Recently, we were thrilled to be interviewed by news outlet Today for their feature article!  Titled “The Big Read: Singapore’s endless love affair with private tuition just got deeper with Covid-19” (14 August 2021), the article delved into the nation’s ongoing ‘obsession’ with tuition and enrichment classes, especially in the light of Covid-19 and China’s recent clamp down on private tutoring.

Along with insights provided by other leading tutors and tuition providers in Singapore, one of our co-founders and principal tutor Ms Yvonne Chen answered queries from the media and gave her comments about the tuition scene in Singapore. In fact, she has more to share about the issue which the media were unable to fully feature!

Want to know more about the outlook of tuition in Singapore from star tutor Ms Chen’s perspective? We give you the deep dive below.

On China’s tuition ban

For context, China had recently passed a law prohibiting private tutoring academies from operating on a for-profit basis. Foreign investments to the sector will also not be allowed. Most people are viewing this as essentially a ban on private tuition, with the said purpose of ‘reducing anxiety’ for students and parents in the ultra-competitive academic landscape of China. According to authorities, part of the goal is also to lower the costs of raising a child in China.

However, old habits don’t die hard, and most people expect this move to only push the tuition scene into the black market. While the current rate for private tuition at the pre-college level (e.g. for IB, A Level) in China can range around 1200 to 3000 yuan per hour, industry insiders foresee this to climb even higher, further widening the income gap in the country as access will be limited to higher-income families who can afford it.

Parents and educators in Singapore have watched this news with bated breath, and some wonder if a similar move will be effective in Singapore. On this, our principal tutor Ms Chen thinks that we are not at that stage yet.

Although Singapore is competitive, we are not as ‘intense’ as our counterparts in China, she says. According to a survey by the China Education Paper, some 92% of parents in the larger nation send their kids to cram schools. The craze is fuelled by a combination of varying standards of education in schools, the high stakes gaokao exam, and unfair advantages at top colleges that prioritise students in Beijing and Shanghai.

But in Singapore, the number of tuition-goers are at about 60-80% of students (source). While some parents do treat tuition as a necessity, this view is not shared by a vast majority. Many parents are still of the belief that tuition is only a supplement to the school curriculum. Most will only enrol their child in tuition for subjects they need help in, and a smaller percentage register for tuition despite doing well in school – to get further ahead in class.

As such, Ms Chen believes that Singapore won’t be seeing a ban on private tuition anytime soon. This echoes then education minister Mr Ong Ye Kung’s announcement in 2018 that the Government has no intention to prohibit tuition services in the country. Instead, the education ministry has made measures to reduce the emphasis on academic grades, and calls upon parents to ‘shift the culture from turning to tuition as the default option to one where children have the self-confidence and support from their families, schools and peers to manage their learning.’

Tuition trends in Singapore

Singapore’s ‘love’ for tuition isn’t going away anytime soon, but what has changed? In Today’s report, they observed an increase in demand for private tuition – especially online tuition – during the pandemic.

This is a natural response, as many students were adversely affected by the shift to home-based learning. With less supervision by teachers and a change in teaching delivery, more parents felt that their children were struggling in school and needed that extra help from tuition.

The shift to online tuition is made out of necessity, as face-to-face private tutoring had been affected time and again by Covid-19 restrictions islandwide. Thus, our centres have also been providing online alternatives for our students – even on a regular basis. This equips our tutors and gets them used to virtual teaching, and offers a safely distanced and convenient option for students.

Our hybrid physical-virtual class in session while a photojournalist from Today captures the scene through her lens.

Another trend as observed by Future Academy’s co-founder is the preference for small group tuition. Highly popular tutors can cram 30 to 40 students in one class and conduct lecture-style tuition that maximises their cost efficiency, but this is not always effective for students. During this pandemic, many parents and tuition providers have also been forced to scale down to minimise the risks of transmitting the virus in a large group.

Instead, small group tuition allows students to receive more personalised guidance from their tutor in a safe space, which is something more challenging to get from their teachers in school. Of course, for parents who can afford it, private one-on-one tuition is the ideal for tuition that is fully customised to their child’s needs. But the more affordable rates of group tuition strike a healthy balance that puts this format of lessons in high demand.

Recommendations for parents

Putting together the concerns surrounding the Covid-19 ‘new normal’, deeply ingrained kiasuism, and the recent growing spotlight on children’s mental health, it seems that tuition providers will also have to keep evolving to remain relevant. But what should parents do?

To send my children to tuition, or not?

Ms Chen, who tutors classes such as IP Math tuition and JC Physics tuition, doesn’t believe that tuition should be a necessity. In fact, she feels that majority of her students will do well in school even without tuition. Instead of being pressured to think tuition is a must, parents should assess their child’s needs, goals, and capacity before committing to tuition.

Rather than forcing children to attend tuition or fill up their schedule with tuition for every single subject, Ms Chen wishes to emphasise the quality of tuition. If your child is willing, and if you think tuition will benefit your child, then select a good tuition provider that will really help.

Some things to consider when picking the ideal tuition provider for your child are class size, teacher’s qualifications and experience, the centre (or tutor)’s track record, and location.

At the end of the day, it is also worthy to remember that tuition is not a magical cure-all for your study troubles. Diligence and discipline to study are also important criteria for progress, as well as each child’s aptitude and talents which also play a part in how well they can perform.

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