When parents make baseless insinuations about CCA vendors

Of all the ridiculous letters from parents I've been reading lately, like the one on teachers taking examinations, this one stands out. From the Today paper, When CCA vendors benefit at parents’ expense, Joshua Chia writes,

"I share Madam Sek Ah Yan’s view in “Shouldn’t pricey supplementary items for school be subsidised?” (March 2).

My son is in his primary school’s badminton team. The school has engaged an external vendor to conduct the badminton co-curricular activity (CCA), which is not uncommon in schools today.

At the start of the school term, the coach gave out forms for an enrichment course, which would come at a cost and would be conducted by the coach on weekends or after school hours.

I am uncomfortable with this arrangement, as the coach may have a vested interest to encourage the pupils to sign up for the course.

If the pupils are already in the school team, why is there a need for the enrichment course?

It should be targeted only at those who are not in the team and wish to learn badminton, to minimise any conflict of interest, since the same vendor is conducting the CCA.

That would also provide a level playing field for pupils in the team who did not sign up for the enrichment class for whatever reasons.

In my era, CCA enrichment programmes were uncommon or unheard of, and coaches would do their best to ensure the pupils improve their skills.

The authorities should probe such arrangements where an unnecessary enrichment course may be beneficial to external coaches/vendors at the expense of parents. "

First of all, the writer's complaint is based entirely on his suspicion that "the coach may have a vested interest to encourage the pupils to sign up for the course," and is wholly speculative. He offers no evidence whatsoever to show that the coach has in fact tried to coerce or pressure pupils into signing up. I'm not even sure why such a baseless complaint was published. Is the Today paper short of letters to publish?

Second, there's nothing wrong with encouraging students to sign up for courses so long as it is not coercive. Schools do it all the time with various supplementary programs that they think students will benefit from. So long as the student stands to gain from it, there's no reason why vendors shouldn't be allowed to encourage the student to participate and benefit from the program. Mr Joshua Chia hasn't shown why his son wouldn't benefit from it, or why the vendor's methods of encouragement are coercive. In fact, if he has the guts to complain on the Today forum, surely he can tell his son, the answer is "no".

Third, if he thinks there's no need for his son to attend the enrichment course, then don't send him for it. Unless the coach is penalising his child for an optional program, I don't see the problem here. Or is this just another case of a kiasu parent being afraid that his child will lose out if he doesn't attend every single training session? The solution isn't to take away all supplementary programs and make everyone else suffer.

Then, he insinuates that there's a potential conflict of interest because the same vendor is providing both the supplementary program and is conducting the CCA, but he doesn't say where that conflict of interest lies. This is quite perplexing.

The coach does have a vested interest in encouraging students to sign up for the course, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Anyone who provides any kind of service has a vested interest in encouraging people to continue to utilise his services. We don't normally consider that to be a problem, so why should we in this case? It's only a problem if the enrichment course being provided isn't beneficial for the student and the student is being coerced into attending it. But if that's the case, it has nothing to do with the same CCA vendor being the one to provide enrichment courses. There's nothing inherently wrong with such arrangements.

If anything, the coach has a strong vested interest in ensuring that he demonstrates the value of his enrichment program since parents will be paying directly for it rather than having the school fund it. With enrichment programs, parents have a greater say in whether or not they choose to send their child for it since they can withhold both their permission and their funding.

If Mr Chia is unhappy with the CCA vendor, he should take the issue up with him, or with the teacher-in-charge, not make this out to be a systemic problem. Arrangements like this are very common and they are very useful for schools with limited funding who at the same time want to allow students to explore different activities through enrichment courses. They are also much easier to arrange. You can't expect every school to find a different vendor every time they choose to conduct an enrichment course. Who do you think the burden will fall to? The overtaxed teacher-in-charge of course. And is there any reason they should do this if the CCA vendor is perfectly competent? Why go for second best when you have someone you trust and can work with? Will parents be any happier with a strange face coming in every other week to take charge of their children?

Mr Chia also needs to recognise that CCA vendors don't have it easy either. They often have to travel frequently from school to school and there's a lot of down time in between, during which they don't get paid. They also don't get paid during school holidays and exam periods when CCAs are suspended. Moreover, as it is, most schools have tight budgets and don't pay CCA vendors very much. The average CCA vendor doesn't make a lot of money. Offering enrichment courses is one way for them to add value to the school while at the same time supplementing their income. These arrangements are usually mutually beneficial. While I understand Mr Chia's concern as a parent, unsupported insinuations like these are frankly quite derisory.

This article was first published over at the Simply Inconceivable blog on 9 March 2015. It is reproduced with permission.


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