Friday, March 9, 2012

Death by tuition

I've always maintained that our education system and over-reliance on tuition is getting out of hand but a few New Paper articles I've read lately convinced me that we've officially entered Loony Toons levels. Here they are:

Parent pays nearly $6,000 a month in tuition fees

Parents hire tutors do do kids school and tuition assignments

Kids take test to qualify for top tuition centres

From reading these articles, it would seem like yesterday's deplorable is actually mild by today's standards.

Yesterday: Kids mugging to qualify for top schools
Today: Kids mugging to qualify for top tuition centres

Yesterday: Parents hiring tutors to help their children do homework
Today: Parents hiring tutors to do their children's homework

In fact, as I write the last one, it has already become obsolete, replaced by a new normal:

Yesterday: Parents hiring tutors to do their children's homework
Today: Parents hiring tutors to do their children's tuition homework

So basically, we now need tuition to keep up with tuition? Am I the only one who thinks we have completely lost the plot?

The tuition culture has become so commonplace that even teachers have come to use it as a crutch. A friend of mine told me her son's Chinese teacher asked her to hire a tutor for kid. I've even heard an anecdote where a teacher asked the kids to get their tutors to check the homework before handing it up.

Andre's science teacher is probably an exception. She told me, "don't give him tuition! Sometimes they teach the wrong thing. I'll teach all that he needs to know." She's a lovely teacher and I obeyed. Well, sort of. Andre does have a science tutor - it's me. Does that count?

It really irks me how some of these tuition centres blatantly boast about the top scores of their students, when they do screening tests to take in only the top students in the first place. I might as well put birds in a cage and then claim that I taught them how to fly.

But what concerns me more is the type of values that are emerging from this tuition culture. What was once supposed to be a source of help to aid those who have learning difficulties, has evolved into a monster entitled mentality. Basically, if you have the money, you can hire someone to do anything for you, including doing the homework. (And apparently there is no shortage of tutors willing to do this). Why not hire someone to take your child's exam for you, while you're at it?

At JCs, I've heard it's increasingly common for parents to hire professionals to complete project work for their kids, some of which form part of the final grade. I find it difficult to believe that the teachers don't know or even suspect that this is going on. I guess it's easier to turn a blind eye, since the students' grades affect teachers' KPIs. There's a huge difference between not knowing and not wanting to know.

I find it ironic that the MOE claims to want to place an emphasis on values but do nothing to curb these unethical practices. The tuition industry is morphing out of control and yet MOE continues to remain mum. It frustrates me to no end.

I know MOE feels that they cannot regulate the tuition industry but I've told Sim Ann previously that by not speaking up and making a stand, MOE is actually condoning such practices - it's ok to coach your child into the GEP, it's ok to have your tutor do your homework for you. It's like telling your child stealing is bad and then doing nothing when rampant thefts take place.

The tuition industry did not just happen by accident. It is a direct result of an education system that obsesses over scores and systematically sieves children using this measure until only a few get the prize. Inevitably, there is a huge stampede for the prize. If you create a system that consistently rewards and hence, reinforces such behaviour, you cannot say you are not accountable for the backlash. I picture the MOE officials rolling their eyes and exclaiming, "All these kiasu parents!" and then washing their hands.

Newsflash: Pilate was culpable too.

I'm not saying the tuition industry should be regulated (I'm not sure you can, anyway). All I'm saying is MOE should make a stand openly that they frown on such practices because it is against their education philosophy, and hold any wrong-doers accountable. Then perhaps, parents and tuition centres will not flaunt these practices so openly.

According to reports, Singaporeans now spend about $820 million a year on tuition. Education has become a commercial enterprise and the problem with this, is that it only benefits those with resources. Want to close the rising income gap? Start with the tuition industry.

To me, the PSLE is the biggest contributor to this escalating insanity, but I'll probably address that another time.
"Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding, understanding is not wisdom." - Clifford Stoll


Karmeleon said...

My elder boy is rather good at getting his school teachers to give him extra coaching outside of class. *haha* Free "tuition". Good also bc some children don't need help with every area of their subjects and don't want to commit to a fixed amount of time every week to that for the whole year, right?

Last year, when the younger boy was in P6, I approached his Math Tutor to help him. He was the worst student in that subject in that class. Doesn't that warrant attention? You don't look for me, I look for you? Anyway, that boy is resistant to tuition, so I thot that his own school teacher should be very familiar with the areas where he most needs help. She agreed that he needed coaching and even agreed to arrange timing with him to work personally with him. My boy had no tuition, and already retired from CCA by mid-year, so most afternoons very free other than school supplementary. Horrid teacher - NEVER EVER ARRANGED. I already so thick-skinned, went to talk to her, I didn't dare chase her anymore, lor. Grrrrrr..... I think she only likes students like my elder boy (whom she incidentally taught Math to in p5/p6 as well) - boys that don't need help. :P

monlim said...

Karmeleon: Lesley-Anne too, has problems with maths, esp A maths this year. She tried to go to her math teacher and he's v nice, did a couple of sessions after school with her, which helped a lot. Unfortunately, his schedule is so busy that it's so hard to get a slot from him. I guess they all assume you'll just get a tutor!

Oh, I dislike those teachers who only like to teach smart kids. Talk about being in the wrong profession!

Lilian said...

Pretty sure that $820 mil is an underestimation. I wish I had a slice of the billion-dollar tuition pie. Mon, remember few years ago, we said we should set up a tuition centre?

Actually, I don't really care if kids attend lots of tuition, there's gonna be a trade-off, in time, sleep, maybe even health (mental and physical). And MOE can't really say much, cos some of these kids go for tuition cos they don't have help at home, so if MOE takes a stand against overtutoring, to be fair, MOE should also stop parents from helping their kids right?

BUT, what I find disgusting is when tutors do kids' assignments/homework, or professionals are hired to do the projects of students. Basically, if kids think they need help so they can do better in their exams, fine, but if they are 'cheating' this way, teachers should not turn a blind eye. Be more ethical lah, else don't even start talking about awards for values & character.

monlim said...

Lilian: Yes, I remember - we were going to use our kids as mascots :D

I agree, MOE cannot say no tuition. But when there is "cheating" or unethical behaviour, they should say something, right? I feel that GEP prep classes also go against the grain of everything the programme stands for.

Lilian said...

Yes, they should definitely get teachers to come down hard on such cheating. Start by issuing a stern warning that if their work is found to have been done by others, then no 2nd chance, outright expel :P haha, that'll scare parents don't you think?

GEP prep, I think that's why they now take in more than the 1% in the past. It's more than 1.5% now, maybe this way they hope they don't lose any real bright sparks to the prepped ones. If some prepped ones get in, so be it lah, there are people who are calling for the programme to be available to more kids anyway :D

monlim said...

Are they taking in more than 1% now? I didn't know that. Nolah, my sense of justice tells me not fair to get prepped in :P I also feel this might also prevent some poor kids who may be gifted but not prepped to be edged out.

Yes, yes, I second your call for teachers and the school to come down hard on such cheating. If there is a chance of suspension or having a black mark on your record, parents will definitely think twice! Maybe implement a whistle-blowing policy, haha.

Lilian said...

I think it was already 1.5% or close to that back in Brian's and LA's time. Cos they offered about 600 plus kids then if I remember correctly. Now it's slightly more than 1.5% cos they are still offering about the same number while cohort is getting smaller.

I think they were a lot more selective in the earlier years.

Actually, it's hard for teachers to accuse kids of such cheating if the tutors/helpers are smart enough to produce work that's at the right level. All boils down to what society is becoming lah, what values parents want to impart to their kids. My friend tells me I'm being naive if I expect the world to be fair. Even in the chase for Ivy League places, people use unscrupulous means to spruce up their essays and cvs.

monlim said...

Brian and L-A's time was 550 kids - 350 boys and 200 girls.

It's true a lot of it is up to the parents and what values they want to impart. No matter what is instituted, there will still be pple who cheat and get away with it. But just because the world isn't fair, doesn't mean we should therefore accept unfairness as ok. (I get really annoyed with pple who say "life isn't fair" and think that gives them the liberty to be unfair!) Maybe I'm being too idealistic lah.

Petunia Lee said...

Monica! Monica! Monica! Oh that this might go viral on Facebook again!!

Petunia Lee said...

I am your fan. I shall be stalking this blog!!!!!!!! Thank God for your writing skills.

monlim said...

lol... thanks for your enthusiastic support!

Anonymous said...


you are my idol...woman.

the parents are the ones shld be educated......values and integrity..... long gone down the drain....

how sad!!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Monica,

I am your fan too :-) Yup, its sad that our education system has become what it is today. Is your husband helping Lesley-Anne with her A Math? If you stay near my area, I can give Lesley-Anne a hand :-)


monlim said...

KP: My hubby has completely "returned" his A Math back to the system, lol! You're very sweet to offer your help :)

livetogive said...

You're welcome. Just email me if you need help :-)


Anonymous said...


This is a clear case of vicious levelling up. Kids go for enrichment and the school needs to move faster and higher so the kids won't be bored. Kids need to attend tuition to continue to stay ahead of the curve. School goes faster and higher ...more tuition comes along.

Yes, it's insane. How can we keep our children interested in learning in the long run? I am not sure if MOE knows, what with all the periodic reviews being rolled out.


monlim said...

Ven: The accelerated learning is crazy. Kids are now expected to know stuff at primary school what used to be taught only at secondary school, and at secondary school what used to be taught at JC. It's so unhealthy, kids don't have time to ponder over what they're learning and enjoy the process of discovery. They're forever chasing the moving goal post. At some point, this whole system will blow up in MOE's face.

Anonymous said...

Would you consider doing a blog post on the Primary One registration system? What are your thoughts on the so-called giving your child a headstart? Nurture versus nature? Is the school environment so important?

The registration saga can get so ugly as there is overwhelming demand for certain 'hot' schools. Non-alumni kao-peh about the alumni waltzing in, the Sporeans complain that the PRs should not enjoy the same priority..and why are all the 'hot' schools in a particular zone in S'pore? Does MOE really believe all schools are equal?


monlim said...

Ven: Thanks for the suggestion, I'll think about it. The problem is, it's been so long since I did the p1 registration that I've kinda forgotten what it's like!

I certainly don't believe all schools are equal even though MOE wants to insist all schools are good schools (but I guess they have to cos it's the PC thing to say). Having said that however, I don't think teachers in elite schools are necessarily better than those in neighbourhood schools. It's more the environment. Some schools focus more on the academic ratrace than others (you can probably find out from the difficulty of the exam papers) meaning they're more stressful. Might be good for some kids, not so good for others.

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