Tuition has been a hot topic for the past week and having been a full-time tutor for the bulk of my university days (3 years to be exact), I also have some strong views on this hot potato issue.
This perennial issue made the headlines (once again) after Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah mentioned that tuition was unnecessary. Her argument was that for weaker students, schools already provide additional support with remedial and supplementary lessons. Whereas for better performers, she indicated her belief that tuition could add unnecessary stress and prove counter-productive.
The typical view held by the man on the street is that tuition is justifiable for weaker students as they might need additional help to catch up with their peers and school work. But if you’re scoring As and 90s? For this situation, many Singaporeans would tend to lean towards MP Indranee’s stance. No wonder so many were shocked by this story and felt that these kiasu parents were just throwing good money (sometimes >$1,000 a month easily) away. Mr Brown even made a parody on this phenomenon.
Not trying to be a show-off here, but I would consider myself to be one of those better performers 10 to 15 years ago. And I rarely had tuition. So I guess I probably would have made a good example for MP Indranee. But even then, I find it hard to totally agree with her and the majority that tuition yields little benefits (or even counter-productive) for high achievers.
My reasons as stated below:
Traditionally, the wealthiest and the most powerful engaged tutors
Aristotle was the tutor of Alexander the Great and taught him important subjects like Mathematics, natural philosophy (modern science) and logic. And that’s not the only example. Widely regarded as the father of modern philosophy, Descartes was also tasked to tutor the young Queen Christina back in the 17th century!
And unless my memory fails me, I still recall our first prime minister’s daughter writing an article in our national paper about having some literature tuition from her uncle, enjoying it and benefiting from it immensely. I am pretty sure she was no ordinary performer in school too. 😉
Tutors = Mentors/Coaches
As seen from the above, tutors were hired to shape these future leaders’ young minds. One could regard these tutors as mentors or coaches too and having these people around in any area is highly beneficial.
I recently stumbled onto this blog and poured through the archives. It’s written by a Singaporean lady (really uncommon) aiming for early retirement. Instead of relying on dividend stocks to reach her goal like most financial bloggers, her modus operandi involves buying an investment condominium. I am pretty sure having a mentor named Mr C who seems to be a really savvy property investor heavily influenced her decision. She’s been pretty successful so far and sitting on healthy profits.
Less than 2 years ago, Andy Murray was being talked up as potentially the greatest player who would never win a Grand Slam in tennis. He would almost always make the semi-finals and sometimes the finals. But he would often struggle to defeat the Big 3 (Federer, Nadal and Njokovic). All these changed when he appointed 8-time Grand Slam champion Ivan Lendl as his coach (a man who also lost his first 4 Grand Slam finals). Since then, he has won the Olympics, the US Open and most importantly to him, the Wimbledon Open.
Now, back to academics. Perhaps a Pri 6 student is struggling to break that 90 marks barrier for Mathematics as he is unable to comprehend those difficult 5-mark problem sums. And maybe a Sec 4 student who is struggling for time in his English Compo does not believe in the benefit of using 10 minutes to draft an outline. All these could change if there was that someone to show them the way.
Favourable cost-benefit analysis
If you believe I must have gone bonkers comparing academic results with high-stake competitions like professional tennis or something as important as personal finance, think again or you can even refer to my post on the pointlessness of PSLE changes.
I don’t know if it’s coincidence or what, but the Chairman of PSC also recently mentioned that 60% to 80% of the prestigious PSC scholarships are awarded to students from the top two JCs – Raffles & Hwa Chong. Getting such scholarships is like winning the lottery. The cost of the sponsored overseas education together with the stipend is easily worth half a million dollars!
A couple of years ago, I tutored this 18 year old boy in Economics who was struggling with almost all his A Level subjects. With less than half a year to go, his parents were just hoping for the best and had already prepared a six digit sum to send him to an overseas university, if expectedly, he performed badly. Instead of using all the time to go through the Economics syllabus, I spent considerable effort trying to motivate him to work that bit harder for all his subjects and to make use of all his available resources in school for that last push. (After all, there’s really not much point if he got an A for Econs but Cs for the rest.)
Slowly but surely, he started to understand the stakes involved and his mindset slowly changed. Previously, I was chasing for his essays but then, he started flooding me with submissions for my assessment and bombarded me with questions. He began working hard for himself.
Hoping for a result similar to a straight Bs, even I was shocked when he achieved straight As in the end. I am really not trying to take any credit from his own effort but I am pretty sure the parents have had no regrets hiring me as their son’s tutor and spending a couple of thousand dollars in the process.
Simple cost-benefit analysis shows that it’s worth it, isn’t it?
Ultimately, it boils down to affordability. I am pretty sure that if money wasn’t so tight in our family then, my Mum would have at least sent me to more of those group tuition classes to improve my English during my Pri and Sec school years. Since I almost always dismissed my parents’ advice as “nagging”, I have to also admit that a positive role model would probably have helped to channel my energies to the right causes during those wild teenage years. =p
Therefore, I believe that unless your schedule is already packed with 3 hours of tuition a day with other supplementary activities like piano and judo, tuition (with the strong caveat of a good tutor) will really rarely be counter-productive.