My little sister, visiting me from Penang during her school holidays, told me that she has to attend tuition during the holidays. Calling my mother later that night, I tried to reason with her. “I want her to continue her tuition,” she replied. “I don't want her to lose momentum.”
It the same momentum, I suspect, that many parents is trying to imbue their children with. All in the effort of getting that extra A that would make all the difference in their lives. Or will it?
Lest I be seen as belittling the effort of people who want better for their kids, getting good tuition can definitely help you along. Just like everything else, however, it has to also be put into context. And within the social context, I think there is an unhealthy reliance on the tuition institutions get the future generations to where they want to go.
But where will they go? All roads should lead to a full scholarship, a good university education, and a good job at the end of it all. But is constant, intensive tuition the vehicle to ride the way in? Perhaps we should look at another way to get there.
Look at the fuss made in the media about the number of unemployed graduates. One of the reasons identified for this is the lack of soft skills, referring to skills such as presentation skills, speaking skills, and even the level of confidence a person has.
Looking around, however, I see little being done about this. What I do see are even more kids getting even more tuition, re-re-learning the things that they learn during the day. I see kids going to tuition centres after school, before the exams, during the exams, and, in my little sister's case, after the exams and during holidays.
While there are merits to consistent tuition, variety is the spice of life. Allowing kids to discover what they like to do might do them worlds of good. Who knows, maybe they can bend it like Beckham, or whack it like Nicol. The country is crying out for more sports stars, while Michelle Yeoh remains the only Malaysian actor who makes a lasting impression on the international stage. In between maths and science, the school curriculum doesn't allow much room for this exploration. Too much emphasis is placed on the academics and books.
As an alternative to this, why not consider drama class instead of constant tuition? Drama students perrform constantly in front of others, which builds confidence. Many might think that acting classes are only for people who want to be actors. While this might be true for some, what you get is an improved confidence level, a better speaking technique, and more awareness about your body language (regardless of how successful your acting career is). The same goes for public speaking and debates during the later school and university years.
This might also increases the chance that the kids find something they could be passionate about. In most discussions, people constantly disregard the 'fun' factor in education. After all, passion is always an important ingredient in the recipe of success. Check out any high achiever in any field. Look at why, after so many years, awards, wins, championships and trophies, they keep on doing it. Up until his recent retirement, Michael Schumacher certainly didn't need to race every other weekend for the money.
Having said that, I'm not saying that every other student should be stuck into a race car at the next possible opportunity. The point that I am trying to make is that perhaps alternative activities, in addition to tuition, can make all the difference. A balanced approach can lead to the future generation having the soft skills so desired by the industry.
After all, to paraphrase a song, too much of something can be bad indeed.
*An unpublished opinion piece written for the magazine, Education Quarterly, sometime in 2007. And yes, I actually paraphrased a Spice Girls song. :)