Kids take test to qualify for top tuition centres

Raffles EduHub, which started by providing professional counselling to delinquents or children who have learning difficulties, takes in only children with average or below average grades.

Even if parents can afford the exorbitant fees (some charge $350 per subject), it still does not guarantee their child a spot in some of the elite tuition centres here.

Firstly, the child has to take a proficiency - or, as some call it, diagnostics - test.

The student must score at least 75 per cent - that's an A - before he will be shortlisted.

After that, the student will have to wait anything from two weeks to a month before he knows if he has a spot. Some students wait about a year before getting in.

Despite the hurdles, the elite tuition centres attract a huge demand and not all parents mind the long wait.

Mrs Leena Faizal, 41, a property agent, has been 'queueing' for nearly six months. Her daughter is in Primary 5 in a school which offers the Gifted Education Programme.

She says: "I don't mind the wait since the tuition centre has a proven track record."

Madam Wong Yen Yih, 36, a housewife, says her son, 11, and her daughter, 12, waited "only nine months" before they were accepted last year.

She claims: "It was worth the wait. Three months after my children attended the classes, they started to show an improvement in their results."

During the final-year examinations, declares Madam Wong proudly, her daughter who's usually "only in the top 10" made it to second position in her cohort.

Madam Wong is banking on that result to help her daughter gain entry into the Integrated Programme (IP) next year.

The IP scheme allows the brightest secondary school students to bypass the O levels and take the A levels after six years.

But Mr Roland Teh, 39, a car dealer, is upset that his 12-year-old son was denied a place in one of the elite tuition centres. He was told of the result only after a month.

Says Mr Teh: "I could have used the time to search for another centre."

Tuition is big business in Singapore. In previous reports, households here spent around $820 million on centre and home-based private tuition, up from $470 million a decade earlier, figures from the Department of Statistics show.

The number of tuition centres has sprouted in recent years, from about 100 centres in 2000 to more than 500 centres today.

But not all centres are like some of the elite ones.

Dr Zhong Rui Wen, who founded Raffles EduHub, started by providing professional counselling to delinquents or children with learning difficulties.

Her centre in Katong takes in only children who have average or below average grades.

She says: "Tuition is big in demand because of the education system here.

"But most times, while tuition is meant to help the children, the fact is, parents do it because of 'face'."

Dr Zhong, who is also a locum doctor (a temporary substitute for another doctor), adds: "What do parents talk about when they meet? It's definitely about how well their children have done in school.

"You'd be too embarrassed to share your children's grades if they weren't good."

As for Kent Ridge Tutors, students who wish to apply for a spot at any of its 25 centres must also go through a diagnostic assessment.

But it's for a different reason, says Mr Dennis Ng, founder and managing director of the agency.

He explains: "The assessment is to better understand the students' problems and weaknesses."

There is no cut-off aggregate for admission.

Mr Ng also says his tuition centres do not assign homework.

"All problems are solved and completed on the day of tuition in the class itself. From there, the tutors will follow up."

He adds: "We believe that we are paid to solve the problem and not to pass the burden back (by giving more homework)."

Lynn Tuition Centre, which has seven branches, takes in students mainly from neighbourhood schools.

A few of them are those who live nearby and are from Independent Schools and those which offer the IP.

Mr Wong Ju Ping, the centre's managing director, says students for general tuition classes do not have to take an assessment.

He adds: "For the classes of higher ability like the mathematics heuristics and science process skills classes, we recommend parents of potential students let their children attend general classes if they are barely grasping the basic concepts of the respective subjects."

This article was first published in The New Paper.