'Sorry, your child is not bright enough'

'Sorry, your child is not bright enough'

Tuesday, 03 January 2012

Media Type
TODAY online

Some parents and observers are questioning the motivation for entry tests for enrichment centres.

SINGAPORE - As the tuition landscape here evolves - with a burgeoning market for helping children who are strong academically to become even better - the practice of some enrichment centres of holding entry tests for children as young as six has raised hackles among some parents.

But centres which hold such tests defend it as a way to screen prospective students and understand their abilities better.

Even so, observers Today spoke to said that these tests could add more pressure on parents and affect a child's confidence at an early stage.

Finance manager V Ang's six-year-old son recently failed an entry test at a popular enrichment centre and is preparing to take another test at a different centre. The 33-year-old said: "The screening is quite ridiculous ... when I sent my son to enrol, they even required information such as which primary school he will be going to. It is quite stressful, as it is not only difficult to get in but expensive too."

Another parent, Ms Serene Tan, said her son, who is in Kindergarten 2, was unable to get a place at the Learning Point after he could not pass the entry test in November. The investment consultant, who is her mid-30s, questioned the motivation of enrichment centres that are solely focused on helping students who are already strong academically to do better.

She added: "I find it very odd that they have such comprehensive entry tests even for children at that age. The centre said that my son didn't do well in his spelling and grammar, but he is only in K2."

Enrichment centres here conduct entry tests for children in kindergartens, primary schools and secondary schools.

The duration of these tests are usually between 30 minutes and one-and-a-half hours. An English test for a K2 pupil, for instance, can include grammar, composition, spelling and reading segments.

When contacted, several enrichment centres, which hold entry tests, reiterated the need for the entry tests and pointed to the results they have achieved in helping children who have the aptitude for accelerated learning.

The Learning Lab, for instance, said that each year, 70 per cent of its students see their grades improve by 10 percentage points. It added that 297 of its students scored 260 and above in last year's Primary School Leaving Examination.

Enrolment requirements vary across the enrichment centres: The Learning Point, for example, will not accept students who fail its entry test, although it allows them to take a re-test six months later. For Just Education, it conducts these tests for students whose results in school are below its criteria.

The Learning Lab said its entry tests are used to assess the ability of the students, so that they can be grouped together with others of similar calibre.

Apart from entry tests, the centre also conducts pre-enrolment interviews "to appraise the student's drive and desire to improve, and fit with our school's learning ethos". Its spokesperson Ling Cheah told Today: "We want to ensure that when we admit a student, we can indeed add value, we can indeed help him improve on his personal best."

Creative Horizons, which offers English as well as creative writing courses, pointed out that its students should have a minimum standard of English before attempting creative writing, for instance. The centre's director Faeza Sirajudin stressed that "no child is at the place where they don't need any more help". Nevertheless, she said parents should not "hothouse" their children to try to push them beyond what they can achieve.

She said that it was unhealthy for parents to send their children to enrichment centres at an increasingly young age, when they should be given time to play.

Mountbatten Member of Parliament Lim Biow Chuan, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, dismissed the practice of having entry tests as '"marketing gimmicks".

Said Mr Lim: "Some centres obviously just want bragging rights. If top students come in, they obviously would be good to begin with. Such practices drive up the pressure unnecessarily."

Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Intan Mokhtar, who also lectures at the National Institute of Education (NIE), added that these enrichment centres play on parents' fears that their children would lose out if they are not stretched from a young age.

She said: "I guess with the current state where there's a lot of competition to enter university, parents take extra precaution - if the child is good, he can be even better."

Noting the psychological impact on children who fail the entry tests, she added: "It would instil in the child a sense of belief that everything boils down to (getting) the 'A's, when learning really isn't just about that." 

Source: TODAY online, mediacorp