What a difference a month makes. Prior to the coronavirus crisis, enrichment providers in Singapore could almost do no wrong. They wielded the knowledge and expertise that parents did not, and if you could afford their fees, a world of opportunity opened up for your children, to help them excel in academics or develop a latent talent.
Then came social distancing, and with it, a scramble to deliver on these hopes — virtually if at all possible.
Not all parents have been impressed. Summing up the sentiment of frustrated parents, here’s what one of our community members had to say:
“Imagine a business, such as a five-star restaurant, needing to shut down for five weeks due to government regulations. The existing customers sitting and eating inside the restaurant are told:
‘Sorry, we are shutting down right now. And by the way, we are rolling out a new e-dining system. You can see your food, but you cannot smell or taste it.
To do this e-dining, you need to set up your home computer with passwords or software, print your own picture of the food, log in at a fixed time and your chef will be ready to discuss via text chat how wonderful the food is, answer your questions, and so on. Other diners will also log in so you can discuss this as a group.
No, you can’t opt out. You can’t get a refund either, because you paid for three months of face-to-face dining in advance. Maybe we can offer you a discount off the next three months of e-dining.'”
On the other hand, some enrichment providers have won over parents by holding firm to their values.
“An education business is a business like no other. Besides the need to be profitable, it needs to be one that is ethical, especially in a crisis like this,” wrote an education centre owner in a TODAY commentary. “Provide options for refunds if parents or students are uncomfortable with e-tuition. Offer trials to be fair to them. Provide rebates if you can afford to, because we need to be in solidarity in this time of need. The goodwill will go a long way.”
As much as parents hope to support local businesses in these trying times, some parents will be affected by salary cuts and retrenchments, and enrichment will likely take one of the first hits when it comes to trimming personal expenditure.
Other parents, having been given the windfall of time during social distancing, may begin to question the need for enrichment classes in the first place. Providers that have not been up to par prior to the crisis will also run the risk of non-returning customers once the situation improves.
Parents: if enrichment classes have ruled your family’s life for years, this is an opportunity to take a long, hard look at your investment of time, effort, and funds. Is it truly worth it? Here at KSP, we’ve often talked about how to assess your enrichment providers, but in light of the current climate, below are some additional questions to consider.
Does your enrichment provider put people first?
Whether it’s a private tutor, brand-name enrichment school, or coach, how has your provider responded during this time of crisis? Were you satisfied with the level of service provided before the crisis hit? If your provider hires staff, how have they treated their staff before and during the crisis? Is your provider listening and responding to feedback? These actions speak volumes about whether values matter to your enrichment provider.
“I’ve been disillusioned by some of our enrichment providers even before the crisis, as I’ve sensed that greater attention was given to the bigger spenders,” says a KSP member whose two children attend enrichment classes for sports. “By chance, we recently found a community coach who is all about heart; he charges a fraction of what others have charged, shows up early to help my kids warm up, and makes them stay after sessions to do strengthening exercises. He’s perhaps not as savvy about getting kids into competitions, but it’s making me reassess what we look for in providers, during this break.”
Are there clear processes for crisis management and business continuity?
Even after the coronavirus crisis dies down, it would have left an indelible imprint on the way things are run. For one, temperature checks will probably be mandatory going forward. We may also see more students and teachers missing classes to err on the side of safety — should these be considered sunk costs on the part of parents?
Should another crisis arise that leads to a temporary shutdown of classes, who should bear the cost? Some enrichment providers have not taken a consistent approach with this — instead of choosing to broach the subject in the open with parents, they have offered refunds for shutdowns only to those who have asked for it. Goodwill is vital on both sides, but it should not be an assumption on the part of either party.
For physical classes that have moved to the online space, is it worth the price, or can someone else do it better?
Most parents will forgive teething issues that arise as academic, music, coding lessons and more shift to Zoom, or any other suitable online interface — as long as there is a consistent effort to improve. Some providers have offered their online classes at a reduced charge, while others have kept their fees the same, or held lessons of longer durations to make up for communication lags and other technical issues.
As a customer, you have the right to speak up if you feel you’re not getting value for your money. With more parents sharing stories about how enrichment providers are using online tools to deliver compelling lessons, it will probably keep providers on their toes in an effort to beat the competition. Perhaps the e-learning revolution has finally arrived, and for many reputable providers, it’s become a test of who pivots best.
Is there flexibility for parents, especially for those whose financial situations might change?
Can children pull out of classes temporarily if parents are under financial strain, can a fee adjustment be discussed, and will there be new registration charges imposed when a child rejoins a class? These can be awkward questions to put forward, but these are difficult times. If you may be facing financial difficulties in the months ahead — and especially if you’re dealing with private tutors and coaches — it’s good to pre-empt them and have a discussion before things go awry.
Are there better things for children to do with their time?
This could be the most important question of all. Watching Covid-19 wreak havoc across the globe has helped at least some of us to reconsider our perspective on the world, and what we should spend our time doing.
In fact, some parents with children taking the O-Levels or the Primary School Leaving Examination this year have confessed to viewing the exams in a different light — there are more important things going on in life right now. (On the flipside, other parents are more stressed than ever, wondering if their children’s education will be shortchanged in these milestone years.)
When all’s said and done, this is a question for your family to answer. Use this time wisely to reflect on the learning — and life — experiences that you want for your children, and in the meantime, stay safe and stay home.
One of the comments above was excerpted from our community discussion about enrichment centres and digital learning. It has been lightly edited. Click here to join the conversation.