NIE studying impact of tuition

NIE's three studies on tuition are expected to be completed by the end of next year. One of the questions to be examined is whether tutors help students understand content or if they merely drill them to be exam-smart. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND LUI
NIE's three studies on tuition are expected to be completed by the end of next year. One of the questions to be examined is whether tutors help students understand content or if they merely drill them to be exam-smart. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND LUI

Top query: Do grades really improve or is an unhealthy reliance created?

The National Institute of Education (NIE) has launched three studies to answer key questions about the impact of private tuition here.

At the top of the list is whether tuition really improves students' grades or if it creates an unhealthy reliance which may make them worse.

The studies, which are expected to be completed by the end of next year, will also question if tutors help students understand content or if they merely drill children to be exam-smart.

Dr Shaljan Areepattamannil, who is heading the project, said he and his team will try to measure whether tuition does indeed raise scores in maths and English through the course of a year.

They will also look at tuition's effect on a pupil's motivation and interest in maths and English.

"Even if the study shows that tuition doesn't result in significant gains, parents and students may not be dissuaded. But for policymakers and educators, it may still be good to understand the impact and trends," he said.

At the same time, Dr Woo Huay Lit is heading a study on who the tutors are, and the types and quality of teaching in tuition centres.

Dr Trivina Kang's study, meanwhile, is looking at what parents expect from tuition, and the experiences of students here.

Research dean Lee Wing On said NIE embarked on the studies due to the high prevalence of tuition in Singapore.

He pointed to a study showing that between 1998 and 2008, tuition spending here doubled from $410 million to more than $800 million.

"Besides the huge amount of money spent by parents, the tuition phenomenon is worth studying because it has repercussions at both the individual and national levels," he said.

"At the individual level, students can develop a strong reliance on their tutors and may pay less attention in class, knowing that their tutors will help them afterwards.

"At the national level, it has a bearing on our attempts to move away from the focus on exams towards a more holistic education.

"Extensive tuition also exacerbates social inequalities, which has become a pressing concern."

Professor Lee, however, noted that tuition is hard to examine. There are many factors affecting academic achievement, and tutors vary in their methods and quality.

"From a research perspective, populations of students who do and do not receive tutoring cannot easily be compared because they are rarely uniform in other characteristics," he said.

The debate on tuition gained national prominence recently after Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah said in Parliament that "our education system is run on the basis that tuition is not necessary".

Many parents and students, however, insist that tuition is needed to maintain an edge.

sandra@sph.com.sg