Dear Voices Editor
I refer to the Today report “MPs call for closer look at private tuition industry” (Today 17 Sep 2013)
It was a disheartening story for parents of primary school children to read.
While the original question posed by MPs in Parliament was focused on whether teachers are leaving the Education Service for more lucrative careers in the tuition sector, the replies from Senior Minister of State Indranee Rajah was a disturbing indication that the Ministry of Education doesn’t consider the tuition industry to be a critical issue.
Like it or not, it’s time for policymakers to stop ignoring the Tuition Problem if we are to improve the education system in Singapore.
We can abolish the PSLE aggregate score, or change admission schemes, but all these changes will be derailed by the Tuition Problem and its root cause of an unrealistic primary school syllabus.
The facts were laid out in Parliament by various MPs – the local tuition industry may be a billion-dollar industry today and that 97 percent of Singapore students were enrolled in tuition and enrichment classes in 2008, more than double from 1992.
The Minister’s key replies, as reported, was that teacher attrition rates were low and that exit interviews did not indicate that teachers were leaving for the tuition industry. However, attrition rates and the lack of upfront feedback about the school education system do not mask the fact that the nation’s parents are facing a crisis of confidence about the education system.
Parents send their children for a variety of reasons but as many have continually voiced out in the past few years, tuition is now a necessity because of the unrealistic standards in the primary school syllabus and the poor balancing of teacher workloads.
I don’t have the hard statistics but I have many anecdotes from other parents to tell the Ministry this hard truth – The teachers struggle to cover all the topics in the school syllabus, so they rush through the basic concepts when teaching. Students are left bewildered, then asked to do “high-level” and “critical thinking” questions when their foundation is shaky. Parents don’t understand how to help their children, because they can’t even figure out how to answer some of today’s mindboggling exam questions.
Do they have a choice but to turn to tutors?
For many parents, enrolling their children for tuition is not about the desire for top grades, but because of the fear that their children cannot catch up enough to get a decent passing grade.
Then, any free time the child has is sucked up by travelling to tuition classes or doing tuition homework. Where do they get the time to enjoy outdoor activities, learn new hobbies or other things that make them well-rounded individuals?
The Tuition Problem is a symptom, not a cause, of the failures of today’s education system.
The Government spends so much time and money trying to persuade Singaporeans to have children and not to emigrate to other pastures. Are our leaders aware that it is this oppressive education environment that helps kill our fertility rate and reduce our sense of belonging? It is increasingly common to hear young married couples saying : “I don’t want to have kids and then put them through this ordeal”
The signs have been clear for all parents to see for many years.
Now as our so-called “partners in education”, can the Ministry see the same perspective too?
Ian Tan Yong Hoe