When I was in primary school, Wednesday night was tuition night. It was the night I dreaded the most.
The Chinese tutor was a nice enough lady. She didn't scold me when I got my ting xie (spelling) wrong. She wore big, squarish spectacles, which made her look harmless. She occasionally brought White Rabbit sweets, which were as good a bribe as any.
No, the dread came from having to spend two hours from 7.30pm to 9.30pm doing worksheets and assessment books on a language that I struggled to understand.
In hindsight, all of that would have been worth it if I had scored an A for Chinese in my Primary School Leaving Examination.
I didn't. I scored a C, which, compared with my peers, was more or less a fail.
In secondary school, tuition became less dreadful. I took extra classes for additional mathematics and elementary mathematics, together with a couple of friends. We would head to the tutor's house and she would make tea and prepare chocolate biscuits for us while she drilled us on trigonometry, probability and algebra. It was fun because the three of us would push one another on and, after class, we would hang around downstairs at the void deck to have a kick-about.
Tuition survey findings
The Straits Times and research company Nexus Link conducted a survey on private tuition.
500 households were selected in a representative sample. Face-to-face interviews were conducted with the parents in their homes.
PREVALENCE OF TUITION
• 7 in 10 send their children to tuition.
• 4 in 10 in pre-school, 8 in 10 in primary school and 6 in 10 in secondary school.
TOP 3 TUITION SUBJECTS
• Pre-school: English, Mathematics, Chinese.
• Primary school: Mathematics, English, Chinese.
• Secondary school: E Maths, English, A Maths
MEDIAN AMOUNT SPENT
• Pre-school: $155 a month
• Primary school: $205
• Secondary school: $255
TOP TWO REASONS FOR TUITION
• To improve grades
• To keep up with others
DID TUITION IMPROVE GRADES TO A NOTICEABLE EXTENT?
• Yes: 3 in 10
• No: 7 in 10
But the warm fuzzy memories about mathematics tuition could also be because I actually did well for my exams: I scored A1s for both subjects at the O-level examination.
So when my wife told me that we should have Chinese tuition for our daughter, who is in Primary 1 this year, I hesitated. I didn't like the idea of putting my daughter through what I experienced, especially the horrible bits.
I've also always held the opinion that children should be allowed to play and enjoy their childhood, rather than having to sit at the study table mugging in order to get top grades. They should also be allowed to struggle on their own, and without having anyone spoon-feed them the answers, because that is part of the learning (I struggled and still struggle in Chinese, which is why I appreciate Chinese a lot more today.).
On top of that, I'm not convinced that tuition helped me do better. I stopped tuition after Primary 6 and continued to do poorly.
I scored C6 for Chinese during my O and AO levels. But I did it on my own, without a tutor.
Post-secondary, I scored an A for my mathematics 'C' at the A levels - without a tutor.
The survey by The Straits Times and Nexus Link showed that most parents want their children's grades to improve with tuition - but only a minority saw that tuition actually helped.
If it doesn't help, why do parents do it? Some say it is because of peer pressure, others put it down to insecurity.
For us, and I suspect for many other parents out there, a more practical reason exists.
We just don't have the time to sit down and help our daughter with her school work. And in today's education system, parents have to be involved because of the sheer volume of work and the rising difficulty of the subjects that are taught in school.
Most days, I get back after 8pm; some days, if I'm lucky, I'm home by 8pm. My wife gets back a little earlier, around 7pm to 7.30pm.
Our daughter has to wake up at 5.30am every morning to catch the school bus at 6.10am. So she has to be in bed by 8.30pm - or she becomes a little screaming, crying monster in the morning.
When we get home, there's barely time for dinner, a bath and some snatched moments of family time, before she's off to bed.
Homework? The only time that my daughter can do it is in the afternoon with my mother, who helps her with mathematics and English. But it is her Chinese that needs the most help. My daughter tries very hard but she speaks Mandarin with a distinct accent - unfortunately the English and not the Beijing variety. So, after a lot of hesitation and discussion, we decided that we would send her to a Chinese tuition class next year.
Call it a moment of weakness but there can be some merit to having extra classes to help.
But we decided to set some rules. If classes are boring and dreary and make her start to dislike Chinese, we will take her out.
As parents, we have to constantly remind ourselves: What is the point of an education? Is it to merely chase grades? Or to learn about the world?
Keeping this in mind, a balance has to be sought. If tuition can help our daughter learn Chinese better, then it is a boon.
If getting tuition turns into a mindless race for grades, then I'd rather she struggle on her own. Even if she gets Cs.
After all, that's what I did, too, in Chinese - and I'm proud I did it on my own.
We just don't have the time to sit down and help our daughter with her school work. And in today's education system, parents have to be involved because of the sheer volume of work and the rising difficulty of the subjects taught in school.
Are extra classes actually that important? Or is it rather burdening and unnecessary? Parents send their children to take extra lessons and blame the crowded classes, lack of attention by the teachers and competitive school environment for their child’s poor performance but how justifiable is this? We asked the students at DAV
Do you think tuition is mandatory for every student, at some point of his/her life?
Sita: Every child is different and they have different needs. While some students do their best and excel in everything, few are not capable of doing so. Tuition isn’t “mandatory”, it is rather a choice that a student and their parents make together. If his performance is poor and if he can do better with just some extra attention, I think tuition would be very helpful.
Pratik: We spend at least 8 hours every day in school, except Saturdays of course. If a student really wants to study, he will do that within his school and home boundaries. Tuition is definitely not mandatory. These days, students have stopped trying a little harder and they think their tuition teachers can pull them up from the Losers’ group to the Toppers’ group. That notion is so wrong.
Tuition is a waste of time, money and energy. Do you agree?
Pratik: Of course. I will say this again; if a student pays attention in class and keeps up with his assignments, there isn’t much need for such extra classes which demand hefty amount of money. While I do agree that some students might be weak at a particular subject, I don’t understand how parents think tuition classes can make it all better. That particular student needs to focus more on that subject. He needs to do all that it takes to improve himself.
Yumid: Any sort of study activity can never be termed as a “waste”. At least a kid comes back home and gets into his books instead of doing other activities that will take him nowhere in life. There are instances where we’ve encountered weak students performing lot better after taking tuition classes. Sometimes, studying in school is not enough and if tuition classes fill that gap, why consider tuitions to be a waste rather than looking at it from a positive aspect?
Pratikshya: When a student takes tuition lessons, he not only improves but also gets to know about different learning styles. In a class, a teacher will teach everyone the same methods, the same techniques to solve a problem. But a tuition teacher will enlarge his/her horizon.
Has taking tuition classes become a “trend” among school going children?
Yumid: I certainly don’t think so. I have seen students who tend to make a lot of noise and pay very little attention during extra lessons, but the fact that they are staying inside a room for an hour or two cannot be ignored. They might take tuitions very lightly for a few days but eventually, they will pay attention. I believe students who take tuitions realize the deficiencies in them and therefore set to learn harder.
Dharmendra: It depends on the students, entirely. For the most part, teenagers tend to get influenced by their friends. If one decides to take tuition classes, he/she will try to lure his/her friends into taking lessons with them and in most cases, students feel like they should. Some even consider a tuition class as their leisure period since it lets them out of their house and tuition teachers aren’t as strict as school teachers. However, those taking tuition lessons inside their home peripheries are the determined ones, I think.
Do you blame the school and the teachers for the increasing rate of students taking tuition lessons?
Sudhir: If you should blame anyone for your performance, it is you and nobody else. I believe every one of us go to good schools with well-equipped materials and qualified teachers. If a student doesn’t concentrate in the class and gives more importance to chatting and creating chaos than studying, it is his fault and nobody else’s. However, teachers must give extra importance to the weak ones.
Sita: To certain extent, yes. Not “blame” exactly but looking from the student’s point of view, it must be hard for some to express their opinion, their discomfort, and their confusion in front of an entire mass. Teachers should be able to understand that and speak to them personally. I do understand that it must be equally tough for the teachers to give attention to each and every one of them but it is their responsibility to find out who is not performing very well.
How long do you think tuition classes should be and for how many days a week? Don’t you think taking tuition classes make a student depended towards his/her tutors?
Pratikshya: I think tuition lessons should be not more than an hour every day. Because a student comes back from school and is apparently tired from all the coursework, the long hours of tuition classes can actually prove to be a dampener to his health. About the number of days in a week, it depends on how good or poor the student is. For subjects like Maths, I guess a daily tuition class is much needed.
Sudhir: Of course. Tuition teachers basically teach their students to mug things up. They drill in them the methods and ways to answer questions and that’s all that students need to score good marks. However, after he/she passes Grade X, he/she will realize that mugging up is not how things work. Not all tuition teachers do that but for the most part; they only teach them techniques to approach questions without actually teaching them why and how. The children will then stop using his brain and rely on his tuition teacher which is definitely not good in the long run.