In many developing and developed countries, parents feel a competitive need to send their children for English enrichment classes in their pre-formal education years and there is an abundance of freelance tutors and education companies ready to provide such programmes. For example, a quick search on Google for “Singapore English enrichment” reveals an almost never ending list of English tutors, Enrichment classes and several lists of enrichment class and/or tuition options.
Some of these lists are actually very researched and informative; many of these programmes seem promising and are possibly beneficial to young English learners. Many of the brands behind these programmes have been in the scene for many years and have built a good reputation for themselves.
Yet, many Singaporean teenagers and adults never attended such classes or lessons when they were children and are still able to read, write and speak perfectly good English.
So this leads to the obvious question – Are enrichment classes really necessary for young children ? Do parents really need to send their children to educational institutes that tout the latest patented, copyrighted and trademarked English teaching pedagogy?
We cannot answer that question with a straight “yes” or “no”, in fact nobody can. Several of these enrichment programmes have gained strong traction in many countries, and educational methods/approaches like Modern Montessori and Kumon are well known in countries like Singapore, even though both these teaching methods originated far away from the city. Many parents also vouch for these programmes without reservation while some may think that these are not necessary for their children.
So although we cannot give you a straight “yes” or “no” answer, we can give you few things to consider before you choose to invest in any English enrichment programme for your child.
1. Is your child struggling with learning the language ? Or put in another way – are you struggling to teach your child ?
Teaching young children does not always come intuitively to parents. Children are also usually not particularly interested in expanding their vocabulary or learning grammar rules. Put these two facts together and parents cannot expect to have it easy, so struggles are an expected part of the experience. A few screaming matches are not a good reason for parents to throw in the towel and instead throw money at the problem. Even if parents decide that they want to enrol their child in an English tuition class – they would still benefit from learning how to teach their own children, since there will eventually come some last minute class test or quiz that they will have no choice but to personally coach their children to prepare for. Unfortunately, there is no textbook method that parents can use or refer to because every child and every parent is different, and the relationship and level of trust between every parent and every child is different. Parents need to try, and keep trying – regardless of whether they make the decision to enrol their child in a class or not.
2. Is the programme’s approach documented on their website and sensible ?
Parents should be wary of over hyped teaching methods that suddenly appear to be popular. Companies with large marketing budgets can make any product sound amazing. Every brand promoting some teaching pedagogy, approach, method or technique would have some information available on it online, outlining the logic behind their approach. Better yet, founders of these brands or methods may have published books that give parents a better insight into exactly what they are getting their children involved with. Parents, like their children – need to do their homework and do some research. The best part is – after doing their research they may realise that many of the techniques or methods could be used by themselves at home !
3. Are there any other benefits to sending your child for an English enrichment programme ?
Most English enrichment programmes are conducted in groups. This gives children the opportunity to mix with other children and learn in a group setting. Groups also lend themselves well to activity based learning. Statistics show that children also learn best in groups. Keeping this in mind, parents may want to consider sending their children for some enrichment classes even if they feel that they don’t need it.
Parents need to keep in mind that by default a child’s vocabulary and grammar is going to improve naturally even without any special effort, especially if English is the normal language of communication in the social circle he/she is growing up in. If other parents recommend a special class because “their child learnt so many new words”, such opinion really should be taken with a pinch of salt.
4. Do you know of any other parent who has already sent their child for the particular enrichment programme you have in mind ?
Ask them for a review of the class, of the facilities, of the teachers, of the study material and about the results they have seen in their children. Ask for details and understand as much of the programme as possible. Such peer reviews help, and while people are generally honest – they may give recommendations that are not based on facts or actual improvements they may have seen in their child’s academic performance. Instead they may recommend a programme simply because they have sent their child to it and till date have had no negative experiences to convince them that that decision was not a good one. So when asking other parents for reviews of enrichment programmes or tutors, questions have to be probing and specific, or you run the risk of receiving opinions that don’t really count for anything much at all, yet sound convincing enough to take action on.
5. Is there anything the programme is doing that you really cannot do at home on your own ?
Are thinking of your sending your child to an enrichment class because they claim to have great worksheets? Or perhaps the programme promises to use iPads and tablets in educational ways? Maybe some tutors assure you that their personalised teaching approach will guarantee improvement in your child’s vocabulary or grammar?
Parents need to ask themselves, are these things that they really cannot do at home ? There are many sites that offer free or cheap English worksheets and there are many ways to use an electronic device for teaching purposes. Moreover, when a parent sits down with a child and patiently tries out various method of instruction, the session is extremely personalised by default.
Is the programme’s selling point really so unique that it is worth the investment?
6. Does the programme provide clear learning objectives ?
As we mentioned earlier, your child’s vocabulary and grammar mastery are by default going to improve naturally. So mere improvements are not clear measures of a programme’s success. When evaluating an English enrichment class, parents should also take a look at the list of activities and learning objectives. The learning objectives should be clearly defined in the course or programme agenda. These should be designed such that they are challenging for children to achieve. The activities planned for the class should give the child unique experiences that they otherwise would not have had access to. These are important points to consider when comparing enrichment classes against each other.
7. Does the programme provide a trial lesson?
Many reputable programmes provide free trial lessons for children to experience the class before parents need to commit to payments. If available, parents should always sign up for the free trial before making any decision. Ideally, the free trial programme should be conducted as a part of an on-going class, so that parents and their children can get a real flavour of what the class is like. Some important things to note during the trial lesson:
- teacher to student ratio of the class
- facilities in the venue and
- the classroom size compared to the number of students.
It is also important to talk your your child after the trial lesson to understand if he or she is comfortable enough to continue. While your child may be naturally shy, if she or she had enough fun in the class they usually would not put up much resistance to suggestions to attend it more regularly.
8. Does the student to teacher ratio make sense for the teaching method of the programme?
Some programmes may boast “personalised” teaching methods, yet there may be only 1 teacher to a class of 6 students. For an hour long class, that translates into 10 minutes of personalised time per student. Many enrichment programmes differentiate themselves from main stream schools by claiming to use resource intensive teaching methods, so teacher to student ratios in these classes need to match up, even if low teacher to student ratios is not something the brand specifically promotes as a selling point.
9. Are you just jumping on a trend ?
New enrichment programmes often appear in the education industry, only to vanish without a trace at some point. Many of these new brands and companies come with big marketing budgets that sing a convincing song. Parents should be careful to control their impulses and avoid jumping on the latest enrichment bandwagon that may do more harm than good for the child.
10. Is the teacher of the programme qualified or able to convince you that he/she is able to teach according to the doctrine of the programme?
While the brand behind the enrichment programme may be reputable, it is also important that the teachers hired by the company are properly trained and able to teach using the methods of the programme. It is also important to check if the qualifications on the wall are from reputable educational institutes or awarded by degree mills. Most importantly, parents should not assume that foreign native English speakers are by default good English teacher. Keeping any racial or national stereotypical judgements aside, parents need to make an evaluation based on the teacher’s qualifications and ability to confidently explain the concepts behind the method.
In this article, we have not set out to demonise English enrichment classes or programmes, and in fact we strongly believe in the effectiveness of some of them. We have only set out to hopefully only urge parents to make informed choices, instead of impulse decisions or decisions driven by some dodgy company with a big marketing spend.
If we have missed out on anything, please let us know in the comments below.
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