I was thinking about the relevance of tuition to our education system, because I recognise that as much as the demand for tuition is determined by actual need to a certain extent, it is driven even more by perceived need; that is, there is huge overconsumption of this good. Regardless of whether their children need it or not, parents often just heap tuition on their kids so as not to lose out to the kid-next-door.
In an ideal education system, the allocation of resources to the education of every individual should be such that the resources provided by the ministry are sufficient for every single child, and that children should be equipped with sufficient study skills to manage on their own to a certain extent.
Schools Are Raising The Bar
There is a certain shift in focus for some tuition centres to equip students with study skills, but imparting these skills require time and these tuition centres are often not viewed as the best tuition centres due to the reduced concentration of knowledge pumped into their students’ heads. Schools right now are gradually improving on the equipping of skills, alongside the inculcation of knowledge what with Thinking Schools Learning Nation and Teach Less Learn More, but we are still not there yet.
Having said that, it is extremely unfair to write off the huge leaps that our education has made continuously: with the huge amount of work that teachers put in within and outside the classroom, as well as the administration and other supporting staff to make schools conducive places for learning. It is extremely heartening for students to know that their teachers will always be available to them to answer their questions if they can spare the time, and the teacher in school will always be the best person to turn to when the student has queries about his academic work.
Of course, whether the teachers can actually spare the time is another bone for contention, and we’d best leave this issue to further debate separately. (I am guessing that a lot of teachers can’t supply enough time to meet the students’ demands right now, in simple economic terms, but I’m not too confident that tuition would just fall off the face of the Earth, or just Singapore for that matter even if the teachers could spare all the time in the world).
Tuition As A “Perceived Necessity”
Even if we addressed the actual demand for tuition, the perceived need will still be there as long as our mentality doesn’t change. Parents need to recognise that quantity does not equate to quality, and that heaping your child with four hours of tuition is not necessarily going to produce twice the results compared to two hours of tuition. There is no causal effect in this, and even the correlation is highly doubtful. If a child cannot cope with schoolwork, the right and immediate priority should be to find out why rather than signing him/her up for tuition.
Tuition does not solve the problem if the kid understands his work, just that he has trouble getting along with his classmates or doesn’t get enough rest due to the multitude of CCAs he’s involved in. In the latter case, how would MORE tuition even remotely help him with his underperformance in class?
Perhaps I could start a tuition centre called Tuition You Don’t Need and try to teach the kids study skills and effective techniques to maximise learning, together with classes that deliver the subject matter adequately, and make lots of money together with the tens and thousands of other centres that promise to “optimise learning”. I say that in jest, but you do get my point.
Amidst The Scramble, (Some) Parents Are Losing The Plot
More importantly, perhaps the aim of tuition should be to educate the parents in addition to the child. There are many other ways to improve academic performance of the child other than tuition alone, and perhaps viewing tuition as the one and only cure to this problem is just lazy, and bordering on plain irresponsibility on the part of the parent. I can understand that parents are concerned about their children’s grades and that their future may hinge upon a major exam or another, but they can and should do more.
Parental love in the form of personal attention from the parents – for example, sitting down after a long day at work with their children for an hour of two, supervising their work and talking about their children’s day at school, or creating a quiet and conducive environment at home by installing screens to minimise the disruption from construction work nearby – may be less expensive but far more effective. My point is that there should be personalised solutions to almost every case of underperformance, although there may be causes that are far more prevalent than others, such as disruptions in the family affecting the children’s emotions and hence ability to concentrate.
Tuition Centres And Aggressive Marketing: All That Glitters Is Not Gold
This problem of tuition (I would actually define it as a problem) is exacerbated by the fact that tuition centres aggressively market themselves in this competitive but lucrative market. Spurred on by the huge profit margins, advertisements continuously tell parents that their kids do need tuition and that tuition does help to improve grades. They then proceed to slap huge lists of students who have attended their classes and their grades in major examinations, and some even provide testimonials from parents or students who have been in these classes.
But think about it, the causal link between the tuition centres’ lessons and the improved academic performance is not even proven – the parents convince themselves that that is the case! The causal link has to be proven beyond reasonable doubt, and even if it is an unfortunate case of correlation, that relationship is tenuous at best. Testimonials fare even worse on the reliability scales – how can a personal experience be generalised and marketed as such?
Unfortunately, parents often err on the side of caution for the case of tuition, preferring to pay and find out that it may not work as compared to not signing their children up and realising that it works and their children are now facing a “huge disadvantage”.
Market failure has never reared its ugly head that blatantly in many other markets, yet we are oblivious to the perils we are facing here. The school environment is already a pressure cooker for most students, why raise the temperature even further without understanding why we are doing it?
I’m not saying that tuition is bad – it can help some students reach the level of academic performance they should be hitting, but it should not be the hard and fast rule for every case of academic underperformance and definitely should not be seen as such.
The writer (Howard Chiu (Mr.), who can be reached at email@example.com) is writing this line because he sees it almost everywhere in publications, but is waiting for his ORD anyway.