I read, with an equal sense of horror and fascination, the article in the Straits Times on Monday about top students having tuition, some of them for all their subjects. There were a few things that troubled me greatly.
1. That the good students felt that they needed tuition in order to maintain their grades.
This, no doubt, is the reason why tuition/enrichment is a nearly $1 billion dollar industry, with more than 90% of school-going students apparently having some form of tuition. I can understand needing tuition to get some extra help where the student is struggling and would benefit from some extra coaching, but tuition for students who are already doing well? To me it shows that our students have developed a form of crutch mentality, where they feel like they need the tuition in order to do well when in actual fact, they should be perfectly capable of managing on their own. Aside from being a waste on resources, I think it's very unhealthy. More than just acquiring actual knowledge, the process of learning should enable one to, well, learn how to learn. To gather information, read it, process it, distill out the necessary, and apply it. Tuition is a shortcut, and I don't think it is helpful in the long run because the students then don't develop the necessary skills.
Which leads to the next point.
2. That even tertiary students are getting tuition.
Even in University? Seriously? When does the tuition crutch end? Would they need a tutor to help them with their work when they start work too to show them the ropes?
I think this is the effect from having had tuition all your life. That once you run into problems with your work, you turn to a tutor instead of figuring it out yourself, asking your school teachers for advice, or asking your peers.
Perhaps they are like a child I am acquainted with who asked to continue attending all the enrichment classes her parents signed her up for when her parents thought it necessary to re-jig her schedule. "If not, how will I learn?" she earnestly asked. I applaud her diligence, but I think if it were my child, I would want her to know that she can equally learn outside the classroom, that self-discovery can also be fun and rewarding.
3. That the student who was quoted in the papers as needing tuition in her strongest subjects said that one of her reasons for doing so was that it allowed her to "learn faster than her friends".
It was very disheartening to read that and feel that the competition here is such that students feel a need to learn faster than their friends. What kind of society do we have if one consistently feels the need to get ahead?
I was never strong in Math, though I never thought I was poor in it because my mother consistently told me I was good at it. Anyway, I struggled with 'E' Math in Sec 1 and 2, and after I got a failing grade in Sec 1, my mum thought it necessary to get me a tutor. The tutor definitely helped. But what also helped was the fact that in Sec 2, my teacher got me to sit beside the best Math student in class, and tasked her to help me along when I didn't understand something. (This Math genius of a classmate of mine was so good that she was allowed to do Math Olympiad questions during class time and not follow the lesson, by the way.) She did, and I benefitted, because I was better able to follow the class lessons. I also didn't need tuition after a while.
Would today's top student do that for a struggling classmate? I don't know. In fact, I have the sinking feeling that they would just ask their classmate to go take tuition instead.
As a parent of a pre-schooler and toddler who have not yet entered the system, I must admit that I am nervous about the day when they will have to enter Primary school. For now, I am at leisure to let the children lead the kind of life I think all kids should have -- one with plenty of time to play, read, explore the world around them, daydream, get bored and find their own fun. Anecdotal evidence suggests that would change once they start formal schooling. One day I might feel the "need" to march the kids down the tuition route. But at that point, I hope I'll stop to consider this and remember that tuition may not always be the best solution in the long run.