Friday, August 27, 2010

Tuition nation no more?

There's recently a lot of forum letters on the subject of tuition in Singapore. Tuition is so pervasive here that it's a shadow education, as opposed to the more formal educational institutions. I think the phenomenon is quite common in asian countries, with taiwan, HK and korea being many more times more pervasive than here in Singapore. I heard that in Korea, where the kids are sitting for their entrance exams, even airplanes have to stop flying in the duration of exams to avoid disturbing the kids. You can imagine the booming tuition business there since they are so focused on exams.

My views are naturally biased, since I'm a part of this love-it-or-hate-it industry. Some students found great benefit in tuition, because it's a much more effective means of getting to master subjects. Of course you can explore yourself to reach the same mastery level but it'll take time, and tuition can help students reach this level in the shortest time possible. But some people complained why teachers cannot do the same thing in school? After all, the kids spend more time in formal lessons in school than in tuition, so shouldn't more learning be done in school than outside during tuition?

Tuition can break your piggybank in Singapore

I think there are a few reasons why school teaching is less effective:

1. There are many more students in school classroom than in a tuition class. If you join a tuition class with as many students as there are in school classroom, you should seriously consider finding an alternative. I think teacher-student ratio is the main reason why tuition centres are flourishing. It's quite impossible to learn when you have a teacher juggling with different learning capabilities of 40 odd students in class, within say 30 mins a lesson. It's possible to do it, but it's rare to encounter it.

2. There are many distractions in school. Kids behave differently in the company of their friends and when they are in the presence of 'adults'. Put 40 kids together in a room is bound to be a testing experience for any teachers. I believe a lot of time is wasted doing disciplinary actions and on administrative matters. What about tuition? You go in, you start a lesson, you end it, you go home.

3. This point boils down to the teacher-student ratio again. If the ratio is high, meaning there are more teachers than students, there is more attention. After so many years doing this, I find that the greatest advantage of tuition lies in 1-1 kind of setting. When someone experienced is there to observe the student's reaction to the things said in the textbook, the learning is made more effective because adjustments can be made on the fly. Basically I spend a lot of time observing how the student react to a question and when I impart content to them. From their observations, I will change my teaching on-the-fly and make decisions as to whether to elaborate more, or give more examples, or go back to the previous chapters to revise certain materials before moving on. It's different from asking the student to read the textbook himself because the teacher in the classroom cannot possibly help out the individual needs and concerns of every student. A small class size of maybe less than 5 in tuition can do the trick too.

As I was reading the letters, the first thought that came to my mind was that if my career is going to be jeopardized. If so, I will need a backup plan. As I talked with my gf and analysed the situation, I find that it's hard to do away with tuition, at least not in the next 5 yrs. Perhaps more regulation in the sense of asking tutors to register with an association might be in the pipeline. So what can I do in the event that the whole industry - my livelihood - is threatened?

No way I'll be an engineer. Most likely I'll join a formal institution to carry on what I've been doing all along.


Anonymous said...


You are right about the tuition industry not disappearing, only will be more regulated like the case of real estate agents.

Know some people who are working on it. It would mean taking some exams to be qualified. Don't think you will have any problems qualifying if you have engineering degree.


Kyith said...

i wish that i am as capable as you to be able to teach tuition.

tradevestor said...

Hey LP,

I agree that school is a less effective environment for students! And I realized more and more students are relying on their tuition to score for their exams instead of school.

Anonymous said...

Existing school teacher shouldn't be giving tuition as side line. There is a conflict of interest bascially.


la papillion said...

Hi Ali,

Hmm, taking exams to regulate the industry. I'm all for it :)

Any details that you can tell me regarding this would be extremely helpful to me :)

la papillion said...

Hi Drizzt,

Not capable lah, just making a living. You can probably be a part timer on that too, if you just revise some textbooks :)

la papillion said...

Hi Tradeinvestor,

Ya, that's true. Almost everyone in the school will have taken some sort of tuition to help them in their school life. It's really rare to find someone who had not have tuition before these days.

la papillion said...

Hi bolt,

I know some existing teachers who are tutors too. The more principled ones will refuse to teach any students from the school that they teach, thus avoiding the conflict of interest. The less principled ones actually told the students to sign up classes for tuition after school with them, so that they have more time to go through work. Ah, this is not acceptable.

Current teachers/ex teachers command a premium rate too.

Kyith said...

haha thanks for the advice. i think i used to only excel in maths but most people dun have a problem with maths so its not so much of a problem

if you have students wanna learn iphone, android java programming i can teach lol.

Anonymous said...

Hey LP,

I had the same thoughts too when I saw the ST article. Though I'm still new to tutoring full time, had to think about a future doing tutoring!

It's really what you pointed out about the studnt teacher ratio but I would say it'll take 5 yrs with the right signals before the tuition industry fades... Right now, it won't go away and will continue to grow as long as student-teacher ratios are 40-1!!! And there's such a high attrition rate for teachers.

Change ain't even in the works yet!


la papillion said...

Hi buggery,

Oh, you went into full time tutoring too? Great :)

Actually the ministry is trying to reduce the class size of primary school classes, so now it's around 30, down from 40. Add in their wish to convert all to a single session schooling, this essentially translates to more teachers. I don't think they did anything to secondary school because the teacher student ratio is still around 40, unless we're talking about independent schools.

I suppose if tuition industry is claimed down, I can always go to a formal institution to teach. They should be hiring more teachers then. Either way, won't die :)

PanzerGrenadier said...


I think tuition is here to stay because it's personalised coaching. Schools have improved a lot since our days as students but by and large they are still factories that are meant to produce educated factors of production to feed Singapore Inc.

Thus customising the educational curriculum to each individual child/student's needs is still a role that personalised 1-1 tuition plays a part.

I forsee that as my daughter grows older, my wife and I will have to double-up as her tuition teachers.

la papillion said...

Hi PG,

I certainly hope that tuition is here to stay, it's my work, haha :)

I believe that you two really will have to tutor your daughter in the future. Might be fun and a bond building activity too :)