This post may seem like I am shooting myself in the foot because I do run an enrichment centre after all. Therefore, it is in my best interests to do all I can to challenge the notion that kids with tuition fare worse.
I am not going to do that. In all intellectual honesty, I confess that I truly believe that tuition destroys a child's ability to learn independently.
I do believe that kids with a lot of tuition fare worse. Long time readers of my blog will note that The Son and The Daughter had mostly no tuition. The Daughter had Economics tuition for 3 months before the A levels at the cost of $160/hour. The Son had group Chinese tuition for 2 months at the cost of $200/month. For us, tuition was a temporary solution to access learning materials and approaches that could be accessed nowhere else... and before we went into tuition, I would have exhausted all other avenues of learning - books, free online courses, youtube. To prepare for PSLE, my kids read books from NUS and NTU libraries.
Having taught other people's kids for 4 years, I also note that those kids who perform the best at PSLE, are those who do not have 4 subjects tuition. My 2 top scorers of 2016 came to me, never having had tuition before. One scored 270. The other scored 263. My English enrichment was their very first enrichment class, or the only one they stuck with.
On the other hand, I have highly intelligent kids who perform well below expectations because they have so much work to do that everything is done mindlessly. Such children complete tons of worksheets with zombified brains.
Overworked GEP Child
I have GEP child who had 4 subjects of tuition (from what I gathered, he was working 7 days a week, 12 hours a day). and despite his high IQ and good grasp of the English language, he barely passed comprehension tests in school, and in my class (after 2 years with me). Yet, he refuses to leave my classes because "Saturday afternoon is my only happy day in the week," says he. On the other hand, the high-po with no tuition until he started mine in mid-P5, improved easily from 15/20 to 20/20 within 6 months with me.
Overwork can make an intelligent child stupid.
Ok... some people may say that maybe that GEP child was not truly a GEP. Perhaps, he was hothoused into the program. I can concede that there is some amount of error in IQ testing. However, the margin of error cannot be so great that a low IQ child be let into the GEP. Even if errors were made into the GEP selection, the errors would still be at least high-po. If we assume that my underperforming GEP child is a high-po, then we are comparing high-po with high-po. Error does not explain why my GEP (perhaps, hothoused high-po) scores 10.5/20 whilst the other high-po scores 20/20.
Overworked Child of 2 Scholar Parents
In a previous year, I taught a girl whose parents were both highly intelligent. One had a PhD. The other was a scholar with a Masters degree. When I asked the child's parents whether the child had playtime, the answer was, "She sleeps at 10pm every night." If you read between the lines, this effectively means that the child works through to 10pm every night, and no playtime is scheduled.
This child was highly intelligent, with an iron will. In Sec 1, she joined her school's squash team a complete neophyte. To excel in sports, you need hard training but you need intelligence too. You need to analyse what you are doing and improve, improve, improve... Later in the Sec 1 year, this child won the national squash championships.
This child scored A* in only English at PSLE. Both her parents had Science and Math degrees. However, both her parents were intent to capture their money's worth of tuition services and despite my constant entreaties to them to skip selected HW, both continued to put their child through that punishing schedule. When I proposed that this child skip some of my HW, the child herself told me that her parents would scold her for wasting their money.
When will parents understand that more work does not mean more learning and what use is it to get your money's worth of marking from the teacher when the child's brain is churning out work mindlessly?
Abdication of Responsibility
When The Son failed Chinese in Year 2, I removed his unofficial Chinese tuition. His octogenarian Grandmother, in her quest for a purposeful life, would well-meaningly schedule Saturday morning to read the Chinese newspapers with him. His grandmother worked very hard to prepare for these sessions. The Son assumed that his grandmother's hard work would pay off in his exams.
I decided to stop these weekly sessions so that it became emotionally and rationally clear to The Son that he was the only one able to work hard for his own results.
When new students join, one of the most shocking things they experience is when I throw badly done worksheets into my dustbin and refuse to even mark nor return the worksheet. I have found that when I mark such a worksheet (and comment that it is not well done), the child will proceed to do the next worksheet mindlessly. Until 2015, I saw kids do HW religiously every week, for a year, learning little/nothing. It really isn't how many worksheets are completed but whether the brain was switched on. Too much work switches the brain off and then no learning ensues. What does it matter if you have your money's worth of marking when your child is not learning anything from all the work done?
However, when I throw away the poorly done worksheet, parents start thinking about how much money they are wasting since I did not give them their money's worth of marking, and they then actively ensure that HW is done mindfully by...
- ensuring the child has enough rest.
- ensuring the child is not hurrying through the worksheet.
- throwing back and asking for a redo if there are careless mistakes, incompleted questions and overall sloppiness.
This is when learning happens.
Limitations of the Above Research Study
I note that the above-mentioned research study was done with 15 year olds. I am absolutely against tuition of any sort (unless only temporary) for secondary school. Kids of 15 and kids of 8 are very different. You can't allow an 8 year old to go traipsing to the library to do research without some parental escort. When The Son was in P4-P6 and I did not want him to get tuition, I had to open to him learning resources from the university libraries, Amazon and online subscriptions, to learn from. Relying on his primary school's materials was absolutely insufficient. Perhaps the primary schools have upped their game by now?
Even though The Son had had no tuition in primary school, it was because I helped him extensively at home. Once he reached secondary school, I did not help him at all. His school taught him everything he needed to know. Parents of primary school kids who cannot teach would have to make up the shortfall with tuition (and have been doing so). I really don't think that will change anytime soon.
I just wish that parents would be wiser about children's workload.