Does Singapore really need Chinese enrichment?

The biggest news last month is China’s crackdown on the private tuition sector, prompting renewed discussion on Singapore’s own enrichment sector, and leaving many parents and educators wondering if Singapore is next?

In this post, we discuss why China is cracking down on the private education market and whether Singapore really needs Chinese enrichment?


In end July, China announced strict regulations on the private education, including forcing education firms to convert to nonprofit status and banning tutoring during weekends and holidays. 

To fully understand the situation, one must understand how investment has changed China’s education market. For more details, I highly recommend watching this Chinese video.

In the past, China’s education market was more akin to Singapore’s current system, with a single teacher teaching in a physical classroom. Such a system was limited by both quality teachers and classroom sizes, and did not attract much interest from large investors.


Everything changed when education companies introduced the 双师 or two-teacher system, where you have a superstar teacher that streams to multiple classrooms, and each classroom has an assistant teacher to handle questions, marking, etc. The two-teacher system meant the private education market could benefit from economies of scale since a superstar tutor could now reach thousands of students at one shot.


This attracted the attention and capital of deep-pocketed investors such as China’s tech behemoths Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent. Flush with cash and amidst the COVID-19 situation, educational companies became increasingly aggressive in their marketing efforts, with ads allegedly like “Did you include your child’s future in your shopping cart” or “If you don’t sign up for enrichment, we will nurture your child’s competitor instead”.

And thus the crackdown, purportedly to increase fertility rates to counter China’s major demographic challenge of an aging population as well as to reduce the rising gap between the haves and have-nots.

💡Interesting Note: Just like China, Singapore is also facing a tremendous demographic challenge – our total fertility rate dropped to a historic low of 1.10 in 2020, way below the replacement rate of 2.1. I believe should China successfully reverse its low fertility rate by curbing tuition, curbs on our local enrichment industry are highly likely.


Do our children really need Chinese enrichment?

The short answer: it depends on us parents. A child can definitely excel in Chinese without enrichment as long as parents spend sufficient effort building a conducive environment.

On the flip side, if we parents don’t regularly communicate and teach our children Chinese, it could be difficult for them to become fluent in Chinese as there are much fewer opportunities for children to pick up the language organically compared to the past.

For instance, in our previous post, we talked about how in 2000, a mere 1 in 3 children spoke mainly English at home; fast forward 20 years, nearly 4 in 5 children speak English most frequently. In primary school, most students use Chinese only during Mother Tongue classes, and switch back to English immediately after.

For many such parents, Chinese enrichment is not so much a nice-to-have vitamin but a necessary pain-killer to prevent their children from hating and failing Chinese.


At the same time, while many news reports focus on the eye-popping fees of some enrichment centres, they often overlook that Chinese enrichment tends to be significantly cheaper compared to English, Mathematics and Science (EMS).

The Singaporean enrichment market is typically broken down into the EMS and Chinese segments, with the majority of enrichment centres specialising in either one or the other. Enrichment centres that do both tend to brand them separately (e.g. Julia Gabriel + Chengzhu, Tien Hsia + Morris Allen) or provide different price points.

Comparing both mid-range and high-end centres, Chinese enrichment tends to be significantly cheaper compared to EMS enrichment. A mid-range Chinese enrichment tends to charge between $20-25/hour* for P6 classes compared to $30+ for EMS.

Meanwhile, high-end EMS enrichment centres that promise stellar results charge up to $50/hr, while there’s not really an equivalent** in the Chinese market. For instance, Wang Lao Shi and HCL are typically considered to be among the most academic of Chinese centres, and their fees are roughly $25-30/hour, much lower than their EMS equivalent.

*Quick note on methodology: some EMS centres lower the upfront price tag by offering shorter terms (e.g. 11 lessons vs 12) or shorter lesson durations. I’ve chosen to compare prices on an hourly basis since I believe it’s the fairest method.

**There are some Chinese enrichment centres that are that are more expensive, but they tend to cater to a more niche audience (e.g. international students)


That’s not to say the Chinese enrichment industry is blameless, for it has accentuated the difference between those that attend classes vs those who don’t.

Consider Hanyu Pinyin (HYPY). Officially, the teaching of HYPY is supposed to start in primary school. While many government affiliated childcares and kindergartens do not teach HYPY, most private childcares and kindergartens as well as Chinese enrichment do teach it.

This pressures many parents who enroll their kids in government affiliated preschools to seek out enrichment or holiday camps to ensure their children won’t fall behind in P1, causing a vicious cycle.


Despite the above, I believe the upsides of having enrichment to promote excellence in Chinese greatly outweigh the downsides, because of the importance of being bilingual.

Cultural and heritage factors are obviously important plus-factors when it comes to learning our Mother Tongue. But as a pragmatic Singaporean, let’s also talk about the practical benefits of our kids being effectively bilingual (aka actually being able to communicate and work in Chinese, not just being able to pass an examination). 

China is projected to become the biggest economy in 2028 (5 years ahead of schedule), is currently our biggest trading partner, and we are also China’s biggest foreign investor. At the same time, given Singapore’s neutral geopolitical stance, there’s a trend towards large Chinese companies setting up regional offices here. Personally, my wife is from Taiwan, and works in a Fortune 500 company that targets China from Singapore, and there are many large companies in the same boat.

We strongly believe in an ever-changing world, giving our children the gift of bilingualism is the best way to ensure their future. Yet while China grow increasing important, the climate for our kids to learn Chinese organically grows increasing difficult.

Therefore, in my arguably biased opinion, considering the lower cost of Chinese enrichment as well as the importance of bilingualism, there is a lot of value in having the option of Chinese enrichment for Singaporean parents who have neither the time nor ability to coach their children.

Comprehension Deep Dive (Lower Primary)

Ask any primary school parent which Chinese topic gives their child a headache, and the answer is either comprehension or composition. We have previously discussed how to tackle composition and a general approach to acing comprehension, and in this post, we are deep diving into a specific comprehension passage (P2) to show how parents can apply these concepts.

As a quick refresher, we advocate the following three-step approach when tackling comprehension passages.

Step 1: Skim through passage to get an overall understanding of the passage and to identify its broad theme, topic or storyline.

Step 2: Identify and underline the question words (疑问词) in the questions (i.e. the 5W+1H questions; click here for more information). Knowing what kind of question word we are dealing with will give us clues on how to identify the answer.

Step 3: Do a detailed read of passage while using question words and context from Step 2 to find the sentences where answers are found. Underline or highlight these sentences and write the relevant question number next to it.

We are big advocates of reading the passage twice vs reading just once and it doesn’t take much longer since the first read is just a quick skim. From our experience, this simple tip greatly improves marks especially when it comes to tricky and “what do you think (感想)” questions.


Step 1: Skim through passage 

The very first thing we should do when we get a passage is to do a quick read-through to get a rough idea of the passage. From our first scan, we know the passage is about an ant bragging to his friends that he killed a tiger.

💡Pro Tip: Some students prefer to skip this step and read the questions first before reading the passage. From experience, students who do that tend to only read the passage once, which can cause them to lose marks. In comparison, skimming the passage first before reading the question will naturally “force” students to read the passage twice.

Step 2: Identify and underline question words

Now, let us take a look at the questions, while highlighting the important question words. For Q1 and Q2, we underline the question word【什么】- which tells us we are looking for objects, events or incidents (WHO/WHAT). In Q2, we also underline 【告诉】, which tells us we are probably looking for some sort of speech.

Q1. 小蚂蚁在路上捡到了什么?

Q2. 小蚂蚁拿着毛,告诉朋友们什么?

For Q3 and Q4, we underline【为什么】- this suggests that we are looking for a reason or justification (WHY). For Q3, we also underline 【说】as it implies the answer is probably related to some sort of speech.

💡Pro Tip:【为什么】questions should usually be answered with【因为】

Q3. 为什么小黄鸟那根毛是自己的?

Q4. 听了小蚂蚁的话,朋友们为什么笑了?

For Q5, we underline 【怎样了】-  which suggests that we are looking for an outcome or state. We also underline 【最后】which tells us the answer is likely to be at the end.

Q5. 最后,小蚂蚁怎样了?

Step 3: Do detailed read of passage to find the sentences where answers are found

Q1. 小蚂蚁在路上捡到了什么?

Typically, the answer to the first question is found in the first paragraph, so we start looking there. We know the question is asking for an object and also notice that the phrase 【小蚂蚁在路上】 is repeated in both the question and the passage, and we have our answer.

Answer: 小蚂蚁在路上捡到了一根黄色的毛。 

Q2) 小蚂蚁拿着毛,告诉朋友们什么?

From our question words, we look for some sort of speech that the ant says to his friend, and identify the sentence with the answer.

Importantly, we cannot just “copy-and-paste” because this question requires us to convert Direct Speech to Reported Speech, or the equivalent of converting  [Sam said, “I went to the movies”] to [Sam said he went to the movies].

Answer: 小蚂蚁拿着毛,告诉朋友们它刚刚打死了一只老虎,它手上的毛是老虎的。

💡Pro Tip: An easy way to lose marks is for students to answer only half of the question, by not including【它手上的毛是老虎的】. It’s not uncommon for students to correctly underline the correct answer, but only include half of it because they don’t want to write so much. Don’t give up free marks!

3) 为什么小黄鸟那根毛是自己的?

Based on our underlined question words, we know we are looking for some sort of spoken explanation by 【小黄鸟】, and easily identify the sentence with the answer. Similar to Q2, we need to convert Direct Speech to Reported Speech.

Answer: 因为小黄鸟认为那根毛的颜色和它身上的毛一样,所以它说那根毛是自己的。

4) 听了小蚂蚁的话,朋友们为什么笑了?

We see the question word【为什么】again, so we know we are looking for a reason or justification, and that our answer should start with【因为】.

Since this is a passage for Primary Two, it’s easier and we can use phrases that appear in both the passage and question like 【听】 and【 笑】 to easily find the answer. Harder passages are likely to use synonyms instead, which underscores the importance of having a solid vocabulary foundation.

Answer: 因为朋友们知道小蚂蚁没见过老虎,却说自己打死了老虎,所以朋友们笑了。

5) 最后,小蚂蚁怎样了?

【最后】and 【怎样了】tell us we are looking for what happens to 【小蚂蚁】 at the end, and that the answer is probably near to or at the end of the passage.

As we mentioned above, since this is a lower primary question, the passage and question repeats the word 【最后】, making it easier to identify the correct answer. However, the passage could had used a different term or omitted【最后】, and thus it’s important for students to know 【最后】means “finally”. 

Other important temporal terms include 【然后 / 后来】* and 【一开始】**, etc.

Answer: 最后,小蚂蚁的脸红了,飞快地跑掉了。

* after

** at the beginning


Comprehension can appear to be extremely complex, but given the proper techniques and vocabulary foundation, any child can tackle it. Having said that, answering techniques and vocabulary do not appear magically, but require constant practise and regular reading. Hope you find it useful, and please feel free to leave comments and suggestions!

Lastly, if you are looking for help with Chinese, KidStartNow runs weekly classes that combine time-tested teaching methods with proprietary AI technology to make learning Chinese effective and engaging. 

We are recommended by 20+ parent bloggers and 95% of our parents continue with us every term because they see their children improve week after week, month after month. We provide onsite N2-P6 classes at Bedok and online P3-P6 classes, and please leave your details below and we will contact you within two working days.

Feature Spotlight: Multiplayer Classroom

In this short post, we introduce a collaborative learning feature for our online students to promote a more social learning experience.

As parents, the announcement of a second Phase 2HA sparked a sense of Déjà vu – yet another month of juggling different home-based learning while dealing with our own Zoom meetings and/or household tasks. Not to mention most of us need to get our children to pay attention in online classes compared to physical classes where we can simply drop off and pick them up later.

From a teacher’s perspective, online classes also present unique challenges – it’s harder to determine how well each student has understood concepts vs a physical class where a teacher is walking around and constantly peeking at each child’s worksheet while they are doing it.

At KidStartNow, we believe in the power of using technology to make learning engaging and effective, and we are pleased to introduce a collaborative feature to allow online students to learn together (primary school level).

During the lesson, teachers will ask students to login into the KidStartNow Portal to answer lesson-related short questions, and at the end of the quiz, students will be able to see how they fared relative to each other. This should take only a few minutes each lesson, and will also allow our teachers to gauge how well the class has understood key concepts and immediately remedy any knowledge gaps.

Please see a short video below to see how to use the portal (note: the “Multiplayer Classroom” feature is only available during lesson time).

  1. Login to using your username and password. You can also click on “Forgot your Username or Password?” to reset your password.
  2. Click on “Multiplayer Classroom” on the top right hand corner.
  3. If your teacher has taken your attendance, you can click on “Enter” to access the classroom. If you get an error message, tell your teacher over Zoom.
  4. Once you enter the room, click the correct answer. Once you are done, wait for the teacher to proceed.

Questions answered during the online lesson are also automatically tracked by our AI-powered personalised engine. For instance, questions that your child answers incorrectly in class will be flagged for revision when your child revises at home by doing a pet battle, while questions your child answers incorrect during home revision are also analysed and sent to our teachers. This goal of this loop is to efficiently close any knowledge gaps and help your child improve quickly.

Thank you for reading, and please feel free to contact us at if you have any questions or if you would like to enquire about our classes.