As your child is preparing to enter the formal education system in Singapore, you may feel the need to enroll him or her into a English tuition. Unfortunately, there are no clear ways to measure how good a tuition centre or tuition teacher is, so parents in Singapore have to heavily rely on recommendations of friends or online research in parent blogs/forums.

Making this decision can be difficult without knowing what to look out for! In this article we look at some considerations parents should go through before they make the commitment to any particular tuition centre or tuition teacher.

Is there a need for preschool English tuition?

The very first question a parent should ask is “is there an actual need to send my child for English tuition ?“. Sending a child for preschool English tuition is no guarantee for success in the long term, neither is it mandatory. Simply because the parents in your social circle are doing the same, you don’t have to follow suit just to satisfy your conscience that you are doing everything you can for your child. If you have already been diligently teaching your child English at home for 30 to 45 minutes each day and been giving your child sufficient exposure to the language, chances are that he/she is already more than ready to enter Primary 1. Sending a child for unnecessary tuition results in unnecessary costs but more importantly the opportunity cost can mean that the child has no energy or time to focus on other subjects that he or she may really need extra coaching in.

Typically, if your child is about 1 year away from entering Primary school in Singapore and is still unable to recognise (read and write) the letters of the English alphabet, read and write simple words or hold a conversation in English with other children of his or her age – then sending your child for preschool coaching in English may need some serious consideration.

Ok, I hear you. I really think my child needs to attend preschool English tuition. What’s next?

If parents decide that English tuition is indeed necessary for their beloved children, the next consideration would be to choose between a tuition centre or a private hire tutor. You can also opt for private hire tutors based in tuition centres. Typically, group classes in tuition centres will be the cheapest option, and private tutors who visit your home will be the most expensive option. However, a large degree of variance will exist depending on the level of seniority of the teacher or the reputation and track record of the tuition centre. The more highly recommended a private tutor is and longer that tutor has been in the business of teaching tuition, the steeper you can expect the price to be. If you opt for a former (or current) NIE trained teacher, be prepared to shell out more. Some preschool English tuition teachers may come with unfamiliar credentials, so we would suggest you check them out thoroughly before you decide if you are paying for actual qualifications, since online certifications and degrees are quite easy to get a hold of today.

At some point after looking through all the various options and factoring in the distance and location of tuition centres or availability of tuition teachers in the area, parents would have to narrow down their choices. Before doing so – one important question to ask is:

What do I really want to get out of sending my child for English tuition?

This question will prevent parents from throwing money at an undefined objective and then hoping that an undefined problem will be solved.

Let me explain.

  • If you child needs coaching in English reading, then the tuition programme you enroll him/her into should have some significant focus on improving that aspect of learning.
  • If your child needs exposure to English conversation (perhaps because everyone at home speaks in another language), then the tuition programme you select should give him/her the opportunity to converse with others extensively.
  • If you child needs overall improvement in the language, then the programme should have a balanced curriculum design.

If you are planning on sending your child to an established tuition centre you will be able to get a hold of the curriculum and teaching focus. However, if you are going to hire a private tutor, things might get a little tricky because most private tutors don’t prepare a curriculum, which allows the tutor to teach at your child’s pace and to custom make lesson plans that zoom in to the areas that a child needs improvement in.

The bad news is – not all tutors are equally adept in custom making lesson plans that bring out the best in your child.

How to pick a private tuition teacher and monitor your child’s progress. 

Unless the tuition teacher has a very long list of recommendations, any recommendations from people you barely know should be taken with a pinch of salt. Recommendations from strangers or acquaintances come with no strings attached, so there will be no accountability for any bad recommendations. It is also not very difficult for a tutor to have friends and family members write raving reviews on their social media pages, website (if they have one) or in parent blogs and online forums. It is also not unheard of for private tutors to give commissions to friends or parents of existing students who recommend new students to them!

Parents have to carefully interview a tuition teacher. They need to get a basic understanding of what and how the tuition teacher intends to conduct lessons. Parents should not be paying high prices for a tutor that intends to merely supervise a child doing workbooks and activity books. This kind of tutoring can be done just as effectively by a new tuition teacher or a part-time tutor like a university student. Parents should not allow themselves to be taken in by glossy qualifications or work experience. These typically mean very little unless they are specific teaching qualifications from recognised institutions. Even then, parents should not assume that a formally trained school teacher is by default a good tuition teacher, as these 2 types of teaching activity are different in more ways than you can count.

Here’s what a parent should look out for in a private hire tuition teacher:

  1. Passion. The tutor does not have to be over flowing with interest to teach your child, but there should not be signs of disinterest either. Many tutors teach part-time to earn an extra buck, but if it’s obvious that that’s all they are in it for – parent should look elsewhere. Teaching children effectively requires patience and a level of engagement that is impossible for a tutor to muster if there is total disinterest in teaching.
  2. Interest. During the interview, did the tutor ask about the current level of proficiency of the child? Did the tutor ask the questions that he or she will need to at least vaguely design a lesson plan of sorts?
  3. Resourcefulness. Does the teacher bring teaching aids? Keep in mind that your are hiring a tutor to teach your preschool child and if the only teaching aid he or she plans on using is a textbook or workbook, then you need to ask him or her how he intends to keep your child engaged during lessons.
  4. Flexibility. Children tend to fall ill more often than adults. Moreover, a child always needs a parent to be in the house. This means that if the parent has to be elsewhere, the child has to follow and tuition dates have to be rescheduled. Can the tutor accommodate occasional rescheduling of tuition dates?
  5. Measurable KPIs. In the Singapore workplace, you cannot escape KPIs. Sp there is no reason to allow your child’s tutor to escape KPIs either. You can either agree on a few basic KPIs with the tutor or you can ask the tutor to suggest a few KPIs to keep measure of your child’s progress over time.

How NOT to select a tuition teacher

  1. Attire and appearance. In my experience working for a tuition placement agency several years ago, I had to deal with a complaint from a parent who found out that the tuition teacher who had been teaching her child for the past 2 years had gotten a tattoo. This had somehow been an issue for the parent who claimed that the tutor was now setting a bad example for her child although her child was now doing very well in school. Our advise here is this: if physical appearance or lifestyle choices of the tutor affects you – then be upfront with your expectations. Tutors are not life role models and they do not have to modify their lifestyle to suit your stereotypical expectations.
  2. Credentials alone. Paper work means little, if the tutor is not able to create that bond with your child that allows him to teach your child effectively. Put in another way, not every financial planner with an MBA is a good investment guru.
  3. Marketing hype. If your tutor wears business suits and has a flashy website, that’s great! But don’t fall for just the hype. You still need to do due diligence to ensure you are picking the right tutor for your child and getting the most value for your money.

Interviewing a tuition teacher is very similar to interviewing someone for a job. You can prepare a whole bunch of questions and still not get a good idea of the tutor’s competency. So keeping a close watch on your child’s progress is important to ensure that your money is being well spent.

Great! I’ve done my homework and made my selection. I know how to monitor my child’s progress. Can I sit back and wait for my child to become a literary genius?

You already know the answer to this one. No.

Language learning is best done through an immersive experience. This means that the child will get better at the language if he or she has the opportunity to use it often, sees it often and find ways and means to relate to the language. Unless the tutor you hire is visiting your home everyday or staying with you – you will still need to do your part in bringing your child’s mastery of the English language up to speed. You can do so by creating a timetable for English activity at home, speaking the language more frequently at home, giving your child English books to read or encouraging your child to watch movies and cartoons in the language (without subtitles in any language that the child already knows).

The very last thing we feel we have to mention is – language mastery cannot be improved suddenly overnight and results will come with patience and sufficient effort. Yet, if over time the tutor you hire is clearly not helping your child, you will need to have that conversation with the tutor to figure out what is working and what is not and then to finally make a change in tutor if necessary.

- This post is brought to you by the KidsEnglishCollege™ Editorial Team

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