Friday, September 17

Too young for tuition?

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RECENTLY, Eye had a phone conversation that went like this: “Hi, I’m looking around for English, Mathematics and BM (Bahasa Malaysia) tuition for my son.  My friend says you know people who give tuition?” said the voice over the other line.

“Ada (Got),” Eye replied. “Your son is in which form?”

“Oh, he just started Primary 1 this year,” the young mother answered. At that point, the conversation halted. Why would anyone want to send a seven-year-old kid for tuition?

“See ah, I don’t want him to be left behind later and I think it is good to occupy his time also,” the mother said.

Flashback. Back in the days when the Eye was in Primary 1, after-school hours would mean running around in the backyard or a nearby football field with friends.

On days when it was too hot or wet to play outside, a seven-year-old kid’s time would be used for a nap before a short playtime in the evening and then, getting down to completing our homework.

So pray tell, if a seven-year-old’s after-school hours these days are taken up by homework and tuition to top it all off, when does a kid get to be a kid and play?

OK, so this is not something that is new to us. Over the past 20-plus years, the Eye has noticed that school children have little or no respite at all.

A typical school day ends and the children are rushed off to tuition. Those who have to attend extra classes or co-curricular activities at school in the afternoon are rushed through dinner and then sent to tuition classes that go on till late in the evening.

Parents who are in better financial standing send their children to music lessons or classes of subjects that are not taught in school. Talent development, they would call it. When the kids finally reach home, they find themselves still having to complete their homework.

The average bedtime for kids these days is 11pm.  They are then awoken at the break of dawn and bundled off to school – some are still drowsy and have hardly recovered from the previous day.

Back in the days, we were off to bed, latest by 8.30pm. We would wake up fresh and look forward to school. We never heard of tuition classes.

We learned, studied and prepared for examinations on our own at home, sometimes at the library (which turned out into sessions for hanging out with friends) and referred to the teachers at school.

Some of the lucky ones were sent to formal music lessons. We called them ‘privileged kids’.

Those whose parents could not afford music lessons would save up to buy a guitar ‘kapok’ and teach themselves by listening to popular music being broadcast through a transistor radio.  We were allowed to be children and still, we have turned out pretty well.

Today, children have become victims of the rat race, so to speak. They have to catch up with the increasing number of subjects taught in schools. They get caught up in their parents’ expectations and competition against the world.

Each child has to have an edge above the others. Children as young as six, find themselves juggling school, extra classes, co-curricular activities, tuition and ‘privileged’ talent classes, seven days a week.

Which leaves the Eye with a big question: When do they get to be, you know, just kids? When do they get to play? And play here doesn’t refer to being stuck in front of a handheld electronic gadget or a screen.

When do they get to learn to make a kite and fly it? When do they get to run around outdoors and get dirty in the field? Or play pretend with friends?

Do kids still do these things? Do they still build imagination to keep themselves occupied and expand their horizons?

It seems to the Eye that school-going children these days put in longer hours ‘at work’ than their own parents – all because their parents want them to do well, or better than them. We cannot blame the parents for wanting the best for their kids. We cannot blame them for wanting the young ones to excel in their academics in order to secure good futures.

But taking away children’s play time and piling work up on them seems rather imbalanced, doesn’t it?

There are always two sides of an argument. A friend who sends her children for every tuition and talent class available opines that it is for the kids’ own good.

“It builds character and discipline by keeping them busy and being able to organise their time” she says. “Giving them the best and honing their academics and talents are every parent’s responsibility in preparing them (children) to take on the world.”

Another parent sees tuition as a way to have her kids somewhere safe and learn at the same time.

“We both work office hours and there is no one to take care of them at home. With the crime rates these days, it is better for them to stay for tuition and additional classes than to be running around on their own.” Another parent, however, does not seem to agree.

“Kids are not machines. They need time to rest. You expect them to be attentive at tuition after school? They need to play in order to have a normal childhood. Play is important too.”

Eye tends to agree with play.  Primary 1 and tuition? Nah, too young! Putting an enormous pressure on young brains can be detrimental. They are pressured to learn, memorise and then regurgitate back all that they pick up in school and in tuition classes.

Without rest and without play, their creativity is hindered.

But what if you have no one to take care of your kids while you are at work and have ‘no choice’ but to leave them at tuition until you get off work?

Well, perhaps for the older kids, tuition classes just for the afternoon could be good for them.  But be sure to allow them some rest and playtime when they get home. As for those in years one to three, Eye would suggest an alternative. For example, a daycare centre where the kids get to play games and nap – which is exactly what the Eye suggested to the lady who called about tuition for her Primary 1 son.

And then, in the evenings, spend time with these young children, guiding them as they do their homework. There is really no need for tuition for the kids in Primary 1.

Remember the saying: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

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