Thu, Jan 22, 2009
The Straits Times
Private tuition: Why Singapore education can't do without it

TIME and again, it is said that if students are taught properly in schools, there is no need for private tuition ('Tuition question', Jan 7). This is neither practical nor desirable. Although it can be abused, private tuition is part of the education of many.

Even students in the same class come from different home environments, comprehend and remember at different speeds, develop at different rates, are receptive to different styles of teaching, and troubled by different emotional and social problems. They are not recording machines in which technicians use some standard method to input knowledge.

In school, every teacher has to teach many students, besides having other duties. He may be well trained and dedicated, but there is only so much he can do. A qualified and caring personal private tutor is a must for many, especially in languages and mathematics.

I exclude tuition classes, which are packed heterogeneously and can never synchronise their coaching with any school. Such classes are no substitute for remedial classes in schools.

Having said this, I know many students take private tuition as an excuse for not paying attention in class or not doing their homework. Many also delude themselves by hoping tutors will provide short cuts to spare them the anguish of mental exertion. Many express surprise when tutors show them the answers they are seeking, lurking in their own textbooks and notes. They do not want to read themselves and prefer to pay someone to read to them. For them, tuition is as beneficial as fake medicine.

As the Chinese saying goes: 'Some need charcoal in snowy weather. Others want flowers to beautify their brocades.' The latter are parents of good students who provide their children tuition only to achieve better grades or keep up with the Joneses. We can pity their pressurised children. Satiation can often be counter-productive.

The ideal classroom is one in which there is only one student with many teachers seated around him for him to ask questions.

Ee Teck Ee

This article was first published in The Straits Times on January 20, 2009.

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