Sunday, June 17, 2018

Choosing a Chinese Enrichment Centre

Dumpling used to head off to my parents' place after school on some days but that changed with her staying back in the school for an average of 3 times a week because of extra classes and CCA. Hence the exposure to Chinese language has been greatly cut down since that's my parents' mode of communication with her. 

And like many other parents, I find Chinese a harder subject to crack and to support in, which explains why I did Chinese immersion for her from 18 months to her Kindergarten years and where we did a lot of  Chinese homelearning too. However, as she progresses on in school, and with me having started a new job earlier this year, I find the lack of time and the lack of teaching materials a challenge in effectively supporting her in this area. More than that, there are also quite a few elements to exams: Learning Comprehension, Composition, Oral, Paper 2 (which includes *gasp* comprehension and 便条).

We tried a Chinese tutor for a good couple of months but unfortunately, because of health issues, she could not teach Dumpling any more. That started a mad rush for me where I had to look for alternatives i.e. enrichment centre. 

With school (and semester 2) restarting in a week's time, how do you then choose a centre for your child and what are the things to look out for? Here, I share some tips and my thought processes. 

1. Distance 
In all honesty, this ranks at the top of my list because choosing a centre usually is decision that will "last" over a few years. 

The closer the centre is to your home or to your child's school, the less tiring it is for all of you. And you will realise the importance as your child goes into Upper Primary because time is really a constraint with them staying back in school for so many days. You will also need to factor in the travelling time too. 

2. Teachers / Environment  
Chinese is already a hard language to master so to me, having encouraging teachers is very important. Dumpling was previously with another enrichment centre and while the workload was really heavy, the teachers she had there were really nice and always had words of encouragement. 

There were days where Dumpling could not finish the compositions in time and the teachers did not mind and allowed Dumpling to continue on, even after the lesson has ended. I feel that this contributed to Dumping's "openness towards this language" because her experiences with these teachers have always been good. 

3. Curriculum / Gaps you wish to tackle
While the syllabus is set by MOE, different centres have their own curriculum where they plan for their lessons and design their worksheets differently. Even elements in their worksheets differ in focus an in intensity. Additionally, the length of the sessions and what are being covered in the lessons differ too. 

To elaborate, some centres run 2-hour programmes as well as a 3-hour programme. The 2 hour programmes usually come in these sort of combinations:

- Paper 2 components (Vocab + words from textbooks as well as comprehension)
- Composition + Oral format 
- Composition + Oral + Comprehension 

Now, you may ask how it is that some centres are able to cover composition + oral + comprehension while another is not able to. This is where you will need to call and do a bit of "homework". 

Honestly, it is hard for these centres to cover all these components in a 2-hour class so some centres may cover comprehension but they are the MCQ versions and then they pair it with composition; they will then do an Open-Ended Comprehension with Oral the following week. Other centres may do a full paper 2 and pair it with Oral before alternating with Composition the following week. So you will need to think and decide if for e.g. you prefer weekly compositions or you are for e.g. fine with 3 per term. 

You will also need to understand your child's schedule - is he / she able to complete the homework given by these centres:

  • do they have time to learn extra Ting Xie and Mo Xie words
  • do corrections
  • even work on the compositions from home 

I have some friends who prefer to let the enrichment centres support in just composition and oral while they work to support the child on the paper 2 components at home, on their own. Then, there are also centres that run a 3-hour programme where it is "all-in-one" ~ paper 2 components, composition and oral. 

More importantly, based on your child's recent SA1 papers, you will need to identify what the areas of improvement are. If your child seems to be weaker in composition, then you may not quite need to do the paper 2 components but focus your time and resources in choosing a centre that offers just composition support. 

4. Home and centre partnership 
It takes a village to raise a child and having a good partnership with your child's teacher is really important. In some trials / holiday workshops with some of the centres, I often ask for feedback and this allows me to gauge 2 things:

- How quick the centres reply with feedback 
- How insightful their observations are 

More importantly, when the teachers share areas which Dumpling needs improvement on, I'd often turn it around and ask them back ~ " How are you able to support her in that area then? What are your strategies and what will be your recommendations?" 

5. Slots availability and fees 
These 2 factors are pretty self explanatory ~ with Dumpling staying back in school so often, it is a challenge to be able to look for a class that suits her timetable so that took a bit of calling and checking too. Additionally, there's the question of fees of course. 

So far, based on my calls, most of these centres charge around $20+ per hour for group sessions (if you were to break the fees down by per term and then by per hour) but of course, there are some who charge a more premium fee. So it will be good for you to call and ask to see the materials and understand the justification in these places charging for a premium. 

I hope the sharing is useful and here's wishing you good luck in your search and in the upcoming Semester 2!

I have previously written a post on nurturing a love for the Chinese language before and you can read more about it here:

Part 1: Read Read Read (books of a different kind)

Part 2: Speak it, Use it!
Part 3: Watch it!

Part 4: Play It! 

Looking for more sharing on the Chinese syllabus, I recently interviewed a friend who is an MOE Primary School Chinese teacher on Chinese Composition which you can read about here too. 

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