Stop educational arms race with scholastic slavery

Hoping to drum up business, more tuition centres here are distributing eye-catching fliers and freebies - such as foolscap pads, bubble tea and even breakfast sets - outside the gates of schools.

Some do it themselves, while others outsource the work. Centre staff or hirees can usually be seen near brand-name schools such as Hwa Chong Institution and Raffles Institution around exam time. They distribute promotional materials largely for "brand recall", even though students say they can hardly remember the names of the centres. Indeed, some students discard the fliers after taking them.

This aggressive self-promotion is not surprising as shadow education, or tuition, helps some centres rake in six-figure sums. To grab a slice of this lucrative pie, tuition centres are raising their game. Besides distributing fliers and freebies, some are known to offer other perks, from free wealth management tips to shuttle bus services.

Scoring well in examinations is a national obsession. Singaporeans are spending a staggering $1.1 billion a year on tuition, showed the Household Expenditure Survey released in 2014. This is nearly double the $650 million households spent in 2004.

Some parents reportedly spend several thousands of dollars on tuition each month.

And these days, it is not just children who are going for tuition. Parents, who want their children to get a head start, are attending crash courses and intensive workshops to help them with their studies. They receive exam tips, understand common mistakes made by students, and learn concepts likely to appear in exam papers.

It can be seen as a reflection of a system overly focused on marks and book smarts.

But things are slowly changing, with Singapore shifting away from what has been a pressure-cooker system fixated on academic achievement instead of holistic development.

Perhaps it is time that more parents recognise that a child's potential cannot be measured by grades alone, and stop exacerbating the educational arms race with scholastic slavery.

Calvin Yang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2017, with the headline 'Stop education arms race'. Print Edition | Subscribe