How do you differentiate a good enrichment centre from a mediocre one?
Most parents love the idea of variety, but narrowing your options down to one? Not so easy. This is especially true for enrichment and tuition services, where options abound. Recommendations and reviews help, while practical considerations such as timing, cost, and location can limit your choices. Once you’ve shortlisted some enrichment centres, it’s time to pay them a visit: What should you look out for?
We spoke to two teachers, also parents themselves, to find out how they assess enrichment centres for their children, and what needs to be in place before they’re willing to commit to one.
How do you feel when you step into the centre? Is the environment neat and clean? These aren’t crucial factors, but they make a difference. “I’m particular about cleanliness and hygiene practices,” says Ho Qian Wen, a former secondary school teacher and stay-home mother of three. “I think it’s important to prevent the spread of common diseases like HFMD, and I will ask if the centre carries out temperature checks, or if they require kids to sanitize their hands when they enter the classroom.”
Tip: Besides the physical environment, one should pay attention to the “heart and soul” of the centre—are there signs that the centre cultivates a love for learning? “If there are students in the enrichment centre, observe them. It’s easy to see if other kids are enjoying the lessons,” says Qian Wen.
The best-equipped centre would falter with ineffective teachers, and this should be your focus when visiting any school—observing or talking to the individuals who will be teaching your child. “A free trial is helpful. We need to see that the teacher is able to manage the class, especially when younger kids are involved. If kids are running all over the place and there’s no structure, it’s pointless,” says Michelle Gomez-Fernandez, a primary school teacher and mother of three little ones.
Those with older children can make a mental checklist of qualities a teacher should have. For Qian Wen, who has two children in primary school, these traits rank high on her list:
Ability to engage and motivate students
Strong content knowledge
Confident delivery style
Warm and approachable
Tip: Above all, good teachers care about the well-being of their students and make efforts to interact with them beyond the requirements of the class.
The common assumption is that smaller classes are always better. However, studies have shown that teachers tend to teach in the same way regardless of class size, so the priority should always be to find good teachers. That said, it’s worthwhile bearing class size in mind as students generally behave better in smaller groups—this may be the key reason why small classes are conducive for learning.
Tip: Ask centres about their class sizes, but know that numbers are arbitrary. If you hear a centre owner/teacher say, “We cap our classes at X number of students, but we may accept fewer —or more—kids depending on the personalities within the group and how they influence the learning environment,” you know you’ve found a good school. Good teachers also seek feedback from students to check if they’re comfortable with the class dynamics.
The Learning Process
Even if a school has fulfilled your initial criteria, it can be tricky to gauge if children are benefitting from classes, and at some point, you may wonder if it’s time to move on. For those with young children, Michelle offers some questions to consider:
How enthusiastic is my child about the class?
Is learning still taking place, i.e. is a skill being developed, or a value such as teamwork or sportsmanship?
Is the teacher patient, or does he/she rush the kids to do things they’re not ready for?
Are there peer interaction opportunities?
For children in primary school and beyond, parents should check if they are learning at a comfortable pace. “Be it an academic centre or a non-academic one, the principle is the same,” says Qian Wen. “A teacher must ensure that a child builds a strong foundation through step-by-step learning, and that the child only advances to the next level when he or she is ready.”
A good centre, in her view, includes a range of materials or activities to suit different learning styles. “For instance, my son is a visual learner, and when visiting a centre, I would ask how the teacher would go about teaching a visual learner, to ensure his needs are catered for,” she explains.
Tip: Parents can also enquire about how progress will be monitored—good centres have a process for tracking student development. For instance, some centres use progress charts or other forms of documentation, such as report cards, to show what students have learned.
Red Flags: Know When To Say “No”
“When speaking to some teachers, you’ll sense they’re not interested in talking to you, or that they don’t know what they’re talking about,” says Qian Wen. “If I find the teacher unsuitable, I won’t sign up with the school.”
She also considers temperature checks non-negotiable, as many parents routinely send their children for classes even when they are ill.
For Michelle, politeness and inclusiveness are essential. “Teachers should speak in a common language at all times,” she says. “If I hear a teacher speaking in a language that not everyone understands, just to address a select group of kids, that would be a red flag for me.”
Tip: Trust your instincts, and remember that you understand your child’s needs best.