MPs call for closer look at private tuition industry
SINGAPORE — The private tuition industry came under the spotlight in Parliament yesterday as several Members of Parliament (MPs) raised questions on how to retain teachers in the Education Service. These teachers may leave for more lucrative roles in the private sector.
Nominated MP Janice Koh had tabled a question about the impact of the tuition industry on social mobility and providing children with equal opportunities, and the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) ability to retain good teachers.
Responding, Senior Minister of State (Law and Education) Indranee Rajah said that Singapore’s education system is “run on the basis that tuition is not necessary”.
For students who need additional support, “comprehensive levelling-up programmes” are in place to ensure students develop a good foundation in English and mathematics. At the same time, teachers provide remedial and supplementary classes on top of community tuition schemes such as those run by self-help groups.
She also said that the private tuition industry has not made any significant impact on teacher attrition, citing “low” resignation rates of around 3 per cent annually. “In our exit interviews and surveys, joining the tuition industry has not been cited as a major reason for teachers leaving the Education Service,” she added.
Ms Koh then asked if there was a need to study the relationship between household income and expenditure on tuition and its impact on social mobility, citing figures from 2008 that showed that about 97 per cent of Singaporean students enrolled in tuition and enrichment classes compared to only 49 and 30 per cent of primary and secondary school students who did so in 1992. Likewise, in 2008, households spent S$820 million on tuition, double the figure in 1998. She also quoted figures from the latest household expenditure survey which found that Singaporeans spent about 1.1 to 2.2 per cent of their household expenditure on tuition and educational expenses.
Moulmein-Kallang GRC MP Denise Phua also weighed in, saying that the tuition industry “could be a S$1-billion-dollar industry” by now, and asked if the ministry could set up a task force to better understand how much households spend on tuition and if solutions are needed.
She also pointed out that “there are quite a number of star tutors or good tutors” in the private sector who are ex-employees of the ministry — a view shared by Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Intan Azura Mokhtar, who asked if there could be a review of the current provision which allows teachers to give private tuition for about six hours a week. Removing this provision could be a start in curbing “this attraction towards the private tuition industry”, said Dr Intan, who is a lecturer and researcher at the National Institute of Education.
In response, Ms Indranee reiterated that the “attrition rate is low” and said there is a wide range of reasons for teachers leaving the education sector. Among them, “a very low percentage” of teachers leave because they are not happy with the job, she said.
“But certainly, we would want to retain as many as we can in the Education Service,” she said, adding that the ministry would look at factors that can persuade teachers to stay as well as reasons that have led to teachers seeking better opportunities in the private sector.
As for Ms Koh’s calls for more studies on the impact of the tuition industry on “educational attainment”, Ms Indranee said the ministry does not have the data to make assessments, but would look carefully at the possibility of conducting such a study.