As he copied the solution to the maths problem sum onto his worksheet, he realised he was lost.
Primary school mathematics is tough.
But this was not a primary school pupil struggling with the question. He was a father-of-two in a course on primary school maths.
He is one of several parents going for "tuition" so they can better understand what their children deal with at school.
On Dec 6, Mr Mohd Yusof Maruwi, who is in his early 60s, and his wife, Madam Sanisah Ismail, 45, attended an eight-hour session on solving primary school maths problems. It was held at the multi-purpose room at Muhajirin Mosque.
Thirty parents attended the Parents Mastery workshop organised by Genius Young Mind, a centre which conducts maths tuition and workshops.
Mr Yusof, who is also a veteran actor and comedian, has an eight-year-old daughter and six-year-old son. The environment officer listened intently as the teacher explained the "branch" method to solve a fraction problem.
He has a secondary education and last went to school 50 years ago. He said that now, he can't even understand his own notes.
"I looked at the question and thought, 'Alamak, so difficult.'
"Luckily, my wife could understand what was going on."
Another parent, Madam Mirza Ainiazia Muhamad, 42, an administrative executive, attended the course with her eldest child, Secondary 3 student Fatyn Nadhrah Marican, while her husband was at home with their sons, aged six and 11.
Madam Mirza joined the workshop because she was worried about her older son, who will be sitting the PSLE this year.
She said: "The methods they use for solving questions are different from what I learnt in school. I want to be able to help my children with their work."
These parents are part of a growing trend of parents who attend classes so that they can help their children with their studies.
The latest Household Expenditure Survey found that families spent $1.1 billion a year on tuition. This is almost twice the $650 million spent a decade ago and a third more than the $820 million spent just five years ago.
There are 850 tuition centres and enrichment centres registered with the Education Ministry, up from 800 last year and about 700 in 2012.
The Parents Mastery workshop is conducted with the Students Math boot camp four times a year and costs about $700 in total.
The parents were taught at least two methods of solving each mathematics problem.
After spending more than 15 minutes explaining a rather complex problem, the teacher said: "Your child has to answer a similar question in just a few minutes. So next time, don't be too hard on them if they can't solve a question."
Another tuition centre, Learning Out Of The Box, also runs regular workshops for parents. About 100 parents have joined the workshops so far.
Madam Cindy Leow, 42, a human resource executive, went for several workshops with her son, 12, who sat his PSLE last year.
The workshops dealt with solving mathematics problem sums and overcoming anxiety during examinations.
Madam Leow, a diploma holder, sent her son to the tuition centre after he failed his mathematics mid-year exam and she joined the parenting workshop.
She said: "The methods I used (for solving questions) were not up to date and I couldn't help him with his work.
"Importantly, I started to understand his challenges with maths and can help him now instead of just nagging at him without realising the problem."
Madam Leow added that although it was challenging at first, she eventually picked up some useful problem-solving skills.
Principal of Genius Young Minds, Ms Nur Hidayah Ismail, 29, said parents are often easier to teach compared to their children because they are more disciplined and eager to learn.
But there are challenges.
Ms Nur Hidayah said: "The parents' range of ability varies widely. Some parents who approach the workshop have zero maths knowledge, so we have to go very slowly."
To deal with that, the parents are grouped in classes according to their educational level and knowledge of maths concepts.
Part of the workshop also involves motivating the parents.
For Mr Mohd Yusof, the session made him realise that parents should be more understanding of the challenges their children face in our school system.
He said: "We were reminded that Singapore's education system is tough and we have to know our children's abilities.
"As parents, we have to help them to chase their own dreams, not ours."
Parents are their kids' first teachers
Principal of Genius Young Minds, Ms Nur Hidayah Ismail, 29, saw an increase in participants attending the course, from just 20 parents four years ago to more than 100 this year.
She said: "Parents are their children's first educators. Many parents want to guide their children, but they are unable to do so.
"The children are happy to be supported by their parents as well and are proud when their parents are able to help them with their maths."
Another tuition centre, Mindchamps, conducts an Exam Strategies Workshop for parents whose children attend their PSLE Success workshop.
Although figures were not given, Mindchamps said it has seen a growing trend of parents attending this workshop over the past five years.
More than 12,000 parents have attended the Exams Strategies workshop so far. It is a three-hour session held in the evenings.
A Mindchamps spokesman said: "The parents are given an overview of what the child learns in the programme and given insight into the techniques and strategies involved.
"By attending the workshop, the parents will understand better what their child is learning and how to provide the support and nurturing environment for the child at home."
Another tutor, Mr John Yeo, 35, who runs Learning Out Of The Box, a maths tuition centre, has written two assessment books targeted at parents. He also holds workshops for parents.
He said: "We're targeting parents because we realise they are using assessment books to guide their kids, but these assessment books came with solutions that are meant only for students.
"Parents find it hard to understand the problem-sum steps and when they teach their kids, it is not that effective."
Mr Yeo added that parents often share the same frustration as their children towards mathematics.
"They also want something which is easy for them to read and understand. They don't have much time because most are working parents," he said.
This article was first published on Jan 7, 2015.
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