More expat students catch the 'tuition bug'

Rise in competition, complex curricula among reasons cited for more joining tuition centres

Mr Shaun Lim of Student's Inn teaching an international student last Thursday. From 15 foreign students taking tuition for the International Baccalaureate examination in 2004, the centre now has about 300 of them.
Mr Shaun Lim of Student's Inn teaching an international student last Thursday. From 15 foreign students taking tuition for the International Baccalaureate examination in 2004, the centre now has about 300 of them. ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

Singapore has gained a reputation for being a "tuition nation", with surveys indicating that students and parents here spend up to $1.1 billion a year on tuition.

Now, the "tuition bug" has caught on among international students too, with tuition centres and agencies here reporting an exponential increase in the number of foreign students from international schools here seeking help for the International General Certificate of Secondary Education or International Baccalaureate (IB) examinations in recent years.

Mr Rum Tan, founder of SmileTutor tuition agency, said fewer than 50 international students had engaged its services back in 2014, making up less than 5 per cent of its total clientele.

But from January to October this year, the number of international students who have been matched with private tutors for one-to-one lessons through the agency has swelled to close to 1,000, or about 20 per cent of its total client base.

The students mostly hail from Britain and Australia, and come from schools such as United World College South East Asia, Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) and Tanglin Trust School.

Three other centres or agencies also report similar trends.

Tuition supplements regular schooling

Mr Taimoor Ghazanfar, owner of Student's Inn, which has two outlets, in Orchard and one-north, said it started out with 15 international students taking tuition for IB in 2004. Now, there are about 300 of them.

Quintessential Education, which provides IB tuition, reported a 50 per cent increase in the number of its international students from last year, while international students made up six in 10 of the students who engaged the services of tuition agency Elite IB Tutors last year.

Dr Yuen Wei Hao, head of operations for the Singapore branch of Elite IB Tutors, said the increased popularity of the IB programme here may have contributed to this trend.

Some local international schools offering the IB programme, such as St Joseph's Institution International, see a mix of both local and foreign students.

"Students (who) were formerly segregated from each other are now in direct competition, both for spaces in schools and for applications to university, and this would have led to the spread of the tuition culture from local to international students and families," noted Dr Yuen.

Mr Shaun Lim, a partner at Quintessential Education, said the "kiasu" (Hokkien for "a fear of losing out") culture may have caught on among international students, given that the curricula in schools have become "increasingly diverse and complicated".

However, Dr Yuen added that unlike many local students, most international students that he sees are not getting tuition for the sake of it, and are merely hoping to address gaps in their knowledge at school.

Mr Sachin Thukral, 43, who works in an IT company, has a 15-year-old daughter in an international school here who has taken tuition for mathematics and a few other subjects.

"She was already good in her studies, but because there was a change in academic expectations and the style of teaching in the new system, she needed some extra help," he said.

Even though tuition is not unheard of in his native India, he said that it is more common here.

"I see a lot more kids going for tuition here, and (the tuition industry) in Singapore is much more organised."

Professor Andrew Delios, who teaches at the National University of Singapore's business school, said that his 15-year-old son, who studies in an international school here, has been attending tuition classes for maths for the past few years.

The Canadian said that his main motivation for sending his child for tuition was not for fear of losing out to others, but about making sure that he has extra time to focus on subjects in his core curriculum that he is weak in.

"There's not enough time in the day (for the school) to teach everything it needs to teach."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 09, 2017, with the headline More expat students catch the 'tuition bug'. Subscribe