My family and I have just returned from Singapore, where our three children have been attending the local primary schools.
Tuition centres in Singapore are more common than supermarkets. You find them on the high street, on the ground floor of your apartment block, and inside shopping malls, usually on the top floor (they don’t need to attract passing customers, they just flood in). It’s thanks to them that I realised that there were other children and teens living in our apartment block: I only saw them on their way to or from a tuition centre (or school) because they rarely played outside. Some centres call themselves “enrichment centre” but, unless that means that the owners are enriching themselves, the word is misleading: they do not provide anything more enriching than skills and practice in passing exams and interviews. Anyway, most parents wouldn’t pay for anything other than that.
Low-income locals can access state-subsidised tuitions in community centres – the same places where elderly people can get free health checks and not-so-elderly ones practice yoga and ikebana – because tuitions are counted as a basic human need, like recreation and exercise.
One needs to be a brave parent (or a school teacher herself) to justify to family and friends the choice of not hiring a tutor. Although I had been a science teacher back in the UK, baffled by Singapore’s formidable primary school maths, I swallowed my pride and called a private tutor.
The private tutor
She came highly recommended and I immediately clicked with her. Lulled by the comforting feeling that my son was in good hands, I declined her invitation to sit in during their lessons and totally abdicated responsibility for his mathematical learning.
One day, to my shock and horror, this very experienced and capable tutor emerged from my son’s room visibly distressed and said: ‘If he doesn’t want to learn, there’s nothing I can do.’ She never returned. My son’s Maths was in such dire straits that tutoring him myself could not possibly do any harm. The bookshops were laden with study guides for each subject and school stage (even kindergarten!), as many as all the other types of books put together so, although I had concluded that I wasn’t cut to be a tiger mum (see previous post), I began to do what tiger mums are expected to do and, over the course of the following weeks, my son and I sat at his desk doing Maths together.
As long as his memory of the private tutor’s lessons was still vivid, my threat ‘if you don’t concentrate, I’ll get you another private tutor’ was enough to bring him back on task when needed. But slowly eventually the effect wore off. I rang the tuition centre downstairs.
Continues in next blog post (uploaded on Thursday 13 April)…
Stefania is a wife, mother of three and a writer. She’s just returned from spending a few years in Singapore with her family. Stefania’s serious work is on her website: www.stefaniahartley.com but the fun stuff is in her blog: A Sicilian Mama’s Unsolicited Advice for Young Women. Follow her on Twitter @TheSicilianMama