My attitude towards enrichment classes had always been that they were extras to be done for fun and sheer enjoyment. I was rudely awakened last year when I realized that Little Boy's exams tested skills and content that school hadn't yet taught, but that others had already learnt in their enrichment classes a year or 2 earlier. Poor Little Boy had to play catch up. We caught up on 3 years of Chinese in 10 months. We caught up on 1.5 years of Math in 4 weeks. Happily, Little Boy has always been about 1 or 2 years ahead of his peers in English and Science. He loved these 2 subjects and I indulged him with a plethora of books around that he could dive into, to enrich himself. Indeed, for Science, he had the entire kitchen at his disposal as well as all manner of odds and ends that he would put together for strange experiments of all sorts.
I had always believed that schools would make it a point to test only what they were able to adequately teach. I now realize that schools test what enrichment centres teach too! Hence, unless I want Little Boy to fail his exams later on, it makes sense to give him exposure to skills and content that he will be tested on (without having been explicitly taught) in later years. I am determined not to fail my Little Boy again in this regard. So, I signed him up for formal enrichment.
In part, my decision was motivated by what I read in the newspapers some time ago. Our Ministry of Education, MOE, has decided to start Teach Less Learn More initiatives in History and Geography classes at the Secondary 1 and 2 levels (America grades 7 and 8). See Straits Times article here - http://www.straitstimes.com/BreakingNews/Singapore/Story/STIStory_764750.html. We've all experienced Teach Less Learn More in primary school and we're all still reeling from the unpleasant shock. Teachers give out a project and expect our little 8 to 12 year olds to miraculously KNOW where to get information, how to synthesize information, how to present information.
Give them a project and let them discover.
That is good and wonderful (and is an approach that should be applauded) except that schools don't provide the required resources (not even proper textbooks) for the children to explore, and learn from. So, either our children learn from thin air or parents like me have to actively search for reading and video materials so that our children can REALLY learn independently.
I fear very much that the same half-baked Teach Less Learn More implementation will happen in the new Teach Less Learn More initiatives at the secondary school level. I fear that come his time in secondary school, Little Boy's projects in Sec 1 and 2 History and Geography, will be graded for his skill at expository and argumentative writing, without the school ever having explicitly taught either. I do know that some secondary schools teach narrative writing and only narrative writing all the way up to Secondary 4 (grade 10). As a result, bright and conscientious students fail GP (the General Paper) in Junior College (American grades 11 and 12). So, I decided to enrich Little Boy in expository and argumentative writing skills in preparation for secondary school. In fact, I know that students at a particular premier enrichment centre, are already learning these skills as part of their enrichment program in Primary 6.
I find it very time-consuming to search for resources and devise assignments with which to help Little Boy learn independently. It's like devising a curriculum for a school with only one student. I thus decided I needed some help. I was introduced to an online American High School catering to American homeschooling parents, and I signed Little Boy up for English I - Introduction to Language Arts. His online mentor (a real person with 30 years of teaching experience) provided him with Anne Hanson's Visual Writing http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/visual-writing-anne-hanson/1101083691 and assigned him the task of summarizing Benjamin Franklin's autobiography http://www2.hn.psu.edu/faculty/jmanis/franklin/a_b_benf.pdf. I examined the task and materials, and decided that Little Boy had all the resources to independently learn and carry out his task. So, Little Boy read up on the basics of expository writing and then he read Benjamin Franklin's autobiography and then he began his summary.
Little Boy had so much fun. It was a task that was new enough to be interesting, but not so new that it was daunting. He had help because he could refer to Anne Hanson's book. AND it saved me a great deal of time because I didn't have to source for a writing textbook, nor do I have to mark Little Boy's work. His online mentor does all that.
In addition, I do think practice in expository and argumentative writing comes in useful even in the PSLE because both types of writing are required in answering English comprehension questions, as well as Science open-ended questions. Not only that, the online assignments are of a difficulty that is actually better calibrated to Little Boy's competence in English than the assignments his school teacher gives out. His school teacher prints 3 short columns of newspaper articles, and the task is to write 5 sentences detailing one's reactions to the 3 short readings. When I say short readings, I really mean short. The readings take up a 3rd of a page only.
I find it odd that Little Boy's school assigns such easy homework to students (in the 2nd best class) who need to face the demands of the PSLE at the end of the year, and of whom one expects standards of writing so high that this composition (http://www.littleboyscompositions.blogspot.com/2011/10/flash-flood.html) scored a mere 28/40 only. Now tell me, is there not a gap between what students are taught to do through assigned homework, and what students must do in their exams?
Little Boy is enjoying the challenge of English I - Introduction to Language Arts immensely. It is a high school module and his online classmates range in age from 14 to 18. Little Boy is only 11. I was never keen to push Little Boy beyond his level because I neither wanted to stress him not hothouse him. I now realise that giving enrichment prevents stress later on (when he will be tested but not taught), and is not hothousing because his school exams do expect that much of him.
I resolve thenceforth to embrace enrichment as part of my parental responsibilities, and do my best by Little Boy. It's impossible to know to what level the exams will test to because as one person put it "The textbook is the base and the sky is the limit". Therefore, I'll just let Little Boy move forwards as FAST and as FAR as he wants to. We may wake up one day to a son who is ready for university far earlier than most OR we may wake up to a son who is just about on par with his peers. There is no way to tell so we'll just do what we can.