Every Wednesday, Rachel Seet is rushed from Marine Parade to Bukit Timah just for tuition.
She gobbles up her lunch after school at 1pm and makes a quick change before she sprints out of the door for evening lessons. Rachel is only 10. Her tuition is not in Chinese or mathematics.
That's reserved for other days of the week. Books and stationery give way to sports gear that she takes to her "tuition centre" - the Ministry of Education's Co-Curricular Activities Branch Stadium at Bukit Timah.
She spends two hours watched by eagle-eyed professional track and field coaches from Fabian Williams Coaching Concepts. They watch her every stride, correcting the budding 100m sprinter's running posture and technique. Yes, Rachel, like several other children now, is put through sports tuition.
This is on top of the track and field training sessions with her own primary school. Those are conducted twice a week for two hours each time. On some days, it's a 7am to 7pm day for Rachel. She's part of a growing trend as parents push their children to excel in sports so that they can enrol in a school through the Direct School Admission (DSA) programme.
Last month, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said in a written parliamentary response that about 15,000 DSA applications are received by secondary schools each year. But only about 2,800 students - or 15 per cent - get a place .
With such fierce competition, Rachel's parents felt she wasn't doing enough, even with eight hours of extra curricular activities a week. So earlier this year, they signed her up with Fabian Williams Coaching Concepts, hoping to bolster her success on the track.
"She's doing fine in school, but we cannot rely on PSLE grades alone," said Rachel's mother, Ms Joyce Neo, a housewife in her 40s. "So we decided to push her in other areas that could give opportunities for her to enter the top schools."
Said Rachel: "The track and field coaching sessions do feel a bit like tuition and I was very tired at first, but I got used to the routine after a short while. Also, I'm now enjoying the sessions by Fabian William and I hope I can go to my dream school and continue to do sports there."
Another parent, Mr Arumugam Jayakumar, signed up his 12-year-old son, Jayakumar Thirunithiyan, with The Guardian Academy last November. "My son, even though he is in basketball, has always been interested in athletics and running," he said. Mr Jayakumar signed his son up for a twohour class every weekend for about $80 a month.
"There, he learnt the proper techniques and we were very excited to see such results at his school's track and field meet," he added.
WON THREE MEDALS
"After six months of training, he went on to win three medals at his school's track and field meet in April.
"He came in third in the 100m individual sprint, was runner-up in the team 4x100m relay, and was the champion in the 200m individual sprint," said Mr Jayakumar.
Thirunithiyan's stellar performance earned him a spot in his school's track and field team in an age-group event. But Mr Jayakumar's main aim, though, was sending his son to the DSA trials of the Singapore Sports School.
"My son came in second among his batch of 40 participants in the 800m event. Unfortunately, the other batches must have done better because he didn't get in.
"We'll still try for other schools via the DSA." But Thirunithiyan said he does not think of it as "tuition". "I don't have a sad face when I go for my running coaching classes. "In fact, I look forward to them."
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