Thursday, July 16, 2015

Tuition a sign of a developed economy

JUL 9, 2015,

I read Mrs Marietta Koh's insightful analysis of the tuition industry in Singapore with interest ("Tuition a necessary evil"; yesterday).

Instead of seeing tuition as an inherently problematic phenomenon that society must merely tolerate, here is a different perspective on an industry that exists not only in Singapore, but also in all major cities, such as London and New York.

[So does Crime and Prostitution. But, go on...]

High-stakes examinations are a microcosm of working life, especially in late-capitalist societies where individuals compete for plum positions at a variety of institutions, ranging from prestigious universities to white-shoe law firms.

[So... law firms are ranked based on the colour of their shoes? I learn something new every day. Useless, but new.]

Doing away with high-stakes examinations in childhood only postpones the stress of this frenetic competition to a later stage in life - at which time, children will not have developed the necessary fortitude to cope. Indeed, the tuition industry in Singapore ought to be viewed as a positive example of private-public symbiosis.

Rigorous educational standards established by the Government become the goal posts for small, private companies that are nimble enough to cater to the changing tastes of younger generations and innovate rapidly.

[So is it a private-public symbiosis, where one supplements/complements the other, or is it a case of private companies catering to the changing tastes of younger generations?] 

It is a sign of a developed economy that parents can choose to supplement a rock-solid public education with other educational programmes in the private sector, a model that already exists in the provision of other public goods.

[Erm... you do realise that a "rock-solid public education" that needs to be supplemented undermines your claim that the public education is "rock-solid". You do realise that "supplement" implies a deficit, a lack. Or are you the product of this rock-solid public education system? In which case, you are the poster boy for the need for tuition to supplement this "rock-solid" public education.]

Let us suppose that in a world filled with sophisticated technological distractions, the tuition industry ceased to exist.

What would children choose to do with that free time?

Theoretical discussions of idealised childhood aside, anecdotal evidence suggests that the vast majority of them would end up playing with their phones.

[And of course parents are powerless to guide their children towards more productive pursuits. But in this example, you have obliquely hinted at the true purpose of tuition - for parents to abdicate their responsibility. ]

The private sector is in a good position to compete with these distractions for their attention.

In an advanced economy with high levels of disposable income, spending money on the provision of goods and services of one's choice is an essential part of social and economic life.

[And then here is the excuse for parents to abdicate their responsibility. Let me translate the above text (highlighted in red): "We Singaporeans are dem rich. Spending money to buy services to make my life easier is our right. And getting tuition for my children makes my life easier.]

If it really boiled down to an economic choice between a designer tote bag or giving one's child the skills to cope with a highly competitive and globalised working world, why wouldn't you choose the latter?

[When you need to bolster your argument with a false dichotomy, with a false choice, with a overly simplified false choice, then, yes. It simply comes down to spending money on material goods, or spending money to assuage your guilt and assure yourself that you are providing your child with skills to cope with the future. The question of which tuition service is better is not even a consideration. Just tote bag or tuition. How about Tote bag vs Tuition A vs Tuition B? How do you know if Tuition A will prepare your child better than Tuition B? Or vice versa? Or maybe both are equally good at assuaging your guilt over not being able to spend the time with your child (because you are too busy earning the money to pay for the tuition classes you are sending your child to) but does NOTHING to help your child prepare for the future. How do you know tuition is helping your child? What are your key deliverables for the tuition service? How do you know your child is improving? Or would have done just as well without tuition. Or would have done even better? Or even if your child did better for tests, how do you know if they are better prepared for life without tests - you know, the rest of the world after schooling?]

Johann Loh Runming


[And here is the letter that he was "responding" to.]

Tuition a necessary evil

JUL 8, 2015,

Last Saturday's special report on tuition ("Tuition nation") provides an accurate snapshot of the reasons for the prevalence of tuition among Singaporean households.

There is no question that demand for tuition peaks for PSLE classes.

Parents perceive the PSLE as a high-stakes exam that determines the future educational path of their child. For tuition centres, these classes are the cash cows to be milked for all they are worth. Most conduct PSLE holiday workshops to rake in even more lucre.

Parents ramp up the channelling of more resources - in terms of time, money and effort - as early as when their child enters Primary 5. The frenzy intensifies at the start of Primary 6, escalating into a manic crescendo just before the PSLE in late September or early October.

Those who can afford it do not stop at providing their primary school children with tuition in all four subjects; they even pay for "double tuition" - engaging a private tutor as well as group tuition for each subject.

I recall teaching a Primary 6 child who proudly boasted about how his parents were shelling out $5,000 a month on tuition for him alone.

Like what tutor Yee Kian Toung said in last Saturday's report ("'Primary pupils get most extra classes'"), parents will do their utmost to maximise their children's potential to help them prepare for the PSLE. Once the child enters secondary school, the demand for tuition tapers off, partly because parents are more "hands-off" with their older children.

I must concede that tuition is a necessary evil. Parental fears fuel the industry. Even parents with tertiary education are not able to coach their own primary school children because of the complexity of some of the concepts.

Syllabus changes further contribute to the angst. Parents also perceive school teachers to be stretched too thinly to be able to pay individualised attention to their pupils.

Unless high-stakes exams like the PSLE are abolished, admission criteria for elite secondary schools radically revised or society undergoes a complete mindset change with regard to the emphasis now placed on academic success, the reliance on tuition looks set to be perpetuated or become even more entrenched.

Marietta Koh (Mrs)

["Parental fears fuel the industry." And we know what that means.

"Fear leads to Anger.

Anger leads to Hate.
And Hate... leads to suffering."

Fear leads to anger if the child does not do well in a test or exam. Then the parents Hate themselves not not being able to help their child, so they buy tuition service to assuage their guilt and hate and fear. Not to help the child. if it does help the child, it is probably incidental. But it mostly leads to suffering by the child.]

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