With parents willing to fork out thousands of dollars for private coaching to give their children an edge over others, it is no wonder tuition is a billion-dollar industry.
But tuition is not just for the rich. Through the four ethnic self-help groups in Singapore, financially less well-off children have been able to receive extra academic help.
More primary and secondary school students are attending these subsidised tuition programmes by three of the four groups - Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC), Singapore Indian Development Association (Sinda) and Yayasan Mendaki.
The number of students in such programmes has grown by up to 67 per cent over the past five years.
The fourth group - Eurasian Association (EA) - sees a steady number of students for tuition each year.
A GREAT HELP
It is not easy to afford the fees at private tuition centres... We are grateful that there are such programmes for my son to attend proper tuition lessons.
MR ADRIAN APPS, an undertaker at Singapore Casket, whose 12-year-old son Alfonso has been attending tuition under the CTP since he was in Primary 1
The self-help groups told The Straits Times the spike in student numbers may be due to more low-income families recognising education as a tool in achieving social mobility, the setting up of more centres to reach out to students, and more schools helping to identify needy students who may require such tuition services.
Among the four groups, Mendaki, a self-help group for the Malay and Muslim community, noted the biggest surge in student numbers in recent years. Its tuition programme, started in 1982, has some 10,000 students this year, up from about 6,000 five years ago.
Mendaki chief executive officer Tuminah Sapawi said the increase may be due to outreach efforts, such as educational seminars, to share such programmes with the community. "More Malay and Muslim families are recognising the importance of education," she added.
Ms Gam Huey Yi, CDAC's director for student education and development, said its new centres and upgraded facilities have enabled it to reach more students in the estates. The Chinese self-help group has some 11,000 students, up from 9,000 five years back.
Ms Gam added that these tuition programmes play a part in helping students from lower-income families "achieve social mobility".
Sinda has also seen more children in its two flagship tuition programmes, the Sinda Tutorials for Enhanced Performance (Step) and Project Teach.
Step, designed to provide affordable after-school tuition, has 3,800 primary and secondary students this year, a 26 per cent jump from five years ago. Over the same period, Project Teach, a school-based supplementary educational programme in partnership with the schools, has seen a 6 per cent increase to 1,150 students this year.
For the EA, about 20 students tap a Collaborative Tuition Programme (CTP) to attend tuition classes yearly. The programme, launched in 2002, allows students to attend tuition classes offered by the other ethnic self-help groups, optimising the use of community resources and providing more convenience to students from less well-to-do families.
Parents who send their children for these tuition classes noted that the programmes offer academic support for their children's education, without adding significantly to their financial burden.
Among them is Mr Adrian Apps, an undertaker at Singapore Casket, whose 12-year-old son Alfonso has been attending tuition under the CTP since he was in Primary 1.
Mr Apps, a 48-year-old Eurasian, and his wife, who works in the food and beverage line, earn about $2,000 a month. They have two older sons aged 15 and 19.
"It is not easy to afford the fees at private tuition centres," he said. "We are grateful that there are such programmes for my son to attend proper tuition lessons."
Students pay subsidised fees of between $8 and $40 per subject monthly, depending on the level of study and household income. Private tuition centres may charge more than 10 times that amount.
Fee waiver schemes and further subsidies are also in place for those who may need added help.
With small class sizes, students are able to receive the required attention and help from their tutors. The self-help groups noted that most students, after joining the tuition programmes, would show at least a one grade jump in a subject.
In recent years, the self-help groups have kept up with the times, introducing new tuition programmes to cater to more students.
CDAC, for instance, has piloted a scheme which not only provides 11/2 hours of academic support, but also incorporates half an hour of outdoor games or sports. The pilot, conducted for 47 Primary 4 pupils at Frontier Primary every Saturday for three months earlier this year, was well received and will be expanded to benefit the Primary 4 and 5 cohorts next year.
Pupil Dexter Sim, 10, who was involved in the pilot, noted improvements in his English and mathematics results. "The outdoor games allow us to de-stress and have fun after studying. It keeps us motivated," he said.
Sinda is offering a new initiative called the modular academic programme, which can be customised according to the learning needs of students, and is formed based on demand. The intensive programme is open to students who score a B grade and below in subjects such as science and maths.
Sinda chief operating officer Ravindran Nagalingam said its programmes address the Indian community's "educational performance gaps", adding: "The challenge now is to get more students into the programmes, especially those who are in the bottom 20 per cent, so that they can benefit as well."