SINGAPORE - Madam Lee Hui Ling's daughter was in for a shock when she joined her secondary school band.
She has practice three times a week - a total of 12 hours - and there is even more during performances and competitions. This was a jump from her once-a-week Chinese orchestra practice of five hours in primary school.
As a result, the Secondary 2 student in an independent girls' school is exhausted when she goes home around 7pm. By the time she goes to bed after homework, it is past midnight or 1am.
Like her, many students involved in co-curricular activities (CCAs) - compulsory for those in secondary school - end up with little time for rest and homework, say parents, who are asking if the Ministry of Education should review the time spent on such activities.
Highlighting this in a letter to The Straits Times' Forum page last Monday, Madam Lee said the amount of time her daughter dedicates to her CCA is excessive.
"It is not that she does not like her CCA - she likes music, so she pushes herself to go for practice," said the part-time operations manager who is in her 40s. "But she sacrifices sleep to finish her work. The next day, she wakes up at 5.45am for school again. It is exhausting."
Six other Forum letters followed. Most were written by parents who, while recognising the value of CCAs, echoed Madam Lee's call for the ministry to review the time spent on them.
Readers also weighed in on ST's Facebook page, raising similar concerns.
Ms Michelle Sim said: "How can you expect the child to wake up at 6am, come home at 7pm to 8pm after CCA and still be productive to deal with homework, tests and studies. They are humans, not robots."
For the Secondary 1 daughter of senior manager Gina Lee, 45, two days a week of National Cadet Corps training was too much, and she left to join the choir after two months.
But some parents and students feel CCAs are an integral part of school life, and their worth outweighs the gruelling hours.
Xinmin Secondary student Cassandra Lim, 16, stays in school until almost 7pm for guzheng ensemble practice twice a week, and up to four times before major performances.
"Even though the hours are a bit long, CCA is worth it because it releases study-related stress, I learn new things and mix with friends," she said.
Madam Esther Yap, 48, a sales coordinator, said her Secondary 2 son's badminton CCA is "good exercise". But she added: "It must be balanced, too. Students cannot neglect their studies."
When contacted, a ministry spokesman said secondary schools and junior colleges have guidelines for CCA hours - an average of five to six hours a week over a total of 30 weeks.
She added that some CCAs, like school sports teams, "do require more time in order that students may progressively develop the skills and physical conditioning to peak at the right time".
The ministry will continue to work closely with schools to ensure that CCA time does not "compromise the overall well-being of our students", she said.
Principals interviewed said schools monitor students' CCA time to ensure a balance. CCAs also stop about a month before mid-year and final examinations, for students to focus on studying.
At Anglican High School, each CCA has, at most, two sessions a week, each lasting about three hours. Its principal Maureen Seah said parents are informed when there are extra sessions.
Ang Mo Kio Secondary principal Abdul Mannan said: "For traditionally time-consuming CCAs like performing arts and sports, parents are given a schedule of the official timings. Anything more is the students' initiative."
Maris Stella High principal Joseph Lim said some CCAs such as sports set aside time before training for students to complete their homework.
He added: "Teachers in charge of CCAs monitor students who are not doing so well academically and give them extra help."
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