Race to boost grades sees tuition centres rise
TUITION used to be seen as extra help for struggling students, but is increasingly being viewed as a necessity for students to do well in school - further fuelling demand for it here.
Parents and tuition centres say the extra hours and greater individual attention in the smaller classes at centres give students an edge in the competitive education system here. These have become important as the school syllabus has become increasingly challenging, they say.
At a dialogue about a week ago, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned against reliance on tuition, saying: "We are doing too much tuition in Singapore."
While tuition can help if students are struggling with a subject, generally, teachers should be able to help most students through regular classes and, if necessary, extra lessons, he said.
He acknowledged that Singapore's competitive system was partly responsible for the tuition boom, noting that parents are anxious for their children, and sometimes, the children themselves ask for tuition.
The number of tuition and enrichment centres registered with the Ministry of Education jumped from 700 in 2012 to 800 last year, and 850 now.
Tuition centres interviewed by The Straits Times reported increases of between 10 and 30 per cent in student intake from last year. Some have even seen their numbers double with the opening of branches.
Neo Zhizhong - co-founder of Beautyful Minds, a tuition centre with several branches - said: "Parents don't necessarily want their children to do well for their own sake. Sometimes, they simply want their children to do better than others.
"If my son scored 98/100, but someone else's daughter has 99/100, then it's time for tuition."
Sharlyn Neo's 14-year-old daughter goes to Ezybox Learning Hub for six hours of English, science and maths tuition a week.
"It's very difficult for students to do well without tuition. The tutors (can) better help with the (more) analytical and challenging questions in the exams," said the 46-year-old housing agent.
But even the tuition centres do not encourage too much tuition.
Jeremy Neo, founder of tuition centre The Classroom, said: "I advise my students not to go for tuition for more than three subjects. They won't have time to do anything else (otherwise)."
Jason Tan, an associate professor in policy and leadership studies at the National Institute of Education, who has done studies on the impact of tuition, said what makes up "too much" tuition depends on the student.
"There is a legitimate concern when students spend long hours at tuition and do not have enough time to enjoy life," he said.
But he added that parents who send their children for tuition may not always be motivated by grades. "They might be searching to provide their children something beyond what mainstream schools can offer, such as increased self-confidence."