School Stories #13:Tuition – First line of attack?

I had the most amusing conversation with #2’s classmate, C. She has been asking #2 to enrol in her Math tuition but #2 told her that I’m not allowing it at the moment, but will consider it next year when they are in Secondary 4.

C called me to try and convince me herself. She spoke with such urgency and couldn’t believe how a parent would not immediately sign their child up for tuition if they could afford it.

These were her arguments:

  • CA2 is coming up very soon. She is only scoring around 50-60 marks. What are we waiting for?
  • Another classmate who just joined managed to pull up her grade from C to B. The tutor is very good and we will definitely see improvement.
  • She needs to get her foundation strong if not it will be very difficult next year to catch up and get an A.
  • They have 8 subjects to concentrate on next year, and it would be too stressful if many subjects are weak.

I found the conversation highly amusing because the roles were reversed! A child was trying to convince a classmate’s mother of the necessity of tuition.

Beyond that, I was struck by C’s genuine concern for my daughter. What a good friend she was! I told #2 that it is hard to find such caring friends these days as kids seem to have a ‘better for you, worse for me’ mentality.

However, I was somewhat perturbed that tuition was seen by most children in Singapore as a norm, an expected part of school life, the right of a student.

I replied that I whole-heartedly agreed with all her points. However, I explained that tuition should not be seen as an easy way out.

Not doing well? Tuition!

Tuition is a privilege, not a given.

The given is that the child puts in her best effort to listen in class, finish all the requisite homework, approach the teacher for help if she doesn’t understand, and keep practicing.

And if after all these, she is still not performing, then, and only then, should tuition be considered.

Knowing her, #2 must have been either daydreaming, or was not motivated to put in enough effort for her Math. If she was able to score A* for Math in PSLE without any tuition, I am sure she is capable of achieving better results, and should not be allowed to be spoon-fed by tuition at this stage.

I also explained to C that there are sacrifices and priorities that go behind a decision to allow for tuition, especially in a big family like ours.

As the location is rather inconvenient, I have to send her, wait around for 2 hours, and pick her back. That means I will not be able to spend the time doing something more productive with Kate or the other kids, not to mention the stress of driving in peak hour traffic.

I quipped that since the tutor was so amazing, I’m sure #2 would be able to score an A if I signed her up 6 months prior to the O levels. They felt I was pushing it, but I recounted the story of how I went from an F9 to an A1 for my O level Math with 5 days of tuition. Yes, I had a pretty astounding tutor. Who happened to be my best friend’s mum. Who offered me the tuition free because she felt sorry for me.

Besides time and effort, there is also the financial consideration. Could the money spent be put to better use? #2 really wants to go to Canada to visit her good friend and I told her that if she achieves the goal I set for her, I would take her there.

I would much rather use the money for a nice trip together than spend it on tuition, as I want the children to learn that money is finite and the way we spend it should reflect our beliefs and priorities.

There was a pause on the other end. C was dumbfounded. It never occurred to her what went behind parents providing tuition for their children.

In secondary school, before throwing them the life-line of tutors, I encourage them to study with their classmates and help one another to revise, so that those strong in certain subjects can teach the others and vice versa.

Our home is always open to them, and they have learnt that cooperation is better and way more fun than competition. Besides, by teaching their peers, it helps to reinforce what they have learnt. It really is a win-win situation. The kids also learn that everyone is gifted differently and no one should feel inferior or superior to others.

Besides, I don’t want them to be reliant on tuition because when they enter polytechnic or university, no one is going to sit by their side and spoon feed them.

The big question remains: Is 1 year enough to chase up? Well, maybe not. But I have to draw the line somewhere.

If I was wiling to pump money, time and effort to send her all over the place for tuition from the time she was in Sec 1, I would definitely expect her to churn out the As. The expectations would escalate, and so would the stress.

It’s just unfortunate that even though we have a world class education, it is still not able to prepare the majority of our children adequately for the national exams without external help.

I have accepted that reality and factored it into my overall strategy.

I am not willing to let tuition run amok in our lives because it is all too easy to be sucked in to this whole ‘better not lose out’ mentality and be blinded to the opportunity cost and toil it will take on the children and our family.

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

8 Replies to “School Stories #13:Tuition – First line of attack?”

  1. Am so encouraged and inspired by your sharing! Thanks for putting things in perspective. I recall i had also crash course tuition and from F9 to an A2 for my maths but not 5days la… haha. Half year. It is our attitude that matters. Will be sharing!

  2. Thanks for the encouragement! I hope more parents will loosen up on this whole tuition thing, which is starting to reach unhealthy levels. Parents feed on one another's competitiveness and kiasu-ness and the poor kids suffer.

  3. This is hilarious! That girl is so interesting – I can't imagine having this conversation. She must really want your #2 as her tuition mate!
    Glad that you had a chance to explain all this to her too – you are certainly a beacon of light in this dark tuition nation, and I am continually inspired by you. Am hoping to hold out too!

  4. Hi Lyn,

    Haha, I was surprised when #2 told me she wanted to convince me. Most of the other kids have to be prompted to have a long conversation with me, but this girl was so keen to call me! She genuinely wants #2 to do well. Such a dear.

    Thanks for your kind words. It's a vicious cycle. Everyone pushes their kids to the max, the standards just keep increasing, and the kids are the ones being squeezed. Hopefully more parents hold out too, and only give the subjects that are really necessary which their child is weak at.

  5. Tuition of kids in very essential now a days because today's life is very fast and parents have do not have much time to teach their kids also so there must be some tutor for the kids who teach them regularly.

  6. Dear Kayla,

    Yes, I agree that some kids might need tuition at some point in time to iron out the areas which they are weak in. But wholesale tuition for most kids for most subjects as we are seeing? Something must be wrong.

  7. Hello, I would like to share my perspective of tuition as a secondary 4 student now. I started attending tuition for one subject at the start of my secondary 4 year, and I must say that it really did help me. For me, tuition serves another purpose. As most tuition centers teach ahead of the school's curriculum, tuition gives me a good foundation in the topics that were going to be taught. As such, I feel much more comfortable in class, understanding what the teacher is teaching and being able to grasp the concept better. I feel that this is really important as I tend to lose focus or get frustrated easily when I do not understand what was going on in class. However, students tend to have this misconception that as long as there is tuition, there is no need to put in extra effort. I have to say that tuition gives me more confidence in that subject, which prompts me to work even harder for it. So all in all, I feel that tuition is not really necessary as long as the student is able to focus, and put in effort on his/her own (and I'm quite sure school teachers are more than willing to help!), but if a student wants to attend tuition classes, he or she must have the right mindset. Cheers 🙂

  8. Thank you for sharing your views! Yes, there is a time and place for tuition. I can see how Math tuition has helped my Sec 2 girl to cope in class, as the pace is too fast for her. Her grades have improved and she is more confident now and we are stopping tuition and seeing how she goes. And yes, at every PTM, the teachers mention that our kids are free to look for them either individually or in small groups for extra guidance. Unfortunately, this offer is not often taken up for various reasons, and parents/students prefer to out-source this to tuition centres. And yes, you are right. At the end of the day, it all boils down to how much effort the student puts in. I wish you all the best in your exams if you are taking the Os this year!

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