Monday, October 29, 2012

Making the reluctant case for tuition

Lesley-Anne got back her year-end exam results last week and overall, we're pretty pleased with it.  Except for Higher Chinese where she scored a B4, she received an A grade for everything else. As we all know, it's not always the case that hard work will translate into good results but this time, it really paid off for her and we're very grateful for it.

The subject we were most pleasantly surprised by though, was maths. As I'd previously blogged, Lesley-Anne had been struggling with maths this year, earning herself a C5 in E Maths and a dubious F9 in A Maths in her mid-year exams. We got her a math tutor and even though we expected to see improvement, we weren't predicting any miracles.

The results turned out to be pretty drastic. For the CA2, barely 3 months after tuition commenced, Lesley-Anne's A Maths grade jumped from F9 to C5.  For this end of year exam, she scored an A1 for E Maths and an A2 for A Maths, just one mark shy of an A1.   

To tell you the truth, I'm pretty torn by this turn of events. On one hand, of course I'm delighted by the results. On the other hand, I'm actually feeling a little perturbed. Why?  Because the results show that contrary to what her F9 grade indicated, Lesley-Anne has the capacity to learn maths. Just not from her school teacher.

This bugs me.  In my opinion, a student should be able to learn at least the rudiments of any given subject from school with the prerequisite hard work, unless he really has zero aptitude for it. I've never been a big proponent of tuition unless the child truly needs help.  However, from this experience, I found that in just 6 months, a once-a-week, two-hour tuition session made all the difference.  I can only conclude that it's not the amount of effort or the hours spent learning maths, it's the teaching method.

I'm pretty sure that Lesley-Anne would not have gotten these results if she had continued to try and learn maths purely from school. For some reason, she can't understand the way her teacher explains concepts and maths remedial didn't help since he would repeat the topics in the same way. Maybe he thought that her poor results were because she wasn't working hard enough or wasn't paying attention.

I totally get that it's more difficult to teach a classroom of kids than tutor one student but Lesley-Anne was not even remotely passing A Maths, which tells me she hadn't even grasped the basic concepts.

If it's true that our children sometimes don't do well in school because they can't understand the teachers, then this is troubling. How can our education system wean kids off tuition if it is more effective than school?  What about kids who can't afford tuition?  There is also the question of how many kids think they are stupid or do not have the aptitude to grasp a subject when maybe it's just the way it is taught that's not effective.

These are difficult issues that have always been a challenge - finding good teachers, equipping them with the right tools, making sure they have enough time and resources to do their job well, etc. Nevertheless, they need to be addressed if MOE wants to convince parents that "every school is a good school".

For now, I'll just have to be resigned to the fact Lesley-Anne's maths education is not from school but an external source.  It's not ideal but at least it's effective.


Anonymous said...

Dear Monica,
I appreciate what you are saying. It's like tuition has taken on the role of school education. It's a remedy yet not a remedy ...


Anonymous said...


L-A's case further confirm the loopholes in our education education. These are smart girls. If teaching is not effective in school but instead the As come from tuition, it's no wonder all the unhappiness raised by the parents displeased with the obvious gap between the school teaching vs quality tuition. The story repeats itself in primary school system. One wonders the stellar results of branded schools come from efforts of school teachers or tutors 8(

Stop saying we parents are KS without understanding the crux of the problems. Why not review the quality of school teaching instead.

Thanks Monica for this wonderful piece again.


loveourchildrennow said...

Hi, what an interesting story! I am curious, what was her school's response to the situation? And congrats for her results! I am happy for you and LA :)

monlim said...

SL: I think Tharman finally admitted that the system and emphasis on exams force parents to zoom in on exam preparation at the expense of everything else:,-creativity

LOCN: I don't expect the school to respond - they'll probably just assume that it was the teacher's effort that led to the grade improvement. We know better :) Thanks for the wishes!

Anonymous said...

As any parent with special needs children can attest, it's ALL about the teaching methods. Our MOE teachers are not bad, but they are not good for out-of-the-box teaching and many kids fall through the cracks. Congratulations to Lesley-Anne for finding the teacher that speaks her learning lingo!
- Iris

monlim said...

Iris: It's certainly difficult to find a teacher who can engage every student, that's why I'm always grateful when my kids have good teachers. It's like striking lottery!

Anonymous said...

Hi Monica,

I have been a silent reader of your blog for some time and would like to weigh in on this matter.

I feel that sometimes it is not the fault of the teachers as each of us have different learning style.

Base on what I have read about LA, she seem to be more right-brain than left-brain, which is why she is stronger in her languages and humanities as compared to say maths and science.

Every individual has a different learning style. Eg Visual, Kinesethic, Auditory or Tactile and we tend to teach base on our learning style as we are more comfortable in it and would think that "if it works for me, it should for others too".

For example, if her teacher is a visual learner, she would use bright colours when teaching and this benefits students who are visual learners in school. Since schools mainly uses whiteboard and lecturing as the main mode of teaching, students who are visual or auditory learners will do better compared to their kinesethic or tacile peers.

Furthermore, base on the current education system which is bias towards the left-brain learners, students who are right or balanced-brain may not do that well. Thus, it is important to create a way for students who are not left-brained to learn in this environment.

I do not know if teachers are aware of the different learning style and whether have they been taught to cater to the different needs of the students, but base on my observations in school while studying, most teachers are left-brained and the notes provided from the school are heavily bias towards left-brain learners.

You were able to see very drastic improvement for LA is also partly because she is gifted. Being gifted allows individuals to recognise patterns/analogies much faster than normal children. With proper coaching, LA could have "cracked the code" for mathematics and would most likely have the aptitude for most subjects simply because of this ability that gifted children have.

While I say this, I do not mean that all is easy for LA. I can see that she puts in a lot of effort to achieve this result and I commend her for that. What I am trying to say is that for every X amount of hour she put in, it would take more time for normal children to achieve the same results.

Which is why I agree that there should be a GEP for gifted children and that parents should not train their child so that they can get into the GEP. The reason is because the pace in which gifted children learn is much faster and they would need to be stimulated more to challenge their mind and this pace would be very tough for bright children who got into the GEP by "training".


monlim said...

Teamaniac: Thanks for the very detailed comment. L-A is definitely right-brained, no doubt abt that. Her learning style is more visual although hers is not as one-tracked as some others, some of the other ways also work for her.

I think it's not so much a mismatch of the teaching/learning style that gave her problems but more because her right brain means she takes a longer time to understand left brain concepts. A step by step method probably works better for her but since the teacher needs to cater to the whole class, he doesn't have time to focus on the specific areas that L-A has problems with.

I do agree with you that gifted kids tend to learn anything academic quicker, I can see the difference in my own kids. I guess it's the way their brains process and retain information.

lyn said...

To be fair, the tutor has one up against the teacher in the classroom. With a one-to-many classroom set up, and a syllabus to complete, the teacher in the classroom is unable to offer 40 different styles to cater to 40 different minds (assuming class size of 40). The tutor (if a good one) is able to alter or modify his approach as he has a better chance of reading the student and figuring out his/her specific needs.

I was a maths teacher and am a maths tutor now. My oldest (girl) was in the GEP and in sec 1 now. My second (boy) is very much like yours. (fortunately the third one is only three this year). The difference in the quality and how targeted in my teachings as a teacher in a classroom and a tutor ( one to one or one-to-a-few)is simply drastic. My learning curve of the class is greatly reduced. My opportunities for recognizing mental blocks in an individual is greatly increased.

My biggest peeve with teaching in a school has always been (and still is) the class size. Kids ain't machines. Kids are so specialized and individualistic folks. Different strokes for different folks.

Angie Kimng said...

Hi Monica, I have been reading and enjoying your blog posts; like the expression of ideas in well written English (for me I am not good with words)!

Got to know LA did well for her math (Oct 2012 post) through private tutor. My son is now in Sec 1, his biggest headache is also math. Would you be able to recommend the tuition teacher?

Sorry to have put it in comment, searched the blog but couldn't locate your email.

Thank you in advance - Angie Ng

monlim said...

Angie: I've stopped giving out tutor contacts as I was inundated by requests. I found L-A's tutor from and found the agency professional. Perhaps you would like to try that? All the best!

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