Singapore has been dubbed a tuition nation.

Outside of the country, we are known as the “garden city” or the “little red dot” or even the city that banned chewing gum. But internally, we call ourselves a tuition nation. And I’m not so sure that it’s something to be proud of.

According to a recent online survey of 955 Singaporeans aged above 18, 80% of Singaporeans believe that tuition and enrichment programmes help children do better in schools. Spending on tuition has also doubled in ten years to a whopping S$820 million in 2008. These programmes are seen by many as a constructive way for children to spend their time.

I was most surprised to find that almost three in 10 Singaporeans felt that children should start some form of tuition at pre-school age. It made me wonder how many of us are driven by the fear of our children losing out to others versus a legitimate need, for instance, a child who requires some extra Chinese lessons because the language is not used within the home.

Madeline Levine, a clinician, consultant and the author of “Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success” stated something to this effect in a recent New York Times article “Raising successful children“: external pressure and rewarding children robs them of the ability to develop their own motivation. Pushing a young child to succeed in a preschool interview because it is the popular or most prestigious institution or causing children to overburden with extracurriculars in order to reflect positively on the parents own personal achivements are all detrimental actions in the long term success and well being of the child.

The child’s needs. The needs of my child. Not my need for status or affirmation or even peace of mind.

I also read this from The Happy Student: 5 Steps to Academic Fulfillment and Success:

“…people either make decisions from a place of fear or a place of love. The former is more prevalent, but the latter is more ideal.”

But how can we make decisions that are driven by love? The truth is there are many things competing for our attention and for our children’s time. And at the end of the day, I’m sure we all want the same thing – to help our kids realise their potential; and to help them understand their true value.

I don’t believe that there are any easy answers. I do believe, however, that the answer lies mainly in the hands of parents themselves. We need to first confront our own insecurities as a parent, and ensure that we do not parent out of our own fears and insecurities, but out of love (for our children), understanding (of their unique make-up), and confidence (rooted in our values and experiences as a parent).

If we parent out of our own fears or try to impose our dreams and aspirations on our children, we are only setting them up for failure – not the good kind that they can learn from, but the kind of failure that stems from a deep-seated belief of one’s self-worth.

We need to be able to say no to the pressure of filling up our kids’ schedules with enrichment activities or tuition classes, and yes to creating meaningful pockets of bonding time, unwinding time, and very importantly, play time.

We need to be able to stand up against the pressure to follow what other people’s kids are doing, and recognise that our children each have a unique set of strengths, weaknesses, personality and interests. We need to be able to identify them and find opportunities to help them grow in their areas of interests.

We need to go back to basics – spend time building character, allow our kids to learn from mistakes, impart to them timeless values. All of these will serve to build a strong foundation for life, and from which the child will be able to grow, take calculated risks, forge their own paths to success, and stand their ground against the storms of life.

Just to be clear, I’m not expressing disdain for tuition per se. I do see that good quality courses can benefit children who have needs that can’t be met within the home. But it should not be seen as a quick fix for our children’s learning and growth, and we will do well if we approach it with care and consideration, particularly with younger children.

Borrowing what Madeline Levine said, the child needs to have an opportunity to “craft an inside” – to develop character, a healthy sense of self-esteem, and a desire to learn and grow.

I also believe children need lots of down time, just to do what we as kids used to do – enjoy childhood and just BE kids.

Do you feel the pressure of increasing competition for your children in your country? How do you deal with it?

This is an original World Moms Blog post by June Yong in Singapore.  June is passionate about family, writing, faith, and good old-fashioned love. She blogs at mamawearpapashirt, and can be found on Twitter, and on Facebook.

The photo used in this post is the author’s own.

Mamawearpapashirt (Singapore)

June, born and bred on the sunny and sometimes rainy shores of Singapore, is a mother of two - a chatty 4 y.o. girl and a toddler boy who babbles. She works part-time as a communication consultant, and she is deeply passionate about family, writing, faith, and good old-fashioned love. She can be found on her blog, Mamawearpapashirt.

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