

Besides my boys and the two other kids I blogged about recently, all the others I know have at least one tutor or attend at least one tuition class. Yet, not everyone sees an improvement in grades. One may argue that for some kids, tuition helps them maintain their standards and to the parents/students, to be able to maintain is already good enough for them to continue. For others, even if there is only a marginal improvement, it may still be money well-spent.

A couple of times, I suggested tuition to the boys, out of frustration from coaching them. I can tolerate children who are slow to understand and need repetition, but it gets on my nerves when the kids are rude and with poor learning attitudes. So yes, my boys can be rude and have poor attitudes too, more often than I like as well. There are times when I think they are not working hard enough, too careless, giving up too easily, wasting time blah blah....  I know, they are kids after all, so this is all part of growing up. Whenever I reminded myself of this salient point, I gained perspectives to reassess the situation and focus on the big picture.

I do not expect the learning journey to be smooth-sailing, without any frustration and challenges, for if it really is, then it only means that they are not stretched to their potential, which to me, is not something to celebrate either.

So besides coaching, I spend a lot of time cultivating good learning habits and instilling values in them, motivating them with hard and soft approaches, telling them inspirational stories and sharing my own learning and life experiences, with the hope to inspire and motivate them to strive towards excellence. This is something which I think will be unrealistic to expect from most tutors, after all, and to be fair, their time with the kids is limited.

That said, not everyone requires motivational talks. Some just need someone to teach and explain. Others may need to have someone supervise their revision. Some tutors/tuition classes are just enrichment lessons in disguise, teaching at a level too high to benefit the kids. So having a tutor will only truly benefit if parents can find someone who can address the kids' weaknesses with the right plan. The so-called 'right match'.

In our household, we have some advantages.

I can and am very willing to coach the boys in all four subjects. Being a stay-home mum means I have certain flexibility in organising my schedule and I do very often plan my schedule around my kids' since I am the main caregiver. If I have to, I sacrifice me-time when the kids are in school or at night after all have gone to bed, to look through their work to identify areas that they may need help and to devise a plan that I can implement to that effect.

For instance, when M was Primary 5, I spent hours reading the Science guidebooks and model answers and when he came across challenging Math problem sums that he could not solve, I would try solving them before explaining to him. I could have taken the easy way out, by just shoving the model answers to him or get him a tutor. But by being hands-on, I get to understand what he finds challenging and why, and how he makes his mistakes (hence identifying his weaknesses).

If we expect these 11 year old kids to learn the Math and Science concepts, surely with our maturity, education and life experiences, we can also pick up and master these concepts by reading their books and notes.

It also helps that my boys are above-average learners who are not struggling with their school work, so the amount of coaching they require is really minimal. All thanks to our homeschooling curriculum during their preschooler years which stretched them sufficiently to allow them a head-start advantage at the lower Primary levels. They breezed through the curriculum in the earlier years, freeing up time and energy for them to explore more advanced topics on their own. Even now, at Primary 4 and 6, I only need to bridge the 'gaps', i.e. areas which I think the school is not teaching well/the boys could use some revision.

By not resorting to tuition or perceiving tuition as a magic wand, my boys have also learnt since they were young that it is their responsibility as students to pay attention in class, seek help from teachers whenever required and to do their best to learn and revise whatever is taught consistently. They know that the onus is on them. When they excelled, they gained confidence in their own abilities. When they struggled, I was there to lend a hand, before sending them off on their own again.

I do not believe in painting an overly optimistic picture of how just being smart will get them to places, nor do I shy away from informing them of the possible consequences that complacent and lazy students may have to face. One of my favourite stories when they were in lower Primary was of the Hare and Tortoise.

I like to think that our decision to refrain from tuition has paid off in training the kids to be more independent learners. To me, this outcome is more precious than gaining a few more marks.

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