What holiday? More kids spending school break at tuition centres
More parents sending their children for intensive study sessions at tuition centres in between school terms
He used to count down the days to June, because the holidays meant spending time away from books.
It was a time when he would travel with his family or go out with his friends.
But this year, there is no escape for 12-year-old Jack (not his real name).
While his friends are out playing and enjoying the down time, Jack tells The New Paper on Sunday (TNPS) that he spends his weekdays studying, just as he would during term time.
The only difference? He does it at a tuition centre, attending intensive study sessions that have been dubbed cram or hothousing sessions.
Jack's mother, hoping to give Jack an edge in the upcoming Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE), signed him up for hothousing programmes for three subjects. (See report )
Jack is not the only one.
Hundreds of parents have signed their children up for these hothousing sessions that learning centres have opened up just for the June holidays, from May 25 to June 26.
These classes, which are available for students from primary school all the way to junior college, are designed with one thing in mind - the examinations.
Tutors focus on topics likely to appear in the exam and teach students how to craft the perfect answers, based on past-year examination papers.
Hothousing is typically carried out over one to eight classes. These classes take the form of small-sized seminars, usually capped at about eight students.
Parents who sign their children up for hothousing see it as a push for children to do well, with some tuition centres even guaranteeing good results.
This year, Mrs Violette Yeo enrolled her 10-year-old son Matthew into a hothousing programme for English, which she says is his weakest subject.
Over the span of two weeks, Matthew will attend four classes, each lasting about two hours.
Mrs Yeo says that she has always wanted to send her son for enrichment classes to improve his English, but his packed schedule as a competitive swimmer keeps him busy.
The 45-year-old graphic designer says: "He has the time now, so I thought I might as well sign him up for this.
"He needs it and we get to focus on his area of weakness."
Mrs Alattas, an engineer in her late 30s, also signed her child up for a cram school session.
Her 12-year-old daughter, who is taking the PSLE this year, attends an intensive revision programme for Science and goes for a three-hour class twice a week.
She says: "These sessions are more interactive than school and I hope her grades will improve."
The fees for hothousing sessions range from $200 to $600, depending on the subjects and the reputation of the learning centres.
The learning centres that TNPS spoke to say that demand has been rising over the past few years and many of them have made more classes available.
Some even have parents on wait lists.
One such centre is Schoolplus, which has been conducting June holiday hothousing sessions since 2013.
Its chief executive officer Neo Zhizhong, 33, says the centre had only two classes and 16 students when it first started these sessions.
Demand has risen sharply and this year, the centre has more than 120 students attending 14 holiday cram school sessions.
Mind Learning Cove said that enrolment for its "Intensive Revision Boot Camp" for PSLE students tripled, compared to last year.
It has 10 students on its wait list.
Miss Jess Low, a teacher at Mind Learning Cove, explains why parents are keen, saying: "As the class size is small, the lessons are more targeted. The sessions allow time for students to practise and reflect on the concepts taught."
But experts say these cram schools might not be a good idea.
Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Gleneagles Hospital, says that hothousing force feeds a lot of information into students in a short amount of time. But the children might not have the cognitive vitality to retain what they learn, since they are still growing.
He says it is important for children to rest during their holidays, because the down time relaxes them and prevents behavioural problems from developing.
"They might get more stressed out and more anxious, which could lead to anxiety behaviour in the long run," he says.
Dr Carol Balhetchet, Singapore Children Society's senior director for youth services, agrees that the holidays should be a time for children to "rest and play".
She says: "Force-feeding children to learn during their holidays might cause them to develop a resistance to it. This is why some children have low resiliency levels and they eventually don't want to study."
Jack, 12, in his own words
We would always go on holidays in June and December, for as long as I can remember.
But in May, when I asked Mummy where we were going in June, I heard the bad news.
She said she was worried and stressed because I had done badly for my term one papers, getting only Bs and Cs.
"We're not going anywhere," she said. "You have to study."
I feel her decision is unfair because I know how to manage my time.
She wants me to get in the school of her choice through Direct School Admission (DSA) - that is why she insisted that I must still continue with my piano and wushu lessons on Sundays.
I used to have tuition only for Mother Tongue and Maths. Now, plus all that, I have to go for intensive study sessions for Mother Tongue, Maths and English.
But Mummy does not know that having different teachers makes it more confusing for me.
I cannot focus and they both tell me different things, so I don't know how to answer the questions best.
I wish we could travel as a family. I'm sad that we are not travelling this time.
Travelling could have been a fun time for me to recharge and then I can focus on the BIG PSLE.
I know Mummy has my welfare and well-being in mind, but it is also hard to pretend that I do not mind.
Just yesterday, I asked if I can have one day free before the holidays are over to go to Universal Studios Singapore (USS) and she said very angrily: "NO."
She said that I do not know how to prioritise my needs. I feel she is unfair.
She keeps telling me it is "just for a few months". But June is just one month, and it is the holidays.
Anyway, I hope I can get into DSA so my suffering can be lessened and Mummy will take me on a holiday after PSLE.
She told me I have to set a good example for Mei Mei (Mandarin for sister).
I hope I can.