Holiday tuition is the rule of the game

From ‘What holiday? Students sign up for tuition instead’, 29 May 2011, article by Cheryl Ong and Amanda Tan in Sunday Times

IT’S the June holidays, but for some students, this month-long break will be no vacation.

Eager parents have already signed them up for tuition and study camps, said tuition agencies. A big slice of the demand comes from students due to take major examinations at the year end.

…(MRS YANG L.Y., 47, a mother of three’): There are so many distractions nowadays – phones, computers… Tuition pushes them and helps keep them focused. If you want to go to your dream school, you must work hard. These are the rules of the game.’

The problem with Mrs Yang’s statement is that it’s not so much her children’s dream school, but HER dream school. If a child is motivated enough, you don’t need tuition to ‘help keep him focused’, and by making holiday tuition a ‘rule’ of thumb in modern parenting, you risk ruining completely a child’s interest in learning, instead molding him into a rule-churning machine who learns for the sake of learning, oblivious to everything else that makes us individuals, or even human for that matter.  A child burdened with a regime of holiday homework or tuition will never learn how to prioritise, practice self-control, regard these ‘distractions’ of daily living as rewards for work accomplished and basically end up a socially impoverished adult without a single original thought in his head or interesting childhood anecdote to entertain his future children and grandchildren with. The scourge that is holiday tuition has existed since the 70’s (See below, Attention parents: Holiday time is no time for study, 20 Aug 1970, ST), and the same reasons against holiday cramming apply even today, citing activities like ‘daydreaming’  as beneficial for a child’s mental health. Today’s parents will tell you not only is folding paper planes (how many kids can do that now anyway) a waste of time, but so is refilling the graphite of your mechanical pencils, collecting dead leaves in a scrapbook or even stacking your own sandwich for breakfast.

Of course, any parent today who subscribes to the hokey-pokey-sounding philosophy of ‘free play’ in their children’s education will be ostracised from the kiasu parent fraternity, with even modern kids feeling the strain hearing about other classmates attending all sorts of enrichment classes while they’re sleeping at home. The sad truth is, in the absence of motivated parents who appreciate that their children need more than just one skill (studying) to survive in our competitive environment, the average Singaporean kid leads a dreary existence if left to his own devices, cycling through Xbox, Facebook, TV, sleep during their holidays while their parents slog away in the office. Few will get the opportunity to help Mom and Pop out in the grocery store, and only the rich ones get to enjoy farmstays and experience milking cows. Most will be ecstatic about completing a Harry Potter book in a day, while for some their idea of learning a musical instrument is conquering all levels of Rock Band on Xbox. Perhaps our children are incapable of leading a meaningful life even if they wanted to, brought up in a sterile society which values hard work over artisan, even playful, pursuits. Most will not have seen a classical painting, spun a vinyl record, caught a grasshopper, tinker with light bulbs, or have their hands dirtied with car grease. It’s utterly depressing, and no wonder that  it has been cited that 1 in 10 local kids suffer from a mental disorder. Mrs Yang speaks for all kiasu parents, and she and her ilk need to be informed of this harsh statistic before holiday tuition drives kids not to her beloved  ‘dream schools’, but to an entirely different institution altogether.

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