Friday, July 04, 2008

Tuition nation

Recently (okay, not so recent), there is an article on straits times regarding the tuition nation. It's here, for those who wants to read it.

The article talks about Singapore having such a high tuition penetration rate, that for every 100 students, there are 97 students have tuition. Ignoring all the sampling biasness and sampling method, it's a whopping 97% tuition penetration rate. This phenomena is exacerbated by the fact that many of these students have multiple tuition, so in fact, we're looking at a penetration rate of more than 100% (if say, each student takes more than 1 subject for tuition).

Why had we come to this stage? I do not wish to comment on it in this posting.

Here, I just want to talk about the ironies of tuition/education/school.

1. Ex or current teachers are the preferred choice for parents when choosing tutors. These are highly paid, perhaps to the tune of twice the normal rate (I'm talking about $80 to $150 per hour). Students are sent to schools to be taught by MOE trained teachers. They didn't perform well enough, so they were sent to tutors who are preferably MOE ex or current teachers. If school teachers can't help them, will these teachers-cum-tutors help?

2. Classes in school have class size of around 30-40, with the norm being 40. Some of the tuition group classes I knew have class size close to 30. Yes, it's cheaper than private tuition (can be half the price of private 1-1 tuition). School is cheap too - that's why the class size swells up so much. Thus, the poor students go from one formal school to another informal school. Does it help?

3. Elite schools draw in the best students. They get the best results, which attracts the best students in. Chicken and egg problem? Which comes first - good schools or good students?

4. Elite schools with specialised programs (IB/IP) have teachers who think like this - students are so smart, I'll just give them worksheets and let them learn themselves. School fees range from a few hundred, easily a few multiples of government schools. Almost all of them have tuition because (I dare say) the teachers can't teach. Many parents have told me about that many of their kid's classmates are have tuition, and learn way in advance of school. In fact, teachers expected their kids to have tuition to 'supplement' school work.

5. Parents select their tutors based on their academic results. I'm guilty of being positively discriminated because of it. Does having good results mean that they can teach well? No, of course not. But most people think so. Perhaps lacking any other way of selecting good tutors, parents go for the overall packaging, much like people will buy a brand of salt because it looks more attractive. Academically good tutors, naturally self-motivated, might not have a way of dealing with unmotivated students because they might find it hard to understand why a student isn't motivated.

Can I offer a better way to select tutors? Yes.

Look for those who failed miserably and managed to stand up and high and tall in the academic world. Look for those whom teachers branded as failures yet return to the teaching force to save more students. Look for those nameless applicants who wanted to go into MOE to teach but their results are not good enough to even be called up for interview. If they don't mind their poor grades, why should MOE mind?

In the end, all I've mentioned here will still not be followed. That's why I still have a job.

Many students asked me why I do not want to join the school. I think I'll be kicked out in 1 month. I'm a maverick in this education business. I can't stand wearing uncomfortable office wear, don't mind student having long, dyed hair, don't mind students using handphone, don't mind them eating in class, don't mind them being so formal and afraid to ask what's truly on their mind. Exams to me are nonsense, I will give students the topics for the coming exams, rather than play hide-and-seek. I don't require strict discipline and I'm do not require their utmost respect. I earn my respect.

Why do I do that? I believe that people learn in a relaxed environment. There are passive inattention and active inattention. The former is what happens when a student stares at you, keeping quiet, but the mind wanders off. The later are those that are openly defiant. Most tend to control the latter, not the former. A little chaos can create the right mix of factors in a genuine learning environment.

Schools cannot tolerate me, so I cannot tolerate the school.


Cathy said...

My son once asked me why he needs tuition. I showed him this article. After reading he asked me why 3 out of 100 did not have to go for tution. My answer is that they are the ones that scored the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd position.:D

All parents wants their children to do well and have a good education and thereafter have a good life. I am also guilty of such motivations. This is what our parents have passed on to us and we in turns passed it on to our children without questioning. I wonder after all the sacrifies and hassles, is it really worth it at the end? Time will tell.

la papillion said...

Hi cathy,

From my experience, those who got 1st, 2nd and 3rd position already had tuition. It's those who cannot afford it that do not have it, or overseas scholars on tight budget.

It's like policemen, after doing such a splendid job clearing the streets of crime, are they putting themselves out of the job? No, because they are still needed to maintain the low crime rate. I guess for those top scorers, their job to maintain their ranking is even more pressurizing. Each strata of students, from the strongest to the weakest, have their own pressures to face.

Ironically, I never had tuition in my whole life.

You're right. Is it worth it?

Anonymous said...

Hmmm ... I find that the school work getting tougher for kids.

while it does help the kids to think, i'm feeling kids go back & rely on their parents to do the thinking instead.

when the parent can't manage (especially true since both couple have to work to support nowadays), here is where tuition comes in hehehe ...

not too mention of all distraction in this modern materialistic world that keep kids from focusing on schooling.

reality bites!

Musicwhiz said...

Hi LP,

To share my experiences, I have been both a tutor and a tutee (student days) in my life.

All I can say is that I did not do badly during my schooll days, but I did have weak subjects such as Chinese and Physics. Thus, I had tuition for both these subjects. As for mathematics, I think I had tuition partly cause I needed the practice and the tutor could consolidate papers from various students/schools to let me practice. I recently did a check with Popular Book Store and it said they do NOT compile exam papers from various schools into one package to let students practice (probably cos of copyright issues ?). Thus, I feel tuition can help students to practise more of what they are weak at and give them a chance to clarify doubts which a classroom environment may not allow. Not many students are so "on" as to approach their school teacher after class or through email with queries (at least, I didn't and neither did the students I tutored).

That said, I do admit my parents may have been kiasu/kiasi when they gave me English tuition as I had no problems with my English. I guess even in our time, the tuition bug was already pretty widespread and I know my parents spent tons of money on me. I am grateful for the Chinese, physics and math tuition, but perhaps but the English.

For O Levels, I went through A/E Math tuition, English as well as Chinese. Only for A levels did I have physics, math and some Chinese (just to clear the AO paper in JC). Tuition in a way still helps me to direct focused questions to the tutor and there is individualized attention (though for math it was group tuition), so perhaps it can help students to absorb better.

As a tutor, I also try to earn respect rather than demand it. However, I do not like students doodling/swinging pencil or SMSing when I am teaching or explaining to them as it distracts me. I make it clear that they can do it, but at least ask for permission to return an urgent SMS as a matter of politeness. I also try to engage them on topics outside the syllabus in order to pique their interest. Some students respond by asking more and showing their inquisitive side; others are less responsive so I will dive back into the lesson proper. But I think the key thing to note is that students do need to learn outside their scope and it is good for a tutor to engage them on their interests and to encourage them.

For example, as you know, I teach Principles of Accounting. Some students are seriously numbers-deficient and cannot be bothered with accounts, they just want to get it over with. But I note that some of them aspire to be creative artists (yes, drawing stimulates them) or even car enthusiasts and are passionate about it. I thus engage them on such topics and encourage them to pursue their interests and passion. I never judge them according to Singapore's standards of "smart" or "mediocre"; but tell them that each person should find what they are good at and do it with a passion. They feel encouraged and motivated and in turn, want to get their O levels done right so that they can proceed to the next step.

Hope this sharing helps !


la papillion said...

Hi durio,

Most parents can teach their kids, but the problem is always time. So, rather than staying home, they will go out to earn an income, and outsource the education to tutors. A lot of things can be outsourced these days. Maybe even their parental love.

Strange world we're living in.

la papillion said...

Hi mw,

Thks for your effort in such a long reply :)

I agree with your observations. I do try to sneak in some 'outside' materials. There are only 2 response - one is that we're wasting time, the other is more interest is shown by the students. Parents also have 2 response - spend more time to help improve their grades or spend more time talking to them to motivate them.

You're a good tutor.

Mike Dirnt said...

you are the same as me. i cant stand wearing the uncomfortable office wear.

you are lucky you dont need to wear in future if you are in tuition line. as for me i need to wear them one day.

my bro has got no tuition but came out top in NUS arts facilty. im proud he is going to harvard this year. wow imagine all the tuition fees paid and still got income from studying!

la papillion said...

Hi Mike,

Haha, so you can't stand wearing office clothes too? :) I guess engineers are the jeans + shirt kind of people :)

Wow, it's hard to be the top in arts fac :) So what's your bro gng to take in harvard?