Last Saturday's special report on tuition ("Tuition nation") provides an accurate snapshot of the reasons for the prevalence of tuition among Singaporean households.
There is no question that demand for tuition peaks for PSLE classes.
Parents perceive the PSLE as a high-stakes exam that determines the future educational path of their child. For tuition centres, these classes are the cash cows to be milked for all they are worth. Most conduct PSLE holiday workshops to rake in even more lucre.
Parents ramp up the channelling of more resources - in terms of time, money and effort - as early as when their child enters Primary 5. The frenzy intensifies at the start of Primary 6, escalating into a manic crescendo just before the PSLE in late September or early October.
Those who can afford it do not stop at providing their primary school children with tuition in all four subjects; they even pay for "double tuition" - engaging a private tutor as well as group tuition for each subject.
I recall teaching a Primary 6 child who proudly boasted about how his parents were shelling out $5,000 a month on tuition for him alone.
Like what tutor Yee Kian Toung said in last Saturday's report ("'Primary pupils get most extra classes'"), parents will do their utmost to maximise their children's potential to help them prepare for the PSLE. Once the child enters secondary school, the demand for tuition tapers off, partly because parents are more "hands-off" with their older children.
I must concede that tuition is a necessary evil. Parental fears fuel the industry. Even parents with tertiary education are not able to coach their own primary school children because of the complexity of some of the concepts.
Syllabus changes further contribute to the angst. Parents also perceive school teachers to be stretched too thinly to be able to pay individualised attention to their pupils.
Unless high-stakes exams like the PSLE are abolished, admission criteria for elite secondary schools radically revised or society undergoes a complete mindset change with regard to the emphasis now placed on academic success, the reliance on tuition looks set to be perpetuated or become even more entrenched.
Marietta Koh (Mrs)
Our educational system is made in such a way that it favours the elite. The elites are rewarded by a laureate system that put emphasis on the results obtained by simple intelligence tests. The ‘classes’ are rewarded by scholarships. No wonder that from such a system, children also come out of primary education without knowing to write or read. That’s because our eyes are always focused on the top rather than the bottom. Based on this system, what is left for parents to ensure that their ward gets the eye rather than trailing at the bottom? They are forced to find the best for their children. The best should have been coming from the schooling system and teachers of an institution but somehow or the other; some have found a way of perverting the system. Some have found a way of making it a lucrative business by purposely creating a lack of knowledge in class so that what is missing is covered in tuitions.
No wonder teachers are fighting so that the system remains the same. For example, no extension of class hours in the afternoon, no reduction of school holidays because, according to them, the children need to recuperate to enjoy their holidays, but to others, there is a need to cram up the students more during holidays to justify the wages obtained from it. Let us now look at the abuses. Tuition may lead to too much of pampering and may kill the self effort of the student. The student would not touch the book unless the tuition master turns up. Instead of his working and learning on his own he becomes so dependant on the tuition master that ultimately the gain would be perceptibly nil. There are also pupils adopting devious means through the tuition masters to get a pass.
The poor tuition master makes himself cheap and worries more about the promotion of his ward than about his own children. Often, it is not uncommon to see a boy having more than one tuition master for each one of his subjects. Because he pays for the tuition, he looks down upon the poor teacher who is likely to lose his dignity. The Minister is trying to put a brake to this system but is he going to succeed? No way, as the demand is such that the pressure will come from parents and not from the teachers. But then, one may ask, so what do we do? Well, give equal opportunities to all children to attend 2 to 3 years of pre-primary education. Then we also have to get rid of this elitist system, where the best are rewarded at all levels of education. Oh, some will say that our elite will disappear. No the best will always remain the best whether they are rewarded or not, because their motivation are intrinsic.
But who is going to take the risk of breaking that system that has created such a lot of harm to our children and to society? Will the Minister take of the risk of doing it? Will his Political party take the risk? If not, then why all this hypocrisy about abolition of private tuition?
In order to avoid the evils of private tuition, educational institutions themselves may arrange tutorial classes. If the regular teachers cannot attend to the tutorials special tutors may be appointed to attend to very small groups of needy students. Such contacts may help build confidence in the student. Such tutorial classes may be complementary as well as supplementary. The tutorial system when properly organised will go a long way to improve the efficiency of the student.