Tuition a necessary evil

Last Saturday's special report on tuition ("Tuition nation") provides an accurate snapshot of the reasons for the prevalence of tuition among Singaporean households.

There is no question that demand for tuition peaks for PSLE classes.

Parents perceive the PSLE as a high-stakes exam that determines the future educational path of their child. For tuition centres, these classes are the cash cows to be milked for all they are worth. Most conduct PSLE holiday workshops to rake in even more lucre.

Parents ramp up the channelling of more resources - in terms of time, money and effort - as early as when their child enters Primary 5. The frenzy intensifies at the start of Primary 6, escalating into a manic crescendo just before the PSLE in late September or early October.

Those who can afford it do not stop at providing their primary school children with tuition in all four subjects; they even pay for "double tuition" - engaging a private tutor as well as group tuition for each subject.

I recall teaching a Primary 6 child who proudly boasted about how his parents were shelling out $5,000 a month on tuition for him alone.

Like what tutor Yee Kian Toung said in last Saturday's report ("'Primary pupils get most extra classes'"), parents will do their utmost to maximise their children's potential to help them prepare for the PSLE. Once the child enters secondary school, the demand for tuition tapers off, partly because parents are more "hands-off" with their older children.

I must concede that tuition is a necessary evil. Parental fears fuel the industry. Even parents with tertiary education are not able to coach their own primary school children because of the complexity of some of the concepts.

Syllabus changes further contribute to the angst. Parents also perceive school teachers to be stretched too thinly to be able to pay individualised attention to their pupils.

Unless high-stakes exams like the PSLE are abolished, admission criteria for elite secondary schools radically revised or society undergoes a complete mindset change with regard to the emphasis now placed on academic success, the reliance on tuition looks set to be perpetuated or become even more entrenched.

Marietta Koh (Mrs)

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2015, with the headline Tuition a necessary evil. Subscribe