Counter-productive For Performing Students To Have Tuition?!

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.

4 thoughts on “Counter-productive For Performing Students To Have Tuition?!

  1. B

    Hi Hww

    There are a few points I would like to bring up.

    First, I make the assumption that hiring a tutor will always make the students either do better or at least stagnant. It is hard to see students declining in their results unless the tutors are really bad.

    In the case of andy murray (didnt know you love tennis too like I do), he was already good technically and all he needed was self belief and mentality to do even better. He might have won the olympic us open and wimbledon recently but theres still something lacking about his mentality compared to other greats like federer and nadal.

    Another point I want to bring up is there are increasingly more tutors who had the right qualifications and skills but somehow unable to become a good tutor. They tutor for the sake of easy money and not because they are really passionate about it. As for your case, im sure you are a good tutor which is why the students could improve. But finding a really good tutor is definitely not easy.

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi B,

      Sometimes self-belief and mentality is what some students lack too. As for Murray, he’s still pretty young and I believe there’s every chance he could rack up double-digit Grand Slams and be ranked right at the top after his career ends.

      True, finding a suitable tutor is not easy. But having money helps. That’s also one reason why kids from better backgrounds tend to do better academically. One of my longer-term goals after reaching FI is to tutor those eager and motivated kids from disadvantaged families for free (or for a small token sum).

  2. Miss JJ

    Hi My 15 HWW,

    Thanks for your comment on my blog and also the link in this post. Sorry I am responding so late, but as you probably know if you read my blog, I was having “funky” issues…hehe…

    As for my mentor Mr. C, I owe him more than I can ever say. He happens to also be my direct boss at work, and has lobbied for pay rises and promotions on my behalf since day 1. So he has had direct impact on my finances in more ways than one. Unfortunately, I have neither his talent nor his guts for making money, or I’ll have been FI long by now, so mentorship can only go so far. A lot still has to depend on oneself.

    Anyway, I have just started digging your archives, but will continue to dig most diligently. Looking forward to more exchanges with you.

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi Miss JJ,

      Hope you’re over the worst of your “funk”! You have a lot of things going for you. =)

      Yes, mentorship can only go so far and you still have to rely on yourself. But imagine where would you be without him? There’s a chance you might not have been so sure of buying the property (which has so far been good for you), right?

      Glad to share more ideas anytime and you should post more often since you write pretty well! =p