What’s all these Hoo-hah about tuition?
Our local newspaper added an “Education Column” and instead of providing useful study tips or coverage of educational news, they kick off the campaign by questioning the relevance of the tuition industry. They cite surveys about how tuition is ineffective, how much money parents spend, and how much time a poor child sets aside for tuition. Tuition is described as a “necessary evil”, and a destroyer of childhoods. They show figures that 7/10 parents in Singapore send their children for tuition and call us a ‘tuition-obsessed’ nation.
Newspaper reports often paint a bleak picture of children with no-life, always doing homework, going for back-to-back tuition classes, enrichment classes and what not. People write in to talk about how we should do away with exams that stream children into different categories and how a stigma is attached to those students who end up in the unpopular streams or schools. People write in to criticise the education system, and debate back and forth over the benefits of tuition. These are topics that have been discussed exhaustively for years.
Operating in the tuition business myself, I am always amused when reporters talk about how these poor children are subjected to long hours of remedial and tuition. Then, they show photographs of these poor children as they sit like robots in a classroom, wearing thick spectacles, with their pencils and worksheets laid out before them while a boring-looking teacher drones on about percentages and ratios. I can almost feel their pain. Oh the poor children!
Then, I snap back to reality as a P4 boy pats me on my back and greets me chirpily, “Whats up, bro?” Somewhere from the classrooms I suddenly hear children stomping their feet and singing “We will rock you”. My reception table is a mess with kids slurping Maggie Mee, while some shifted out the classroom tables to have their KFC party.
“Times up, get back in class!” I will shoo them and they scramble and bounce back into their respective classrooms like monkeys returning to their cages.
In the classroom, I try to recall the photo of the poor robotic children that I saw in the newspapers earlier. But all I see are hands raised up in my face, begging to answer the question; faces restrained in excitement as their mouths threaten to blurt out the answer. Their butts are not on the chairs where they are supposed to be and the shorter ones at the back start to bounce up and down, waving both hands wildly like drowning victims. Then someone cannot hold it back anymore, blurts out a funny answer and the whole class erupts into laughter. My head hurts and I nearly spit out my coffee. Oh the poor children!
So when mothers approach me and tell me they feel guilty for sending their children to too many tuition classes, I always assure them, “Oh trust me, they love it here.” They hesitate, they debate with their husbands, worry about the stress their child is facing, but then they realise that their child’s results are too horrendous and they got no choice. They sign up; they hover around; they peep into to the class, worrying that their child is being subjected to hours of stress and mental torture. The moment the parents leave, the children start bouncing around, making jokes and spending the rest of the hour laughing so much that I worry if they even absorbed anything into their heads. Few months later, they form cliques and they will start showing up 1 hour before lessons start to do their homework, play games or simply hang out with each other.
Critics in this country enjoy slamming the tuition industry and keep trying to come up with ways to regulate or control this industry before it “spirals out of control” or worsen the “inequality gap”. They call for government control when the government has more important things to worry about. They forget that it’s a free market; demand equals supply. They forget that we are Asians and how our Confucian roots place tremendous emphasis on academics because our ancestors have seen that education was the solution to escape the poverty cycle. They are calling for a ‘handicap’, calling for ways to level the playing field.
Meanwhile, somewhere in Singapore, where some parents let their children play computer games and watch TV and then complain about how the education system is too stressful and unfair for their children, other parents encourage their children to study, in a desperate hope that their kids will not be left behind from this highly efficient ‘wheel’. They understand that competition is inevitable, (not just within Singapore but also coming from China, India, Phillipines, etc.) They want to provide ample opportunities for their children to succeed in life. The children, hopefully, are smart enough to realise that studying is like exercise: You may not like it, but you better do it!
So what’s all these hoo-hah about? My students don’t see a problem and neither do their parents. Before you criticise and compare and long for something ideal, remember your past, remember your roots, remember the circumstances, remember the limitations, remember the sacrifices. Equality is an ideal, competition is the reality. This nation is founded on the values of meritocracy in which hardworking people are rewarded. Don’t sit by the side lines and waste time talking about how things can be better. If you want to win, you embrace the competition.
I am sure my hardworking students all know this in their hearts
By Jerry Lee
Intellicat Tuition School
*I wrote this article back in 2013 and have edited it to suit the current year 2015.