Before home-based learning (HBL) became a thing during the pandemic, Aaron Tay and his wife had already been homeschooling their three daughters.
While homeschooling in Singapore is rare, it isn't entirely unheard of. Aaron reckons that there are about 150 to 200 families doing homeschooling here, and he's in touch with a community of about 25 families that also organises meet-ups (when Covid-19 restrictions permit, of course).
Aside from planning his kids’ school curriculum, the 41-year-old also juggles a full-time job as a financial services manager at Vineyard Advisory Group, IPP Financial Advisers, while his wife Sharon, 42, is a homemaker. Their nine-year-old twins are in Primary 3, while their five-year-old daughter will be in K2 next year.
Why did Aaron decide to take the route that few parents in Singapore have dared to venture? It has mainly to do with his lifelong battle with various medical conditions, he shares with 8Days.sg.
At eight years old, Aaron was diagnosed with lupus and a chronic kidney disease. When he was 23, doctors discovered a tumour in his nose due to the side effects of long-term medication. Doctors told him that he could either stop medication and risk kidney failure, or remove the tumour surgically. “This involved cutting up a part of my skull and scraping off the tumour,” Aaron tells us. “The best-case scenario would be a huge scar on my face, and the worst-case scenario was paralysis to half of my face.” He went with the first option and stopped taking medication, and subsequently started kidney dialysis. However, four years into dialysis, he developed heart complications. “I was given only five years to live if I did not have a kidney transplant. My younger brother willingly donated his kidney to me selflessly and saved my life,” he shares.
Having weathered one storm after another gave Aaron a different perspective on life, not just his own, but his daughters' as well. “Due to my experience growing up with medical conditions, and my brother donating his kidney to me, I understand the deep importance and foremost priority of the unity of the family," he says. "So I decided I wanted to invest more time being present with my family and my children and developing a bond with them."
What does home-schooling in Singapore entail exactly? Aaron shares more with 8Days.sg.
8 DAYS: Why did you decide to homeschool your children?
AARON TAY: I wanted to be much more involved in their schooling and growing up years, and inculcate character values and life skills beyond the scope of academics, such as integrity, honesty, resilience, interpersonal skills, conflict resolution, leadership, etc. Each of my three children have different learning styles, gifts and talents. I wanted to customise their learning to their styles and inculcate the value of lifelong learning, given that we are in the age of technology. So, learning and relearning is a valuable skill.
Homeschooling also gives us the flexibility to learn at our own pace and enjoy the learning process together. My flexibility as a self-employed financial consultant also gives me the luxury of time and space to invest more energy into their education.
What were some considerations or hesitations you had before starting on the homeschooling journey?
Like most parents, our main consideration was whether they could catch up on their academics. However, if we keep up with the discipline and routine daily, it’s not so much of a problem. There are also numerous textbooks, workbooks and assessments and resources to learn from for the Ministry of Education (MOE) syllabus.
Another consideration will be interaction with other children from different family and social backgrounds. We do have a home-schooling community which we meet and interact often and engage in activities. Often, we organise excursions to the zoo, Science Centre, Museum, nature parks and more. We also usually go during the weekdays, so we do not have to squeeze in with the weekend crowd!
How do you plan their curriculum? Are there certain requirements from MOE you need to meet?
When my girls were turning six and going into Primary 1, the Compulsory Education (CE) officer from MOE will interview us to assess if we were suitable to home-school our children. We had to prepare our curriculum plan for the next three years and a plan for National Education and Character and Citizenship Education. It was a very rigorous process and it helped us to structure and plan the learning journey properly.
I plan the curriculum as per the MOE requirement, because at the end of their primary school they will need to sit for their PSLE. It is quite manageable as the MOE syllabus is very structured. I also have ready access to many resources available online.
Where do you turn to for homeschooling resources?
We have no lack of resources in bookstores, online platforms, and the library. Also, we often go out on field trips and almost anything can be a learning resource too! It’s a matter of being creative, flexible and resourceful. Learning is lifelong and most importantly is to capture the teaching moments and cultivate the love for learning in our children.
What’s a typical school day like at home?
I dedicate about two to three hours in the morning daily to plan, teach and oversee their studies. My children will be having lessons from 8am to 1pm. I will teach from 8am to about 10am or sometimes till 11am, depending on the topic and my work schedule.
My wife then takes over the teaching when I head off for work and client meetings. Now, during the current work from home arrangements, my meetings are mainly over video conferencing. I meet two to three clients daily, over video conferencing or face to face, to advise them on their financial planning and wealth management needs.
I teach mainly English and Maths. My wife takes all the subjects — English, Maths, Chinese and Science. After lunch, it will usually be field trips. But now during the pandemic, they will stay home and focus more on music and art lessons.
When do you plan on homeschooling your children until? Is there any requirement by law that homeschooling has to stop by a certain level?
I plan to send my children back to public school after PSLE. It’s not confirmed but we will see how it goes. Every year, we will review and see if homeschooling is still suitable and relevant to them. By law, every child needs to sit for PSLE. Other than that, there is no requirement to stop homeschooling by a certain level.
What advice do you have for parents who are currently dealing with home-based learning during this pandemic?
My advice will be to say no to many other distractions. I feel that in our modern world today, there are too many distractions online and other entertainment which takes us away from focusing on what is important.
Personally, I feel that children need a fixed and disciplined routine every day, whether you are homeschooled or in public school. With a disciplined routine, children will have stability, predictability, and will help in their focus and attention span.
Also, the synergy and cooperation between the husband and wife is very important. They must both be of one mind, so that the child will not try and manipulate just because parents have differing views. So, a strong and united parent structure will greatly help to communicate the same message to the children that studies are important, and that the routine and discipline is to be kept.
How do you juggle homeschooling the children and your work running a financial planning practice?
My time management strategy is to block out time during the day to have undivided attention to a single task, to have efficiency. My mornings will be blocked out to teach my children in their academics, lay out assignments, and my wife will take over the rest of the day’s teaching. I will then head off to work, either in the office or in my home office. [I also get] great support at work from my personal assistant, who handles the day-to-day administrative matters, while I focus on client meetings. It’s very productive and efficient if I focus on the things I do best and delegate the admin work to a competent assistant.
Photos: Courtesy of Aaron Tay