Why I would never teach tuition

Photo from Today/ Ooi Boon Keong
  1. Tuition leads to inequitable social outcomes

Charging exorbitant amounts essentially means you price out individuals who most need it. Education was a social leveler for me — who grew up in a bike shop with my parents who never received much formal education and always wished the best for me; received some education bursaries and some financial assistance — I would like it to stay that way. Either I join public education or contribute to a complementary service to strengthen public education. There is no in-between happy cop-out principle to join the tuition sector, even if the money is good and the work-life balance is clearly better. Teaching is a merit good and good teaching should always be accessible.

2. Tuition, for the worst and unscrupulous, is built on fearmongering and undermining trust in public education; even the moderates are ultimately feeding off insecurities

For one end of the extreme: the centers that consistently harass schools or cast doubt on the credibility of school teachers just to increase demand for their services (especially if you were an education officer previously), you know this is not right. You were once here. You make life difficult for the earnest teachers who devote themselves to the teaching profession.

For those who try to position themselves as a complementary service to schools but still continue to exploit the insecurities of parents and students, you know this is problematic. There is always supply-induced demand for the tuition bubble to balloon to this extent (to even become venture-backed). Fear of falling behind the rat race of a grade-centric universe drives your industry.

3. Tuition crowds out headspace for (A) other enrichment outcomes; (B) independent thought

I meet students who have consecutive sessions late into the night and absolutely do nothing outside of school and tuition. Whether it is a combination of peer pressure, parental pressure, or self-imposed pressure to partake in the rat race, where will they find time to learn other things they truly have an interest in when they are socially coerced into a world of grade centrism?

When one has services built on the pursuit of results, one has to cut corners to find the “optimal” way to cram knowledge. Finding joy in learning may involve “inefficient” means to patiently try to engage the problem and internalize knowledge on your own terms. Identification of question types should be a pattern recognition that we facilitate rather than dictate. Being constantly fed structures and frameworks denies the cultivation of independent thought that is crucial for creative problem-solving. But every tuition center’s social proof obliges the quickest improvement to grades and that inevitably involves displacing creative thought for “a tried and tested approach”. Students need the space to test on their own so they can prepare themselves to manage ambiguity and rapid changes with the ever-growing digital economy and more.

Tuition denies time by pressuring them to overstudy for an exam that public schools can adequately prepare them for. In the long run, the quality of talent will diminish because a sizeable proportion of our youths simply do not have the headspace to explore interests that properly matter to them. They will feel more lost once they leave these artificial structures that accelerate “success”.

5. When students end up loving tuition and hate school, they end up squandering the space and opportunities that they spend the most time at.

Similar to (2), the success of tuition is really quite zero-sum with respect to public schools.

“[Students] definitely [have] alot more [fun than employees of tuition centre X]…. we sent everyone to Universal Studios in Feb, booked out a full bowling alley for two days, and booked out 14 cinema halls for a movie screening, all in the past 7 months….. We also booked out Superpark at Suntec next saturday”

The reality is that on the ground, we simply cannot do this in a public school. The unit economics of treats simply stacks against the average teacher (and there won’t be budget for this from schools in the near future, even though admittedly many independent schools in the past and international schools clearly could do such stacked socials). $5 a student, 100 students and a sizable portion of your disposable income is gone. It is little surprise why most of the time the treats never come close to $5.

When centres essentially run the campaign that their centres are cooler than school, they drain motivation from students from the very place where the bulk of the learning can and should take place. Some carrots/ incentives are fine but overt carrots from centres (unintentionally or intentionally) undermine public schools.

I believe in an absence of tuition and fearmongering, we can still achieve excellent educational outcomes. Perhaps the only justifiable ground is that tuition helps to clear the headspace of teachers in public schools to focus on less well-off students. Even that seems like an accidental rather than intentional benefit.

Even if tuition claims that they can compensate for poor teaching in public schools, there is no way it will be equitable. I cannot, in good faith, ever get behind this. Maybe a radical repositioning of tuition will force me to reconsider my stance.

But until then, I would NEVER teach tuition. You can slap me if you ever see me doing so.

If you possess the technical expertise, maybe consider building products to support public schools.

If you are a student taking a bunch of tuition semi-against your will and you are reading this, I am sorry. Your schooling life should not have been like this.

If you are a student feeling stuck because of whatever structural reasons, the world is moving towards a much more decentralized/ open source future. You can see things like these (SG Exams, Holy Grail, and more) and use the knowledge of these however you will.



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Educator interested in data science, dance and full stack development