Tuition too prevalent to ignore

Tuition too prevalent to ignore

There was widespread incredulity last week when Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah declared that tuition is unnecessary.

Responding to a question in Parliament on the "shadow education system" and its impact, she said: "Our education system is run on the basis that tuition is not necessary. Some parents believe they can give their children an added advantage by sending them to tuition classes, even though their children are doing reasonably well. We cannot stop them from doing so."

The parents who spend US$680 million (S$848 million) each year (according to a 2012 Asian Development Bank report on tuition) on private tuition for their children here clearly think that tuition isn't unnecessary.

Various polls suggest tuition prevalence here as anything from nearly half of households (a MasterCard survey on spending in April) to over 90 per cent of students (the Asian Development Bank report).

But in a way, Ms Indranee's view is internally consistent: the Ministry of Education (MOE) does not consider tuition necessary, so it designs its curriculum accordingly, and its teachers are expected to teach like there is no such thing as private tuition.

Thinking within the box that says tuition is unnecessary leads to this rather ostrich-like way of tackling the issue: not needed, not an issue, go away.

How different it would be if the ministry could get out of its self-imposed box to contemplate: What is it about the education system that is making so many parents send their children for private tuition?

In fact, this was precisely what Nominated MP Janice Koh asked in Parliament: Whether more should be done to make tuition "less necessary and desirable" in Singapore, and if the ministry had data on tuition.

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