Monday, 31 August 2015

A letter from a 16-year old who has never had tuition

I wrote a post "Is Tuition your first line of attack" about how children should try their very best before even asking for tuition. I received an email written by a 16-year old student, and she impressed me so much that I have to share it with you.

Hi Michelle,

I thought your latest article on tuition was thought provoking - and the conversation you had highly amusing. As someone who has not had tuition in her life nor felt the need for it, and whose parents strongly oppose tuition, I suppose I'm a sort of rare breed in Singapore.

Most of my peers are enrolled in tuition. It is easy also to find students who really enjoy tuition, up to the point where they don't quit even when they excel in that particular field. While parents definitely remain a driving force in this tuition mentality, I wholeheartedly agree with your point on how some students themselves seem to view it as the "norm".

Your viewpoint on how students should not be over reliant on tuition is, I feel, very relevant in our current society, for we are cultivating a generation of learners that require spoon-feeding. However, perhaps I can offer alternative viewpoints to some of the other points you made.

You mentioned that our education system is not able to prepare our children for national examinations without any external help. Perhaps that may be true for children sitting for their PSLE at 12, but I feel it becomes less so for teens aged 16 or 18. At that age, the main driving force should be themselves, and not the system they are in.

In addition, while Singapore's syllabus is definitely challenging compared to say, Britain's, that doesn't mean the system is unable to prepare children for national examinations either. I believe that both the student and the system are equally important.

Lastly, you mentioned that you see tuition as a means of catching up when one is lagging behind. While I do not dispute that tuition may be an effective method, I believe that work should have a continuous standard of consistency - and tuition should not be used as a desperate measure. If used that way, the risks of the student expecting tuition, not putting in sufficient effort, and not being able to face adversity will increase.

Being able to produce work at a consistent and commendable standard is definitely no easy feat, but I believe that that is the true key to excelling academically. If one starts early and builds up the foundations from lower secondary, the chances of floundering months away from major examinations drops. Furthermore, persisting and learning how to overcome challenges in their academic life will never do a student any harm - especially when the real world is so much harsher, and when there isn't "tuition" that can salvage damages they incur when they grow up.

Thank you for reading this email ; I like the viewpoints you offer about various academic processes!

Best wishes,

Hear, hear.

Straight from the mouth of a 16-year old.

Her parents have done such a remarkable job bringing her up - instilling independence, self-motivation, and perseverance in their child. I should get my kids to hang out with her ;)

Here's an excerpt of my reply:

A few things impressed me. The fact that you have no tuition at all, you embody the learning style of what every parent hopes their child would achieve (independent and consistent learning), and that you are able to put forth your differing opinions in such a pleasant and straightforward way without sounding antagonistic. Very rare for this generation of students.

Let me elaborate on the point of our education system not being able to prepare the majority of students for the exams.

When my eldest took her Os, she discovered that friends in other schools had very detailed notes which helped tremendously in their revision, which her teachers did not provide. Furthermore, some of her teachers were not able to impart skills in tackling the papers, which she only picked up in the last few weeks from her older cousins. There are many more examples, which led us to the conclusion that the standards of getting the students prepared for the Os differ drastically depending on the teachers and the school.

I totally agree with you that the right way is not to give our kids tuition as a desperate measure and they should study the way you do. However, the reality is different for many students, and as a parent, when you see your child still not making the mark months before the Os, you become desperate!

Could you elaborate on why your parents are opposed to tuition? Nice to hear from parents who hold this view.

Claudia's reply:

Reading your elaboration of the education system, I totally agree with the points you made. Certainly, there will be effective teachers as there will be ineffective ones. When I encounter such teachers, I try to source my own notes from other platforms, rather than sit around waiting for good teaching that I know will never happen.

From young, I never possessed the mentality that all my unsolved problems could wait till tuition - I attempted it myself, and asked my parents as a last resort. This possibly bred a more independent and self-responsible style of learning, which my parents hoped to cultivate. They absolutely hated it when I wanted answers for something I had not yet attempted.

Secondly, there was also time, or lack thereof. My parents thought I should be spending time on other enrichments and lessons, or things that I actually liked, rather than go to tuition and get overloaded with yet more homework. They thought I already had enough of that in school!

Another reason is also, as you mentioned, finances. When I was younger, I was shuttled to a variety of lessons, none of which I regret taking, I must add. All those lessons must have snipped away a huge chunk of income - but those were what my parents consciously chose to enroll me in, rather than tuition.

The broad reasoning, however, is definitely difference in mentality, and what skills or passions they hoped I would cultivate in the long run.

I must really meet her parents. Not easy to find like-minded parents in today's world, and they sound like they have succeeded in what I am still attempting to achieve with my kids! And for Claudia to assimilate the ideals, live it, and expound it at the age of 16, I really take my hats off to her parents.

Finally, I asked if she could share how she sources for better notes or help when the teaching is not adequate, as it would be insightful for all of us, especially those with children in secondary school.

And here are her tips:

I'm not clear how the situation is in other schools, but in mine, a plethora of platforms with different notes by different teachers are usually available. These notes are not printed by our teachers, but sometimes turn out to be more helpful in revision. Downloading such notes can be useful compared with your own - especially if the language used to explain concepts differs between both.

Getting hand-me-down notes from seniors is a good option as well. Between different years, there is likely to be certain variations made between the notes, like different graphics used, different explanation formats etc. These can really supplement conceptual knowledge and ensure no part of the notes is left uncovered, especially since there is the possibility of unspecific or unclear notes.

In terms of actively asking for help, I find that approaching a subject teacher individually might be more helpful. With 30 or more students in class, the teacher might adjust the teaching pace to suit the general needs of the class and not the individual. Going for a short one-to-one consultation, or group consultations might allow the student better clarification time. That being said, I feel these consultations will only be effective if the student has put in effort and hard work but still has unanswered questions.

I was surprised that notes from different teachers are available on her school's website as that is not the case for my girls in their secondary schools. Sounds like a cheap and viable solution for inadequate notes, which would make revision for the Os more comprehensive.

Such an enlightening and motivating exchange I had with this very intelligent student. Many parents dream of moulding this kind of child, but few succeed and thus succumb to tuition, at one stage or another.

Thank you dear Claudia, you are indeed a beacon of light not only to us parents, but to fellow students, as testament that it can be done, and that we should not waver in our quest to develop resourceful, self-motivated children, but allow them the opportunity to find their own independent feet and taste the sweetness of achievement by their own efforts.

Related post:

6 tips to choose the secondary school for your child

6 things to do in the PSLE year

School Stories:

#1 - When your son gets into fights in school
#2 - My son the loan shark
#3 - So kids can't play once they start school?
#11 - How #2 topped her level in English
#12 - DSA. Yet another initiative parents have warped
#13 - Is tuition your first line of defence

~ - a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

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