Why some kids end up studying more during the school holidays

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The Straits Times, 16 Jun 2024, Why some kids end up studying more during the school holidays (https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/parenting-education/why-some-kids-end-up-studying-more-during-the-school-holidays)

SINGAPORE – The mid-year school holidays are almost over, but some students in Singapore have been focusing more on academics than relaxation during their month-long break.

Tuition centres report a spike in demand for their academic “boot camps” for June for primary and secondary school students. And observers say that spending a significant portion of the holiday period, which ends on June 23, on studies is commonplace in Singapore, which risks fatigue and burnout for kids.

However, some children and parents report satisfaction with the youngster’s goals, motivation and packed holiday schedule.

PSLE pupils hit the books
Carson Liu, 11, is among those taking their Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) in 2024, who have spent the mid-year break revising intensively for the national examination.

The oral exams are in August, while the written papers start in late September.

The Primary 6 pupil at Anglo-Chinese School (Primary) in Barker Road is also in the Gifted Education Programme (GEP). He signed up for three holiday “crash courses” in mathematics, English and mother tongue at tuition provider Future Academy, which typically span a few days each, to reinforce what he has learnt thus far in 2024.

He is also keeping up with his weekly tuition lessons in all four of his school subjects, which include science.

He stopped his badminton, swimming and piano lessons earlier in order to focus on preparing for the PSLE. He has also “put a pause on” hobbies like chess and video editing.

Carson estimates that he has been spending about five hours on his studies – including doing past-year examination papers and other assessments – on weekdays during the mid-year holidays. Several hours on Saturday and Sunday are spent at tuition classes.

He feels his GEP lessons, which include projects such as making a logic puzzle based on sudoku, are “completely different” from the regular syllabus.

The GEP is designed to nurture intellectually gifted students to their full potential.

“I spend a lot of time on GEP. I don’t have enough time for PSLE preparation,” Carson says. He had discussed his goals and mid-year holiday plans with his software engineer father and teacher mother, who are in their early 40s. He has a nine-year-old brother in Primary 4.

Carson says: “I want to get good marks for PSLE and I want to get into a good school.”

Separately, Teng Kai Xuan, 11, has similar goals, adding: “I want to make my parents proud.”

The Primary 6 pupil at Henry Park Primary School reckons she spends at least three hours studying every day during the mid-year holidays. Since the beginning of the year, she has completed the Primary 6 preliminary examination papers for 2023 for more than 10 top schools, which works out to more than 40 exam papers for four subjects.

She is moving on to the 2022 papers.

Her father Teng Wei Loon, 44, a maintenance supervisor in the oil and gas industry, has also signed Kai Xuan up for four holiday workshops, including those where she takes English and maths mock exams for practice. She has regular tuition for science, English and mother tongue.

Mr Teng, whose 41-year-old wife works in the green energy sector, is “more relaxed” with his younger daughter, Teng Kai Li, who is in Primary 3, setting the eight-year-old assessment book pages to do daily, for all subjects.

He says: “It’s good to keep Kai Xuan motivated and inspired. You don’t want to waste this opportunity to do your best. I’m more relaxed with Kai Li because hers is not a critical year. The holidays are for her to keep up the momentum and read up on topics she does not understand.”

A mid-point check on academic progress
Tuition centres are reporting increasing demand for academic boot camps during the mid-year holidays, as parents seek to keep their children meaningfully occupied and help them brush up on their weaker subjects.

Ms Grace Tan, principal and founder at Learning Journey Education Centre, which specialises in English for students from ages four to 18, says: “We’re getting a lot more sign-ups for our online holiday programmes, where working parents don’t need to ferry the child to classes. Many think that the child would be too free otherwise.”

The demand for her centre’s mid-year holiday programmes increased 30 per cent between 2022 and June 2024, she adds. Her PSLE oral examination preparation courses are especially popular because these exams are coming up in about two months, she says.

Ms Tan says: “This time of year is like a mid-point check for children. Am I on the right track? Am I behind? These holiday programmes are like a crash course. Most of the students who sign up are looking to brush up their scores in certain areas.”

Ms Laura Oh, director of House of Hows education centre in Bedok, has also seen increased demand for academic boot camps in June. “In the past, the majority of sign-ups would be from the graduating classes taking PSLE and O levels. But now, other levels sign up as well.”

Meanwhile, at Future Academy, which has three tuition centres in Braddell, Bukit Timah and Bencoolen Street, principal tutor Yvonne Chen has seen, since 2022, a year-on-year rise of about 20 per cent in inquiries and sign-ups for its June holiday crash courses at all school levels.

Ms Chen says: “The pupils have busy term-time schedules and are frequently occupied with co-curricular activities. The June holidays are a prime time for them to catch up and revise.”

She adds that the trend towards e-learning, sparked during the Covid-19 pandemic, has contributed to this rise in demand.

“Many parents have given me feedback that their young children did not learn much from e-learning. A lot of students also felt the same way,” she says.

The new normal?
Some psychologists say the common practice of prioritising studying during the mid-year holidays, which are meant to be a period of downtime for children, could have negative effects.

Dr Annabelle Chow, principal clinical psychologist at Annabelle Psychology and Annabelle Kids, which are private psychology clinics, says: “It’s become a new norm. If a child is not going to tuition enrichment during the holidays, it’s like, ‘If you don’t do this, you’ll just fall behind.’ In my opinion, it’s systemic, it’s a product of the environment that we live in.”

She says a minority of parents she has encountered want to “protect play” for their kids during the mid-year school holidays. But they, too, feel pressured and judged for not sending their children to academic boot camps or giving them more assessments to do during this time.

Dr Chow adds: “Ten years ago, I saw this phenomenon more from the parents, but now I see more kids wanting to sign up for these holiday classes.”

Ms Tan Su-Lynn, a senior educational psychologist at Promises Healthcare, which provides psychological and psychiatric services, sees the growing emphasis on academics during the school holidays as a societal symptom.

She says: “We are driven by productivity. If it’s not being academically productive, it should be skills-based. A lot of people feel that rest is a waste of time.

“But the school holidays are a time to rest and explore other interests. The burden on school children’s mental space is meant to be alleviated.”

Professor Yow Wei Quin, head of the humanities, arts and social sciences cluster at Singapore University of Technology and Design, adds: “Overscheduling can occur when a child’s holiday is filled with too many structured activities, leaving little to no time for rest, play or unstructured time. This can lead to stress, burnout and a lack of opportunities for creativity and self-directed learning.”

However, National Institute of Education assistant professor Cheung Hoi Shan, who researches parenting and children’s development, advises parents to consider the meaning behind academic holiday activities.

For instance, a child might feel motivated to achieve a goal like spending five hours a day on assessment books during the holidays, says Dr Cheung. In such cases, flexibility and checking in with the child to see if these goals and structures need to be reassessed and changed periodically is helpful, she adds.

When students give the thumbs up for work
Secondary 2 student Tris Tay, 14, for instance, says she is “very happy” to have a full holiday programme. It includes boot camps in English, maths and science at House of Hows, tuition in three subjects and regular training for her concert band CCA.

The Manjusri Secondary School student wants to study hard in the mid-year break so she can do better for her year-end examinations and have more latitude in choosing the subjects she wants to pursue in Secondary 3.

Ms Joyce Sim, 46, has signed up her 11-year-old daughter Shannan Tan for maths and science boot camps at House of Hows in June. But they also went on a family holiday to Australia, together with dad, a 48-year-old civil servant, and the couple’s eight-year-old daughter.

Ms Sim also ensures Shannan has free time for her hobbies such as craftwork and painting.

Ms Sim, an assistant leasing manager in the property management sector, says: “Next year is Primary 6, so she needs to strengthen her foundation for her weaker subjects rather than panic at the last minute.

“We’re trying to strike a balance between family bonding and revision.”