Why parents turn to tuition for their kids
While Education Minister Ong Ye Kung has urged tuition centres not to "prey on the apprehension and anxieties of parents" over the cut back on examinations announced recently, some tuition centres have quickly moved to fill the gap with plans to expand mock exams and so on, as reported by TODAY. The operators say they are merely meeting a demand from parents. So why are parents so reliant on tuition centres? Let me share some of my personal observations as a parent.
The tuition industry here has come under the spotlight again after the recent changes to examinations and tests by the Ministry of Education. Education Minister Ong Ye Kung has spoken of “negative tuition stories” of students finding it stressful and tiring to go for tuition and has also urged the industry not to "prey on the apprehension and anxieties of parents" over the cut back on exams.
Yet as reported by TODAY, some tuition centres have quickly moved to fill the gap with plans to expand mock exams and so on. The operators say they are merely meeting a demand from parents.
So why are parents so reliant on tuition centres? Let me share some of my personal observations.
My only child is currently studying in Primary 3. Whenever I chat with any other parent, from both my boy’s school and other schools, it seems my wife and I are the only parents whose child is not having private tuition.
Some of the other parents say they treat tuition like a form of child care, especially if both of them work and want to make sure their children are cared for properly in the afternoons.
A more common explanation is that parents themselves cannot help their children with school work, even at the primary level.
Just the other night, my boy asked me to help him with the following question.
“Mrs Soh bought some comics and magazines. The comics were sold at three for $9, and magazines at three for $5. She spent the same amount of money on the comics and magazines. If she spent $90 altogether, how many magazines and how many comics did she buy?”
My wife is an ex-teacher with a science degree and a master's degree in instructional design. I used to be quite good in mathematics in my younger days. But we both had difficulty solving the question.
I read that this is called Singapore Maths, which uses a lot of modelling to solve complex questions. Educationists worldwide have praised Singapore Maths, as it is thought to make children smarter.
But it is not something that most parent have learnt before. Unless they actually spend time and effort learning it, they would need external help in coaching their kids.
It is not so much that parents want tuition to help their kids score a distinction. It is more to help the kids learn the method of solving the Singapore Maths questions and pass the exam.
The same level of difficulty applies to other subjects.
I am a medical doctor and I actually find my Pri 3 boy learning very advanced biology and medical stuff in his science subject. I was shocked when my son asked me about the three functions of the human skeletal system!
I wonder if we ought to ask if we are over teaching our kids. Looking at the mock exam paper of the Primary School Leaving Exam (PSLE), I think the syllabus is way too difficult.
Third, children need to learn exam techniques.
My son had his first real exam in mid-year of Pri 3. He did not do well in many subjects.
His form teacher, Mr Goh, was kind enough to meet up with us to explain how my boy made several mistakes in his English paper.
In his paper, he had to answer why Peter was late for school. My boy replied, “Because it was raining”, which was marked wrong.
Mr Goh explained the correct answers should be either “Peter was late because it was raining” or “It was because it was raining".
It took me some time to understand the subtle difference between the correct and wrong answers.
The marking scheme for his exams is very strict. Pupils must give a fixed set of answers. A slightly deviated answer would lead to loss of marks.
We were fortunate to have my boy’s form teacher taking time out to explain to us.
But I understand why many parents send their children to tuition centres just to learn how to answer questions in the correct manner.
To avoid this type of tuition, schools could organise workshops for parents to teach them how to handle and answer the questions in the appropriate manner. We also ought to ask if the marking schemes need to be so rigid.
In saying that his ministry does not plan to ban tuition, Mr Ong noted that it is by itself not a bad thing and many parents do so out of care and concern for their children.
The issue at hand seems to one of striking a balance between parents wanting their kids to do well in school and not subjecting them to unnecessary stress and extra work from tuition.
To be sure, this is not something new, but it is now a hot topic because of MOE’s move to reduce emphasis on grades and parents still clinging on to old mindsets about grades and exams.
Mindsets will take time to change. But only when parents fully embrace the move to reduce emphasis on grades will we likely see a reduced emphasis on tuition.
As for me, I have no intention of sending my son to private tuition because my wife and I will try our best to help him.
We will just learn the primary school syllabus and teach our son ourselves.
It is a challenging task that involves some sacrifices, including us coming home early daily from work.
But I feel it is meaningful and good for family bonding for all three of us to sit together each evening to solve problems and help him with his schoolwork.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr Desmond Wai is a gastroenterologist and hepatologist in private practice.
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