Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Singapore’s ‘Tuition Industrial Complex’

Policymakers are debating the social impact of private tuition or tutoring classes which have proliferated in recent years. The numbers are simply staggering: More than 90 percent of primary students are enrolled in after-school tuition centers while parents spend an estimated $680 million annually on tutoring services. Soon, it will be a billion-dollar industry

But aside from being a thriving sector, tuition has become Singapore’s ‘shadow education system’ that caters even to academically-gifted students. And the government is not quite happy with this development. 

“Our education system is run on the basis that tuition is not necessary. Some parents believe they can give their children an added advantage by sending them to tuition classes, even though their children are doing reasonably well. We cannot stop them from doing so,” said Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah in a parliament session. 

The rise of tuition led many to ask whether it is really beneficial to students in the long run. Does it enrich the learning of children or does it create a ‘mindset of dependency?’ Is it a good investment or a waste of resources? 

In the past, tuition was reserved for students who were lagging behind in school. But today, it has become a compulsory service for almost all students – especially those who want to earn higher grades. For many parents, tuition is necessary to give their children a competitive edge in the school and many of them will continue to pay high fees as long as the test scores of their children keep on improving.

But the tuition craze could also affect Singapore’s education system, which ranks among the best in the world. Some parents are worried that schools might lose their best teachers to private tuition centers. The government may be correct to claim that there is a low resignation rate among teachers today; but as tuition continues to expand, how long can schools retain their most experienced teachers, those who might be lured by better career opportunities in the private sector?

There is also a concern about the impact of tuition on the formal learning process in schools. Do students pay more attention to classroom lessons or do they simply expect to be tutored after class? How do teachers adjust their teaching methods with the knowledge that most of their students are enrolled in tuition classes?

Singapore might soon face the prospect that all students are already taking tuition sessions. It could immediately lead to higher examination results and better academic performance of students which would reflect positively on Singaporean education in general. But this numeric achievement should be balanced by taking into consideration the overall development of students, including their health, attitude, and mental well-being. 

In other words, public discussion should not simply focus on the economics of tuition and its pedagogic value. More importantly, the tuition debate should lead to deeper reflection on how Singapore nurtures its next generation. By  for Asia Beat Image credit: Flickr (xcode)

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