'Tuition can worsen existing inequality'

'Tuition can worsen existing inequality'

Why do people turn to private tuition and is Singapore unique that so many students rely on it? Singapore is not unique, says Professor Mark Bray.

The tuition problem is particularly acute in East Asian countries and territories that have strong Confucian traditions for learning, diligence and effort, he says. These territories include South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. China, with its burgeoning tuition sector, is swiftly joining these ranks.

These East Asian territories are highly globalised and competitive. They stress a need for workers to remain ahead in skills and for students to acquire skills relevant to the global economy. Some publicise their performance in global education rankings, spurring more competition, he observes.

Noticeably, tuition is prevalent in systems which are examination-based. In Singapore, there are tough examinations at the end of primary education and it also streams students largely according to academic ability, says Prof Bray. Such a system adds to parents' anxiety and they turn to the tuition market to give their children the extra push in mathematics, science and languages.

In emerging market economies like China and India, and the former Soviet Union states like Lithuania and Azerbaijan, poor salaries drive some teachers to deliberately teach less in class. They then deliver the rest of the curriculum after school in private tuition classes - for a fee.But tuition is relatively absent from many Scandinavian countries. Teachers are highly trained pedagogues who help students of varying academic abilities do well in school. Parents and society trust national schools and work closely with teachers.

Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah recently said that tuition is unnecessary for students who are doing well, while weak students are helped through existing school programmes. Is this the right approach?

Prof Bray admits that the Singapore education system is a good one that has delivered high-quality output. "In that sense, I can understand that the minister might feel frustrated that the tendency to go to tutors might imply that it is not a good education system when indeed it is.

"But Singaporean parents, like those in many other cultures, are competitive, seeking what they perceive to be the best for their children in a competitive system, and thus are trying to add more even though the school system is already delivering much that is already very good," he says.

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