It is a known fact that Singapore Primary School Mathematics (Singapore Math) is world class and offers a rigorous syllabus that focuses on problem solving and heuristics, rather than rote learning. Developed back in the 1980s, the syllabus has evolved and is now very different from what many parents have studied themselves when they were in Primary School. To support their children, parents will need to unlearn what they had learnt, and adopt the new model drawing techniques that their children have to master in order to pass their examinations.
Alternatively, it might be easier for parents to rely on service providers who specialise in building up the core fundamentals for children to deal with their academic challenges back in school. There are several service providers with a specific focus on math. These offer various types of pedagogy. It is necessary for parents to evaluate these service providers carefully to understand what they offer so that the right programme is selected for the right child.
When engaging extra-curricular help for your child, there are a few things to note:
1) Understand your child’s strengths and weaknesses
This is most important. If a child is fundamentally weak in foundation arithmetic, a regimented programme that can build up his/her skills through consistent drills could be useful. Such drills can speed up computation speed and accuracy, and help to eliminate careless mistakes while building up confidence in the child.
However, the same drills could actually turn off children who are good in understanding and applying concepts, rather than rote application of techniques. They will need to focus on building up critical thinking skills which can challenge them, keep them interested and engaged, and build up good habits of mind.
2) Understand your own ability to teach your own child
While it would be wonderful if parents can teach their own children, not all parents are equipped with the knowledge, resources and patience to teach their own children. You could end up confusing your children by teaching them unsuitable or obsolete techniques for solving math problems.
3) Understand the key approach and services offered by service providers.
Here are some criteria that you can use when evaluating Mathematics service providers.
Alignment with MOE Syllabus. There are many enrichment providers who depend on programmes imported from places like Japan and Korea. It would be useful to verify that the programmes are aligned with the Ministry of Education syllabus for Primary school if you want to see immediate academic benefits for your child.
Method. Establish the effectiveness of the programmes. You can do this by reviewing the instructional methods and frameworks. You should also check if the pedagogy has been vetted by a recognised body or professional.
Materials. Review the materials provided by the service for quality, scope and depth. Verify if questions are presented in the manner most suitable for your child. If your child is weak in fundamentals, it might be more appropriate to start him/her off with simpler materials rather than complex problems. If your child is weak in problem sums, then more challenging problems would be useful to keep him/her engaged. If answers are provided, review the answers for correctness and completeness.
Instruction mode. Many programmes offer one-on-one coaching for children, allowing them to progress based on their own ability. Some programmes are class-based, where children are instructed as a group. The advantage of individual-based coaching is the increased attention of the instructor to the needs of the individual student. Class-based programmes promote group learning, which can be more interesting for students especially if they are competitive.
Amount of Homework. This depends on your own beliefs regarding homework. Some parents want children to have more homework to reinforce learning. Others prefer enrichment services not to give homework to reduce children’s workloads.
Evaluation of Students. The level at which your child start for the programme should be based on the results of an initial placement test conducted at the start, so that the instructors can quickly identify the key gaps and recommend steps for corrective action for your child. Even if your child is in Primary Three, you should not force your child to start at level equivalent to Primary Three if the instructor feels that the child needs to reinforce foundation levels. Continuous evaluation of students and feedback to parents is also another important aspect to inspect. Such evaluation allows parents to understand how much their children have actually benefited from the program, and also to provide any additional support recommended by instructors.
Fun. We need to balance work with fun. If a child finds it a chore to attend the sessions or to do homework, he/she will be unmotivated to perform. Look for attempts by the programme to create motivation in the learning process. This could be in the form of interesting worksheets, fun activities, competitions, or rewards for good performance.
Qualifications. Check on the minimum academic level that must be attained by instructors before they are allowed to teach. Certain services only hire degree holders.
Number of years. Check on the number of years of that the instructor has been teaching in the programme. The longer they teach, the more experienced they are with the programme.
Passion. This can be difficult to establish initially, but it is can be determined after a few sessions of chatting with the instructor and observing them with children. Evidence of passion can be seen from the earnestness of the instructor in ensuring that students understood their instruction, and in proactively staying in touch with parents to work together to support their children in their learning journey.
Training. The level of support provided by the service provider for its teachers is crucial to create a core of trainers who fully understand how to apply the pedagogy prescribed by the service.
Evaluation of Instructors. The service should have a regular process for evaluating its trainers and provide feedback and execute corrective action where necessary.
Business type. From the perspective of a customer, you should be aware of the pros and cons of services offered as a franchise versus those which are directly controlled by the business itself. While franchised centres can have some leeway in offering differentiated services within the brand, this can also create disparity in perceived quality of service across the brand. It is necessary to establish how much control the master franchiser has over his franchisees. Generally, the greater the control, the more consistent the quality, and the more impactful the pedagogy imposed by service provider.
Tenure. The number of years the service provider has been in business is a good indicator of the reliability of the service.
Pricing. This is an important criteria especially for parents with smaller budgets.
Environment. The conduciveness, safety and relevance of the study environment can affect the effectiveness of lessons. Ensure there is proper lighting, and low noise levels. Also check the surrounding area to ensure children are safe when going or leaving from the centre, or going to toilets outside of the centre.
Accessibility. No matter how good a service is, if it is inaccessible to you, it is not useful. Check with the service providers for the location of the branch that is nearest to you.