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Consider cutting class sizes in schools to make students less reliant on tuition

Many TODAY readers weighed in on a commentary this week that discussed how Singapore households spent S$1.4 billion on tuition, up from S$650 million around 15 years ago, and whether this was cause for concern.

Consider cutting class sizes in schools to make students less reliant on tuition

Many TODAY readers weighed in on a commentary this week that discussed how Singapore households spent S$1.4 billion on tuition, up from S$650 million around 15 years ago, and whether this was cause for concern. Most readers, including parents, said students take up tuition out of necessity because they cannot keep up with classes. The reasons cited include a tough syllabus, although many noted that large class sizes of up to 40 students mean it is not feasible for teachers to pay personal attention to each student.  

Don’t blame the system. As long as parents want their children to move up… tuition will last. DAVE WU

My son took the GCE O-Level examinations last year and is in a junior college (JC) this year. Frankly, I was stunned when I looked at the syllabus and the many topics covered per subject. They have expanded many folds since my own A-Level days. When there is so much to cover, the lecturers simply do not have time to teach properly and the students have difficulty absorbing. The result is that I have no choice but to send him to tuition classes, not to score As but to grasp what's going on in class as he was drowning… After just one session with the tutor, my son said he immediately understood the topic. What does this say? HO YEW CHIN  

That is why some parents spare their children the stress of the JC route and encourage them to go to polytechnics, which allow them time to grasp the subjects through modules without the need for outside tuition. HUSSAIN SHAMSUDDIN  

As a tutor of almost seven years and having been in touch with other tutors, owners of enrichment institutions and students, I can only say this: Tuition works for only a minority of students. Most of the time, parents will spuriously correlate an improvement in grades to a tutor’s efforts when it’s really due to other factors (a change in learning attitude or an improvement in the schoolteacher’s techniques), with the tutor benefiting from the placebo effect. Most of the time, tuition will only add to the stress experienced by a student, and is usually detrimental to the emotional and even physical well-being of the student. ROBIN CHEE

Robin Chee, I don’t know about you, but as a tutor for 20 years, I can only say that tuition nowadays is more useful than in the past because there is very little work from school owing to the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) policy to reduce work for students. My kids are in Nanyang Primary and there is very, very little work from the school. Without tuition to practise more questions, the child learns much less… Having no exams and less schoolwork means parents are unaware of where their kids stand, and since most parents work, this makes them extremely insecure. Even the students told me they are worried for themselves. WILLIAM SAM

My daughter takes only maths tuition and she tries to cope with the other eight subjects by herself. A total of nine subjects in Secondary 2 is crazy. LINDA DE SILVA

I am a tutor who’s not surprised by this burgeoning industry. Feedback from students on their schoolteachers includes: “I cannot understand my teacher’s explanation and I have been trying to consult her, but she is always busy.” Hence, students find a need to attend tuition as a means to keep up, not necessarily wanting to get As. It is largely not "kiasuism" (the fear of losing out), but mainly not to lag behind others. SITI AMINAH ISHAK 

Siti Aminah Ishak, I agree with you. Not forgetting that in a big class of 40 students, it's tough to ensure everyone's paying attention. How to have quality learning and teaching? I send my child for tuition, not because I want him to be the top student, or to ace every test and exam. It's simply to plug the gaps left by schoolteachers who simply have no time to cover all that they are supposed to teach. Basic concepts are touch and go, some worksheets unmarked, solutions posted on an electronic learning platform and we are to figure out why the answers are as such, especially maths. MEI LING 

Forty students multiplied by five classes: How do we expect schoolteachers to answer each and every of the students' queries on every single sum and question in the textbook? Teachers are human, too. The tuition industry is there to support schools. ANNA MAYA YAYAH KH 

So, if the education system in Singapore is ranked one of the better ones in the world, should it be a hat tip to the teachers or tutors? MARIA FARIZA 

Tuition was for students who needed help when they did badly. Then it became an avenue for those who are already doing well to excel. Hence the industry boomed. There are centres that take in only top students. It's all about supply and demand. LESLIE LIM

As long as you continue to depend on grades to choose your secondary school and subject combinations, you can never ever move away from the emphasis on grades. I have two school-going kids. I'm far from the tiger-mum sort. My kids go for Chinese tuition because we don't use the language much at home and I can't teach them the subject. Even maths and science at the primary level can be challenging for us adults. In schools, my kids tell me that teachers move at a very fast pace. Sometimes they flash answers on the board and move on without checking if everyone has understood the answers. It's no wonder that the tuition business is booming. It's not a matter of "kiasuism", as the author alludes to. On many occasions, the kids really just cannot cope and having tuition is the way to go... Given the big class sizes in schools, it's very tough for teachers to ensure that every single kid is keeping up with the syllabus. They need to reduce class sizes for teachers to do a more effective job, but it doesn't seem to be a factor that MOE is considering. HUIXIAN LU 

In this case, they should have revamped the curriculum to make it practical for students to learn at a suitable pace or change the teaching methods. For example, provide more teaching notes to facilitate a better grasp of the lessons taught or knowledge-based videos on what is taught in class so as to enhance understanding. Parents can also review the videos to see how to guide their kids. CHERIE TAN 

Classroom sizes are too big. Teachers cannot cater to every student. Those who are slower cannot catch up; hence tuition is needed. Classes with disruptive kids will cause teachers to pause now and then to deal with their nonsensical behaviour, which delays the progress of the class. If MOE is willing to hire more teachers and cut classroom sizes, the situation will improve. ZHI YIN 

A paradigm shift cannot happen overnight. The tuition industry has grown for at least three decades. We cannot expect a change just because of a policy change. YONG NGUAN LIM 

This is happening not just in Singapore... It is a phenomenon in East Asian countries that equate scholastic achievement to success. TY HO 

If kids cannot handle the load and don’t want tuition, then they could consider moving to a lower stream. Now with lifelong learning and part-time university courses, a person can increase his knowledge over time. VINCE NG 

These comments were first posted to TODAY’s Facebook page. They have been edited for clarity, accuracy and length.

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