With the national call to Singapore’s parents to embrace a broader definition of success, and to support children in their interests, how should parents respond?
The reality is that we parents do not all have the same spread of choices before us. To give a child an opportunity on the world stage requires commitment, and often, substantial financial resources. For instance, the parents of Joseph Schooling—Singapore’s first Olympic champion—estimated that they spent nearly US$1 million on Schooling’s swimming journey leading up to his Olympics win in 2016.
It is the rare parent who is able to dedicate oneself (and one’s resources) to the painstaking work of developing a child’s talent. For the average middle-class parent in Singapore, efforts to nurture talent are carried out on a more modest scale, where children are sent to a variety of enrichment classes to develop new skills.
A mother who has raised two daughters with strong interests says she encouraged both girls to “take lessons in different areas—sports, performing arts, visual arts, music, writing, and the sciences.”
She adds: “Some of these were in the form of one-off holiday workshops, which can help you gauge your child’s aptitude and interest without investing too much.” (Read her story here.)
Yet, the costs of such classes can add up as well. And if a family is on a tight budget, even a one-time class could prove to be financially prohibitive.
What can families with limited funds do to help their children explore their interests? Read on to find out.
Seek Support From The School
If budget is a concern, be aware that the financial commitments of a school’s co-curricular activities may surprise you. Before you sign your child up for any school-based activity, check with teachers and experienced parents to find out how much you would need to set aside each year.
For instance, if your child has been invited to join a school team, there may be additional (chargeable) training sessions arranged by coaches leading up to competitions. You may also need to purchase training gear and school costumes, as well as pay competition fees.
If you are facing financial challenges, you may wish to alert the school, to see if there are avenues of help open to your family. This may include asking older students if they can hand down their old costumes or training wear.
“My child’s CCA bill from the school came at a time when my husband and I were slightly stretched for cash,” recalls a parent. “I asked the school if I could pay in two instalments, and the school agreed immediately. What’s more, the teacher-in-charge later told me that if my child should require financial support down the road to continue in the CCA, there was an anonymous benefactor willing to offer aid.”
Spend Within Your Means
In order not to spend beyond what is prudent for the family, some parents put a cap on their monthly enrichment expenditure.
In one family’s case, they have set aside a monthly budget of about S$700 for their three children’s enrichment and academic needs. With this sum, they are able to pay for art and violin lessons for their daughter, swimming classes for their two sons, as well as weekly Chinese tuition.
Another parent reveals that in order to allow her daughters to explore their varied interests—from hip-hop dance and music to learning Korean—she has cut down on her personal spending. Her family also does not intend to travel abroad this year-end.
If you need to send your child to a class to pursue an interest, choose the best option that you can comfortably afford.
Take gymnastics for instance. The options in Singapore range from training under a world champion, to classes at the community centre. A mother whose daughter attended the community centre classes says there were ample opportunities for growth and exposure. Her daughter participated in national competitions, and was sent by her coach to try out for the national gymnastics team.
If one thinks out of the box, it may be possible to find an enrichment teacher for your child without putting an additional strain on your wallet. Perhaps a family friend, a young person in your social circle, or even your child’s classmate can help impart a skill to your child for free, or for a token fee. Alternatively, check if a free or low-cost online instruction channel is available. If your child needs training gear or equipment, try acquiring these on Carousell or the Freecycle network to save costs.
Look To Social Service Organisations
There are a number of social service organisations in Singapore dedicated to bridging the inequality gap for the younger generation.
The Little Arts Academy supports children and youths from disadvantaged families who are interested in dance, music, theatre, or visual arts, and provides performing opportunities for them as well. Young artists aged six to 19 who are under the Ministry of Education’s Financial Assistance Scheme can apply to receive full funding at the Little Arts Academy. Youths can also apply for full funding at 10 Square, which provides arts training to teens aged 13 to 19. Both organisations are beneficiaries of the Business Times Budding Artists Fund.
Children’s Wishing Well organises sports, music, and drama workshops, as well as short courses to teach essential life skills to equip children for the future, such as IT skills, cooking, and social etiquette. They also run a Career GPS programme for upper secondary and post-secondary school students, to expose them to different career options and encourage them to work towards their goals.
Xin Yuan Community Care has run weekly programming classes as well as one-off holiday workshops for children from families with financial difficulties. These activities were held in collaboration with partners, including Ngee Ann Polytechnic and the Singapore University of Technology and Design.
Some private enrichment schools are doing their part to help out as well. I Can Read has worked with a family service centre to sponsor lessons for low-income students, which would usually cost between S$385 and S$590 per three-month term. The centre believes that a good foundation in literacy skills can be a “game changer” for students in need, in terms of building their confidence and passion for learning.
With growing awareness about inequality in Singapore, more enrichment providers may follow suit. “We have been thinking about this for a while, and next year, we are looking at funding one less fortunate gymnast’s competitive training with us,” says Andrea Leong, the founder and head coach of gymnastics school Rhythm & Groove. “More details will be out soon, but we will waive all competitive class fees [S$500 per month] for the sponsored gymnast. These classes are four hours long, and held twice weekly.”
Develop Skills At Home
Fortunately, some talents can be honed in the comfort of one’s home.
One mother relates that her son, now a polytechnic student, was always a fan of the Marvel Superheroes. As a young boy, her son would create superhero costumes out of home materials, such as cloth and cardboard. Later, he took an interest in drawing superhero characters.
“He started doodling in primary school, on school textbooks, mostly stickman figures,” she says. “He doesn’t have any formal training in art, and the only instructional book I bought for him was a ‘drawing for dummies’ book.”
Today, she is proud of her son’s self-directed efforts—he runs an Instagram account to showcase his drawings, and has started accepting requests for commissioned artwork.
Teaching oneself to master a skill can be exciting, says young entrepreneur Nat Eliason.
“When you teach yourself something on your own, there’s no curriculum, no playbook, no textbook, no professor to walk you through the steps. You move from one problem to the next, slowly getting better at guessing and checking. You don’t need a formal education in a subject, you just need the ability to experiment, push your abilities, and respond to feedback. But after years of having knowledge spoonfed to you, starting to learn this way might be intimidating.”
On his blog, he outlines some practical steps to successful self-learning, and this is where you can lend your child some support.
First, ensure that your child has a low-cost or free way to practise the skill being learned, and a place to “show” his or her work. Examples would include a blog for writing, or an Instagram account for photography.
Next, find books and online resources that provide clear instructions on mastering different aspects of a skill. Encourage your child to assess his or her current ability level, and to set specific and measurable goals for growth.
Then comes the most critical part of self-learning: receiving and responding to feedback about one’s efforts. This is where having an actual coach or mentor would be extremely helpful. But if your child does not have anyone to consult, you can help him or her to search for communities with like-minded individuals, formed for the purpose of sharing and critiquing projects.
Once your child has achieved a certain level of competency, you can search together for competitions or showcase events that your child can join, to give him or her a higher goal to work towards.
Above all, don’t feel guilty about your lack of resources, or be drawn into the comparison game.
“It’s actually a good thing that we are not that well-to-do,” confesses a mother of two. “It keeps my creative juices flowing, and makes the kids aware of the need to be thrifty. Life is more interesting this way.”