Tuition agency offers 'exotic subjects'

Tuition agency offers 'exotic subjects'
PHOTO: The Straits Times

English, Mathematics and yes, Chinese.

These subjects are still in demand, but there are also other unconventional subjects that form the core of the $1 billion private tuition industry here.

Private tuition is as commonplace as myopia here. A poll last year revealed that six in 10 parents enrolled their secondary school children in extra classes.

Increasingly, parents are also seeking help for non-conventional subjects like coding and other niche subjects.

Epigami is a tuition agency that has the usual offerings of the sciences, maths and languages.

But it also offers to help pair students with tutors for the Punjabi language, programming and even pharmaceutical chemistry.

Epigami's founder Victor du Mesnil du Buisson, 26, says: "We have rather exotic subjects, but every subject that is listed means someone has enquired about it before."

Mr Kabilen Sornum, 31, teaches secondary school students maths and principles of accounts, but he also tutors students in business studies and computer studies.

He currently has three students who learn maths from him, two who do business studies and one for computer studies.

Mr Sornum started giving tuition 10 years ago. He holds master's degrees in both computer engineering and business administration.


"Due to my experience in these fields, I know what's required and can help students who need it," he says.

Do the tutors apply a different method of teaching non-core subjects like computer science?

Mr Sornum says: "Although it's niche, it's pretty much the same. I apply the same methods of teaching."

Miss Valerie Chai, who is a business studies tutor, says: "It's all about strategy. It's about spotting how the questions are being asked and coming up with answers that are generally good."

Mr Sornum adds: "Parents can be demanding when they understand the subjects that are being taught.

"Parents know the usual subjects more, so when it comes to ones that they might not know, they might be less demanding."

Most of these teachers are found by their students through online tuition agencies like Epigami.

Usually, these sites categorise tutors by their subjects and interested parties can do a simple search to find help for the subject they are looking for.

Mr Victor says: "They can either choose a tutor or tell us what they want and we'll find help for them."

People who are interested in becoming teachers sign up with these agencies, who then verify their credentials.

These tutors indicate what subjects they can teach and are then added to the list.

Although there is help available for all sorts of subjects, the demand is not consistent.

Mr Vignesh Vaidhyanathan Seshan has a master's degree in electrical engineering from the National University of Singapore and offers help with electrical technology and applications, a subject taught at some secondary schools to students in the normal technical stream.

It has been more than a year since he started offering the service, but no one has approached him yet.

Mr Vignesh says: "I have the experience and went through the syllabus. I could teach it, but my students ask to learn maths from me instead."

Similarly, Mr Syahrulnizam Abdul Rahman, 38, advertises online that he can teach music to O-level students but has yet to receive any students for the subject.

Although the thriving tuition industry means that help is available for many subjects here, not everyone is big on it.


Mr Bhajan Singh, 70, a retired secondary school principal, says that while some students may need supplementary coaching, he worries about over-working the children.

Mr Singh says: "Tuition should never replace school.

"Parents might think that it could be helping their children, but cramming in tuition after school might add to their frustrations.

"It could even be counter-productive and their results could dip."

This article was first published on March 13, 2016.
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