Apr 5, 2009

Tuition As A Basic Necessity of Life in Singapore

In tough times, we expect the government to help poor families pay for some of the necessities of life. Not for the luxuries, not for the non-essentials, but for the necessities of life.

What then does the article below tell us? It tells us, of course, that tuition is a necessity of life. In Singapore, at any rate.

April 5, 2009
Tuition fee subsidies
From May, they can get up to 90% subsidy for classes at CCs and RCs
By Kor Kian Beng

STUDENTS from low-income homes will soon be eligible for cheaper tuition classes, under a new nationwide scheme spearheaded by the self-help groups.

They will also get to attend classes that are held nearer their homes.

From May 1, parents can sign up for subsidies when they send their children for tuition at selected grassroots organisations. These include classes run by residents' committees (RCs), community centres (CCs) and clubs.

As long as the family's monthly household income falls below $2,500 - or if their per capita income is below $650 a month - they can enjoy a subsidy of up to 90 per cent.

Singaporeans and permanent residents can apply for the Community Tuition Fee Subsidy Scheme.

Students in Singapore depend very heavily on private tuition outside official school hours. To me, this dependence is a reflection of something gone quite wrong with our education system.

One way to look at it is that the Singapore education system sets such impossibly high standards that students have no choice but to rely on external tuition, in order to meet those standards.

But this view might be a little too simplistic. I think that it's more likely that a self-reinforcing vicious cycle is at work here. It works like this:

(1) Students have extra tuition, so that they can meet expectations and attain the desired standards.

(2) Over time their improved average performance raises the overall school standards.

(3) Students can't meet those higher standards, unless they have more tuition.

(4) Back to (1) again.

We often hear the Singapore government say that our students have world-class standards in maths and science. Of course the Education Ministry would have you believe that this is due to our world-class education system.

But maybe we just have a world-class private tuition industry in Singapore.


janice said...

It's unfortunate, and I really think our education system is one main reason why many people don't have more children.

A colleague whose children go to a 'good' school that offers the GEP, said students are told to "go back and ask your tuition teachers if you don't understand". Teachers have so much syllabus to cover they don't have time to explain concepts.

And even tuition gets very competitive. The students who do well refuse to tell others where they go for tuition, and everyone gets very kiasu about their 'extra' worksheets and learnings.

Parka said...

To me, it's no different from saying that the education system is inadequate, which leads to students having to seek tuition.

The MOE should really look at themselves and think of ways to improve. The indirect result is the parents of these children having to spend the extra money. Why do they have to pay twice just to learn the same lesson that's taught in school?

weijie said...

I think that the teachers who tell children to take tuition services are the minority, while parents do so much more often. Schools usually give remedial sessions to any students who need or want them.

Anonymous said...

a fren's daughter was successful in the balloting exercise in a school near bishan which offers the gep. during december (before pri 1 class starts), school calls the child back for assessment for reading and math ability.

the kids are then assigned classes based on these tests ! so all the best students are in 2 classes, and the rest grouped according to their test results.. :-(

my fren had been coaching all 3 kids since nursery together with all kinds of classes you can think of - math, phonics, creative writing,abacus, swimming, music,

she is practically running around full-time as a driver on a tightly-packed neat schedule for 3 kids.

sometimes i wonder how our kids enjoy their childhood ? it's quite sad actually.

Sgcynic said...

Sad aspect of Singaporean life.

Anonymous said...

i agree. a little harsh, but i feel disgusted when i see parents seeking tuiton for KINDERGARDEN children. i'm like "WHAT!?".

on another note, what happened to "teach less, learn more" when in the end everyone goes for tuition after school? In what way is this going to be benefitial to the students? Why not just keep students in school longer to make sure they finish the syllabus properly with proper guidance from teachers. Not that tuition teachers are incapable or misleading, but tuition is supposed to step in when u are particularly weak in a certain subject. But it seems to be that there is a trend for tuition teachers end up being supplementary (or even compulsory) tools for the entire curriculum and all the subjects that the student is taking. And this is unfortunately not going to work in the long run.

Sure, u can get tuition teachers for syllabus such as primary and secondary, it's rather readily available. Junior College borders on being a little tough to find especially for humanities subjects unless u happen to be hiring a school teacher as a tuition teacher. But what about when the child goes to University? Tuition? What tuition?

Heretic_Guy said...

an interesting hypothesis. altho correlation doesnt necessarily mean causation. it would be fun if anyone could suggest empirical methods to test for causality.

God-daughter said...

I don't know enough about the current education system to comment, but tuition is not always bad.

Allegedly boosting grades aside, tuition does have some other benign features.

1. It gives you a chance to meet people from other schools. Don't have to date only boys or girls from your own school ;-) Also, if you are from a Rafflesian family type school, you also meet people from other backgrounds.

2. It's more fun to have tuition at the centre, than studying alone. You can go to McDonalds and hang out with your newfound friends afterwards.

3. It's like slimming centres, because you are paying hard cash for it (or your parents remind you that it ain't cheap) and if you are a reasonably sensible child, you might feel you need to be more attentive during tuition class.

4. Because Singaporeans are generally good at following instructions, so you will do the extra tuition centre homework because someone will monitor that.

5. It pays good money. All my holidays in university were funded with easily earned tuition moolah.

Ideally one should raise an independent industrious kid who is good with self-study et al, but alas not everyone can raise that prototype, so reluctantly tuition is the supplement that some parents resort to.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how good are the tutors who work in such agencies. How much are they paid and how is their background?

Anonymous said...

Other countries:
Abt 20-25 students per class in publicly-funded schools and 10-15 students per class in privately-funded ones. If students do not understand the lessons, they have the time and attention of the teacher to answer the questions.

40 students per class. If students do not understand the lesson, students are expected to ask their tuition teacher the questions!

Singaporeans are conned that education in Singapore is free, whereas in "inferior" western countries, the free public education is in a mess and to get a comparable-to-singapore education, parents have to be rich enough to send their children to privately-funded schools where teacher/student ratio is better.

Wrong!!!! Add in the cost of private tuition and in effect, almost all Singaporeans student are attending the equivalence of expensive western private schools@ Our edu system is not subsidised enough (as far as teacher/student ratio is concerned), just like our health system (doctor/patient ratio, nurse/patient ratio) and so on. We are paying super high tax in the guise of HDB prices etc for a miserable return in edu and health care and.... The extra money that is not channeled back to the people goes to GIC, Temasek, foreign reserves...

The said...

/// Anonymous said...
a fren's daughter was
April 5, 2009 7:48 PM ///

My friend, what is a "fren"?


Unknown said...

i rem having tuition fr pri 3 - 6, then managed to convince my mom to stop when i did pretty well for my PSLE to get into the sec sch she wanted :D

then at sec 3, i had to go tuition center again becos i failed my A.Maths >.<

guess u're rite that tuition is part of our childhood, like it or not...

Ser Ming said...

"But maybe we just have a world-class private tuition industry in Singapore.
" this is classic =)

Sir, will you be sending your kids for private tuitions as well?

David said...

Mr Wang, I agree wholly that tuition is a basic necessity for an education in Singapore. In fact, many (East-Asian) countries especially Korea, Japan and some parts of China are also obsessed with tuition.

Our education system is actually very very relaxed. Look at the Koreans - they are so obsessed with Ivy League that some parents literally send their child to exam centre in POLICE CAR; the entire city delayed working hours by a good 30 minutes to facilitate a smoother traffic for test-takers! Meanwhile, the parents rushed to places of worship to pray for their child's success.

Those who complaint that education in Singapore is really competitive have not seen the world; myopic bunch of people I would say.

Many east-asian schools are cram schools, period. Like it or not, these schools train our people to tackle exam - progress to college - acquire a skill to contribute as a worker to Singapore's GDP.

You rarely see a school (or even a single teacher) who truly inspire his/her students to acquire a love for learning and knowledge.

Tuition and enrichment is a recession-proof business, look how Adam Khoo made his fortune.

Anonymous said...

tuition may be a necessity for some students, but there is certainly a good number of students that will not benefit from tuition.

Don't you think you are drawing too many conclusions with this latest tuition subsidy?

Anonymous said...

during my growing up years, i got tuition, gave tuition (good source of part time income i must admit). The aim of all the extra classes is to pass exams.

IMHO, asians has not got over the need for paper qualifications. It is the soft skills that matter most. Solid, basic foundation in learning, love for life... that will bring one as far as they want to go.


Anonymous said...

A bell curve is used for scoring PSLE candidates and in that sense you are right - the standards keep going up higher and higher because even the good students are having tuition to help them do ever better.

Anonymous said...

Actually, as a parent, I feel disgusted by other parents who send their kids for endless tuition and enrichements classes one after another. It is like supporting the rat race and kiasu syndrome in Singapore. And they pat themselves for doing a great service (endless fetching, money etc) to their offsprings. Is that really?

Academic grades is not everything, it is life skills, ability for independent thinking, creativity and confidence that is impt in life.

But of course, tuition is still useful only as a last resort when the kid is falling far behind in school.

Anonymous said...

Dear David

Actually we should have overtaken Japan. (Banzai!)

Korea is probably the only coutry still ahead of us. But with them even worse hit by the crisis ... matter of time!

We can do it! :-)

PS: Adam Khoo made his fortune ... cos his father opened doors for him? I dun think he gave tuition *confused* you mean selling these movitation seminars?

Anonymous said...

Seriously though, I think private tutors would still be cheaper than Mrs "SATM" Wang?

Anonymous said...

Wang, our students win top prizes in Science and Maths ONLY in Junior category.

What happens to all the tuition etc later on? No prizes won leh.


I got an answer. You see right or not.

You see, many years ago, gahmen withdraw auto wage increments for Masters degree. Got letter in newspaper say he get offer become teacher and offered on his BASIC DEGREE when he got Master.

End up, nobody want to study Master. So, not enough people to think and research. Strange that "R&D" is a pillar of the country. And got top people kaopeh say Singaporean don't want to upgrade.

Then our academia mostly is foreigner. Because Singaporean must pay for Master course, and work at the same time, and marry and have kids same time!

How? Because our "stock" no good. Cannot plan and take stress properly.

Dunno who cannot plan.

Anonymous said...

World class maths education but people spend 2000 when they earn 1000?

Buy a car when they earn 2000?

Are you having a laugh?

Anonymous said...

anon 3:37,
I, for one, do not agree that our supposedly "memory-based", "exam-based" edu system is to be blamed for producing students who win math/science olympic medals in JC and yet not producing top scientists, nobel prize winnders, high-tech industry etc

It has nothing to do with the edu system!! It has to do with the type of economy the govt want to produce and therefore the type of jobs it psychos the people to go into - manufacturing industry, engineers, technicians etc - not to mention restriction in the number of university slots and restricted research funding (until recent years) etc.

There is no evidence at all that if we had gone the model of Israel Finland etc where we fuund and train our people to the highest (Finland has 18 universities!!!), that our edu system is gonig to fail in producing as many top scientist and high tech invention as these countries.

I believe our edu system is sound. It is just that the govt is wasting the people's talent by artificially restricting them from progressing higher up, after O/A-level and of course, in stubbornly insisting on a manufacturing industry that needs more technicians/engineers than scientists. In chinese, it's called 大材小用!

Anonymous said...

Anonynous of April 6, 2009 2:21 PM,
what is SATM? I supposed you mean "SAHM" - Stay At Home Hom?

I don't like this acronym. I think a better one is FTM - Full-Time Mother. Working mothers are PTM - part-time mother! They are not mother while they are working. lol

Anonymous said...

> Look at the Koreans - they are so obsessed with Ivy League

Their chances are already very low when their children are not born in USA. Unlike Singapore, almost all *undergrad* universities in usa have a quota on the number of foreign students that they will admit. MIT officially has it at 8% (contrary to the nonsensical 40+ percent claimed by our PAP govt in its press release). Harvard did not explicitly state it, but its admission of foreigner students each year is never always around 10% plus or minus a bit.

Therefore, I would suggest that kiasu parents not "short-change" their children at birth and then later have to compensate the way the Koreans do. Simply fly to USA and give birth there - US citizen by birth! What's so difficult? We have visa exemption, as do the Koreans, I believe. Plus, it is not really more expensive...

Anonymous said...

My son studies in a school which offers GEP.
But I do not send him for tuition. In fact, I have never send him for extra classes before. He is probably one of the least enriched among his peers.
I would send him for tuition, only when I could no longer answer his quizzes from his lessions. At the moment, I am the mother/disciplinarian/friend/tuition teacher/etc, you name it.
He is not the Creme de la Creme in his class, but I love him nevertheless, because he carries in him a heart the size of his head. And I am proud to say that he is a happy child.

Jon said...

Do you know what's the consequence of being 'left behind' academically in a examination meritocracy?

Seen from this perspective, extreme consequences merit extreme remedial measures.

Anonymous said...

Can consider changing or improving the milk powder formula to have brainy kids ?

Anonymous said...

A colleague whose children go to a 'good' school that offers the GEP, said students are told to "go back and ask your tuition teachers if you don't understand".


Pre-requisite to be admitted to GEP school : Must have tuition teacher.


Anonymous said...

in stubbornly insisting on a manufacturing industry that needs more technicians/engineers than scientists

Then why philip yeo kaopeh say no SG pple got Master and PhD and throw money at foreigner? He should kaopeh at MOE and MOM policy failures, not just the people.

By emphasis too much on the engineers and technician, you know how many good talented writers, businessmen, musicians we lost in the past 20 years?

Whose good planning is this?

Trebuchet said...

See Tan et al (2007), Examinations in Singapore: Change and Continuity (1891-2007). On p66 it notes that the O-levels were designed for the top 20% of the UK population. On p113 (and elsewhere), it notes that this examination was taken after 5 years in the UK and after only 4 years in the Singapore secondary education system.

TIMSS and other studies show that Singaporeans rank consistently in the top 3 in terms of mathematics and science education, which is no surprise. After all, our Normal stream is about par with the world average.

Further, the Singapore-Cambridge GCE papers are actually tougher than most GCE papers elsewhere. The amount of literature on this is amazing.

Since all this is taken to be the norm, the majority of our kids just withstand the pressure and survive. However, resilience under pressure can lead to some inflexibility later on in life.

I find that as a private tutor, I earn 120x or more what I used to earn on a per capita per hour basis teaching in a school. Yes, that's 12,000%. Sadly, it's the reality of this country.

Anonymous said...

I am a school teacher, and I spend the bulk of my time after school involved in meetings, CCAs, rehearsals and sub-committee meetings.

I can't recall a single instance this year where I spent a full hour after school grading homework or preparing a quality lesson for the next day. There is always something to take up my after-school time.

Don't be surprised that many of the weaker students who need help are not receiving it. If the teacher is too bogged down to provide the necessary help, I suppose someone else will do it.

And the ironical part is, the private tutor is spending far more of her time teaching a student than a real classroom teacher is.

Unknown said...

I do agree that we're a tuition obsessed society, but I don't think that the primary conclusion to be drawn from the article is necessarily how we are "tuition obsessed".

Giving the academic support to lower income students is a good thing - so that it helps them achieve better grades. By and large they're less likely to fare well academically in school unlike their more well to do peers - therefore it would make sense to provide low-cost tuition to them.

For instance in the US you'd also find similar initiatives (America Reads, America Counts etc) but the US by no means is what anyone would call a tuition obsessed society.

In summary though, I do think your musing on our tuition obsessed society is spot on, but I don't see a clear derivation of that from the subsidy.

Anonymous said...

When even good students are having private tuition which is the case now, clearly we are "tuition obsessed".

Kelvin Tan said...

Interesting article. Has anyone an idea who tutors in such places and how much they are paid?

By the law of supply, if they only pay tutors maybe $10 or $20 an hour, you won't get good quality tutors coming out to do such jobs.

Therefore, I am guessing many of these tutors in such community centers will be old and retired teachers who have been out of touch with the current syllabus. Would that be reasonable?

Anonymous said...

There is a need for tuition because the teacher-student ratio is still too big. In Singapore, it is still 1 teacher to 40 students in primary school, and around 1 teacher to 35 students in secondary school.

If half the class is weak in Math or Science, then a teacher needs to provide remedial for at least 17 students each class.

Chances are, the teacher has to attend meetings or CCA, and has no time to care for the weaker kids adequately.

If the teacher can't give her attention to the weaker students, then who will?

The private tutor will.

Anonymous said...

I live in the US. I believe parental involvement is the most important factor in children's education. Reading to children in their young age and encouraging readership is critical to their success at school. This is time consuming for parents but time well spent. Once they have developed readership, introducing them to various genres. My own children read about 200-300 books a year in their elementary school years. We have very good libaries here which helps tremendously (e.g. great selections and check out allowance.) If your child is a good reader, he/she will learn faster and better. Then extra tuition will become unnecessary.

Of course class sizes can be much smaller for a developed country. Class size is around 20-25 in public schools here.

Anonymous said...

The Singapore school system is such that the school teacher is not evaluated on her ability to teach well and deliver good results.

Most of the time, a Singaporean teacher is evaluated more heavily on her involvement in non-teaching projects; winning medals in CCA, participation in various task forces, running of school functions.

Ironically, it is the private tutor who is evaluated solely on her ability teach and deliver the results.

If my son had problems in Math, I rather my son approach a tutor for help than his Math teacher in school.

I rather my child be taught by someone who is focused on teaching, rather than by a classroom teacher who is so distracted by a dozen different responsibilities.

Jake Tan said...

Don't be patient; the 'education system' has actually been a 'schooling administration'. This assembly-line methodology of cut-and-paste teaching implementation had indeed brought us up well, in the last century. The examination system will be so much transformed that it will become "for what purpose are we testing them?" i.e. obsolete. Don't be patient, tell your children . Earn their empathy by being truthfully forward-thinking yet pragmatic. Do not assume that kids will become wayward and ignore exams. They can feel your sincere care. And excel in exams for you. Don't be patient. Press the ministry to scrap the exams as they have done for 'elite' schools. And replace assessments with learning-tests.

Anonymous said...

The gap in teaching and learning has been widening due the gap between exams standards and teaching standards. Put the scholars back in school to conduct elementary research while teaching. Else they keep gratifying themselves with self-satisfying intellectual derivations based on imported papers (or they studied abroad, saw the success and ignored the non-local contexts) and live with: "teachers cannot do it, keep training them...".