Commentary: A new generation of tuition centres and education influencers are motivating students
Tuition centres today don’t simply drill students with past year papers - they throw in snacks and occasional excursions. It seems to be working, says mum writer June Yong.
SINGAPORE: My Primary 6 child spends half an hour each day trying his hand at different science revision papers on a popular online learning platform that we have a paid subscription to - all without my nagging.
He’s not just motivated by learning new concepts and revising old ones; he’s also earning points for himself. With every worksheet completed, he accumulates points that can be redeemed for small toys and gadgets.
Similarly, tuition centres today are not simply dishing out mathematical concepts and drilling students with past year papers. They’re throwing in free bubble tea and snacks during lesson time, and occasional trips to escape rooms and theme parks as well.
It may seem like bribery on the surface, but they seem to be working. These tuition centres are winning over the hearts and minds of their young charges, and the wallets of their parents.
What are they doing right? And is there something to be learnt from their strategy of offering fun, food, and friendship?
THE SCIENCE OF BELONGING
The human need to belong has been identified as a universal human need. In Baumeister and Leary’s landmark paper in 1995, belonging is defined as “an individual’s sense of being accepted, valued, included and encouraged by others”.
Studies have also shown that when students feel a sense of belonging in the classroom, it can bolster student esteem, motivation and academic achievement.
A meta-analysis published in 2000 shows that students who feel accepted and valued are likely to perform better in school and show positive motivational, socio-emotional and behavioural outcomes. The researchers also noted that the role a sense of belonging plays in school settings is striking.
This could be why #StudyTube and #StudyTok have come into existence. In these study versions of mukbang - a word derived from combining the Korean words for eating and broadcasting - content creators like Sugaresque and Fayefilms dish out study tips such as which devices or apps are most handy for taking notes, how to maintain your focus, and how to achieve the grades of your dreams.
Such trends may come as no surprise since most of us are social creatures and are motivated accordingly. Although there is no real-time connection watching these videos, there is still some form of human touch, which can be said to help alleviate the universal stress of revising for exams.
When it comes to adolescents, the need for belonging and acceptance may be even more critical. Whenever it is weighted assessments season, my teen daughter can be found studying (and of course chatting and laughing) with a handful of her classmates online over Zoom. She explained that she struggles to maintain her motivation and focus if she studies alone.
While I am glad she has such friendship groups to turn to in her time of need, I am also aware that if she gets a taste of such premium tuition centres, there will probably be no turning back.
THE POWER OF MOMENTS
What makes these centres so enduring and irresistible is that they go the extra mile to build camaraderie and belonging among their students.
And if we consider the fact that in a post-COVID world, youths have reported feeling a sense of social disconnection that may be exacerbated by the frenetic pace of modern life, this point of difference could be a dealbreaker.
A recent study conducted by two researchers from James Cook University in Singapore examined the experience of loneliness among youths. They found that social support from parents and friends was effective in guarding against loneliness, and that quality relationships with teachers and same-sex friends also helped to reduce its impact.
In such a context, the moments of reward, excitement and fun injected by this new breed of tuition centres help to create shared experiences among the students, elevating them from the daily humdrum and stresses of student life.
But how can a mere trip to Universal Studios be so effective, you might ask, since such outings typically happen over the school holidays?
According to Chip and Dan Heath, authors of The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact, when we assess our experiences, we don’t average out our minute-to-minute sensations; rather we remember “flagship moments", which comprise the peaks, the pits and the transitions.
With this understanding, we begin to see why the students enrolled in such centres seem to enjoy learning and mugging with their cohort. Through shared experiences facilitated by little treats during class and fun outings, a tuition class is transformed into a place of belonging and community.
In a Focus on the Family Singapore’s parent-child bonding event called The Select: Mission 1114, parents and their tweens pen letters of affirmation for each other in one of the programme segments.
Many parents have voted this as the defining moment of the event, as on top of cracking puzzles and codes together, parent and child are given a chance to express their heartfelt affection and love for each other - making it a flagship moment for them. And it is something that gets deposited into our long-term memory banks.
INCORPORATE MOMENTS OF CONNECTION INTO THE MUNDANE
Fun and laughter, moments of connection, regular treats and rewards - If we put ourselves into a young person’s shoes, who wouldn’t want these?
School, with its endless grind of weighted assessments and tests, can get tiresome for even the most conscientious and motivated child. So, as parents, carers and educators, we need to continually ask ourselves: What helps renew a sense of joy and purpose in our children?
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Here’s where we can take a leaf from the Gen-Z tuition centre playbook. Let’s top up our children’s memory tank by scheduling regular breaks for family fun and bonding time every month or so. And let’s not do it only as a form of reward for a test well done.
Every child needs love, fun and a sense of connection before they can be in the right frame of mind to learn. The results will follow if we get the order right.
June Yong is the Lead of Insights at Focus on the Family Singapore.