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Is it a terrible mistake to send your children for tuition classes?

Many parents in Singapore sign up their kids for tuition classes. (Getty Images)Many parents in Singapore sign up their kids for tuition classes. (Getty Images)

If you’re a parent who has school-going children, I’m sure you’ve thought about sending them for tuition classes. Maybe you already do.

Through my work in empowering students to find meaning and motivation in their academics, I’ve had the privilege of interacting with thousands of students and parents.

“I don’t want to send my child for tuition classes, but I still do!”

Interestingly, many parents tell me that they send their children for tuition classes, even though they would really prefer not to!

So why do these parents end up enrolling their children in tuition classes anyway?

One word: fear.

Deadly fears that parents have

Fear that their children will lose out.

Fear that their children will fall behind.

Fear that they aren’t doing the best they can as parents.

Fear that they’ll be labeled as “lousy parents”.

It’s easy to succumb to these fears, especially given how common it is for students to attend tuition classes.

Are tuition classes robbing children of their childhood?

At the same time, parents are concerned that this obsession with academic success is robbing children of their childhood.

Parents tell me they think that student life should be fun and enjoyable. It shouldn’t just be about getting as many A’s as possible.

That’s great to hear!

But they also feel trapped by the fears mentioned above, so they eventually give in to the pressure.

Our nation’s unhealthy obsession with tuition

As a nation, we're obsessed about tuition.

In fact, there are more tuition centres than there are primary and secondary schools combined.

(There are more than 500 tuition centres in Singapore, compared to fewer than 400 primary and secondary schools.)

The stressful lives of Singaporean students

Going for extra tuition classes can definitely add stress to students’ already-busy lives.

Many students I work with have tuition classes four times or more per week. This is in addition to their regular school work, projects, co-curricular activities and other commitments.

No wonder students are sleep-deprived, worn out and unhappy!

The education system is heading in the right direction…

The government is trying to shift the emphasis of education toward holistic development, and away from a fixation solely on academics.

This explains recent measures such as the decision not to name the top students in nation-wide examinations.

Personally, I think these changes are a sign that we’re heading in the right direction.

… but parents need to do their part too

But students’ educational experience isn’t only determined by the education system. Their home environment matters a lot too.

If parents continually over-emphasize the importance of academic achievement—at the expense of a child’s overall development—then no single change in government policy will be able to help the child.

A stressful home environment will produce a stressed out student, regardless of how stress-free the school environment is.

Failure = Being successful at the wrong things

If we want to fight against our society’s obsession with grades, then we need to redefine what failure means.

Failure isn’t about trying but not getting the results we expect.

Failure isn’t about performing worse than our peers.

Instead, failure is being successful at the wrong things.

Failure occurs when we focus our efforts on achievements that don’t actually matter in the long term.

Failure is about reacting to the circumstances of life, instead of making conscious choices about our future and our life.

This certainly applies to the decision of whether or not to enroll your child in tuition classes. Is your decision based on short- or long-term thinking?

Other ways that students could spend their time

Granted, we live in a society where academic results are important.

But think about all the other things your children could be doing with their time, instead of attending endless tuition classes.

Engaging in other activities would probably prepare them better for the future then attending another mathematics or science class.

Here are some alternative things that students could do:

  • Learn a skill
  • Pick up a hobby
  • Take up a part-time job
  • Read for pleasure
  • Journal
  • Volunteer
  • Discover more about themselves

I especially think that part-time work—even if it’s only for a few hours every week—is beneficial for students.

I’ve never met a student engaged in part-time work who wasn’t hardworking, determined and resilient.

Those traits, rather than just book smarts, are the ones that lead to enduring success.

Many parents say one thing, but do another

Parents often tell me that they believe that grades aren’t everything—yet they send their children for tuition class after tuition class.

Their actions are contrary to the beliefs they claim to hold on to.

After all, we don’t demonstrate our beliefs through our words; we do it through our actions.

As a parent, what do you truly believe?

If you’re a parent reading this article, I encourage you to ask yourself what you really, really believe.

I’m not saying that it’s evil to send your children for tuition classes, or that all tuition centres should be shut down.

I’m not that radical, because I think that students can benefit from receiving academic help outside of school.

But once anything becomes an obsession, it’s time to address the issue.

And yes, that applies to an obsession with even something as valued as academic performance.

Making decisions based on principles, not peer pressure

So if you decide to enroll your child in tuition classes, make it an intentional choice to do so.

Don’t do it just because you feel like every other parent is doing the same.

I encourage you to make decisions—tuition-related or otherwise—based on principles, not peer pressure.

Your children are looking to you for the strength and courage so that they can learn to do likewise.

Daniel Wong is the bestselling author of "The Happy Student: 5 Steps to Academic Fulfillment and Success". He offers The Exam Excellence (TEE) Mentoring Programme to help students discover new purpose in their journey of education, while also finding academic success. He writes regularly at www.daniel-wong.com. Download his FREE e-book,"The Unhappiness Manifesto: Do You Make These 150 Mistakes In The Pursuit Of Happiness?", here. Download his other FREE e-book, "Singapore Scholarship Guide: The $500,000 Decision", here.